Harry Roberts was one of my teachers and mentors when I lived at the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm. He was trained as a Yurok shaman and was incredibly knowledgeable about California native plants. He also taught me how to weld, and some important lessons regarding paying attention to what is most essential.
Harry liked to boil almost any instruction down to 3 essential tasks:
- The first, and not necessarily most important task, is to quiet the busyness in your mind.
- The second is to find your song.
- The third is to sing that song.
These 3 tasks are a powerful and practical expression of the seventh practice of a mindful leader: Keep Making it Simpler. This “formula” invites us to transform any feeling of busyness into composure so that we can focus on results that matter.
3 Practices to Keep Making It Simpler
1. Have a regular meditation practice of quieting your mind, even if it’s for a few minutes. If possible, sit with others.
Harry spoke simply and directly about the practice of mindfulness long before that word came into more popular use. Mindfulness begins by noticing how busy our minds are, how easily and habitually our minds jump from thought to thought, often residing in the past or in the future – anywhere but right here, right now. Quieting the mind generally begins with taking the time to be still, to be quiet, so we can pay attention to the breath and body.
This process is like applying WD-40 to our minds. Increasing our awareness and paying conscious attention to our inner and outer life loosens the somewhat hardened or rusted parts of our thinking. Often, without even noticing, we get stuck in mental habits and assumptions that underlie and drive our thinking. Applying some attention can loosen these patterns. This can mean increasing our ability to either narrow or expand our focus – whichever is most effective and refreshing to our habitual ways of thinking. Quieting the busyness in our mind can open the door to experiencing the sacredness of life in general and our own wondrous life even in the midst of everyday activities. It is something we can practice at any time, in any moment when we want to let go of the activity-driven busyness that can make us feel so depleted.
2. Find your song by working and living with greater focus, energy, and composure.
Finding your song describes your ability to access your deep power — which is your appreciation for being alive. This embraces both who you are and all that you have right now as well as the greater possibilities you imagine and envision for the future. We can hear our song more easily when our minds are quiet, when we can reflect on what is truly engaging and important to us — what brings us the greatest sense of belonging and of accomplishment. Finding our song means discovering our fierce and tender heart, where we feel deeply connected to all that surrounds us. Though our jobs and professional careers are important, our song is much deeper and wider than our work. Our song includes our way of being in the world, our personal relationships, our daily routines, and how we create a sense of community.
3. Sing your song, by being present, curious, awake, alive. Experience your full experience!
In singing your song results matter. Accomplishment is important. Your observable, concrete actions do have weight. At the same time, I believe part of Harry Roberts’s message is that your song is always available.
You can choose to sing your song — that is, have a positive effect on the task at hand and feel personally productive — anytime and anyplace, in small or large ways. Where you live and work and with whom you work matter tremendously. How you express your deepest longings and intentions is vitally important to enlisting others in your vision and in taking steps toward implementing that vision. Singing your song is simply a rather poetic way of reminding you that no matter what your circumstances are, you can engage them effectively and with as much personal satisfaction as possible.
The more we learn to quiet the busyness in our minds, discover our own song, and transform ourselves by expressing it, the easier it will be to accomplish more of what really matters, both for ourselves and for our precious world.