Lobsang Chunzom: “Now is a good time to look at work culture in a new way”

In order for me to lead a good life, I must help support others to have a good life. I can’t say my life is good if I see a lot of suffering around me. For example, our Self-Care Exchange program was designed for the frontline workers who have given so much to help us […]

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In order for me to lead a good life, I must help support others to have a good life. I can’t say my life is good if I see a lot of suffering around me. For example, our Self-Care Exchange program was designed for the frontline workers who have given so much to help us all to have a healthy life through these incredibly challenging times. In it, professionals reflect on the ways they help others and explore why the care they give will bring them what they need to take care of themselves. This is a self-care program that honors the work we do in our lives and show us that the care we give others is the main ingredient to having a good life.

As a part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lobsang Chunzom, Founder Limitless Health Institute.

Venerable Lobsang Chunzom is a Buddhist nun and a worldwide teacher of meditation and philosophy in the Je Tsongkapa tradition. She is the founder of Limitless Health Institute, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with other caring organizations in NYC to help people experience the link between their own health and happiness and how they care for others. The LHI workshops she designs and facilitates are used worldwide. Chunzom has been a licensed Creative Arts Therapist for 30 years, specializing in dance/movement therapy. She has extensive training in ancient meditation techniques, including a 3-year meditation retreat in silence and solitude. Chunzom has degrees in movement therapy from NYU and UCLA and has provided therapeutic services in hospital settings as well as created programs to help substance abusers, incarcerated youth, and families in crisis.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?

My backstory begins with my mom, who started me on my spiritual path. The family started on the Lower East Side of NYC, and then moved to Long Island to raise seven children. So, do you mean how does one child from this large Catholic family end up becoming a Buddhist nun — after graduating with a master’s degree as a Dance Movement Psychotherapist and founding Limitless Health Institute?

We always went to Catholic church together as a family, and my mom had some very creative ways to keep us involved with the church. For example, sometimes we went to a mass that was held at the drive-in movie theater in town. We had our bathing suits on under our church clothes and our beach supplies ready to go. As soon as mass was over, we headed to the beach. Being exposed to religion in a fun way and within a community from an early age is what set me on my lifetime spiritual journey. I recall sitting with mom in a circle of other women in the neighborhood praying together before I was old enough to go to school. I loved sitting there with all of these women taking in their energy. It was very powerful. I also felt very connected to them as a community. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I knew there was something about this I responded to. It left a big impression on me.

Growing up in a big family, you learn that every child has different needs, individual ideas, personal beliefs, clashing politics, and unique ways to express themselves. My mother taught us to respect the different values, likes, and dislikes, of other people.

As we grew older, my mother gave us the space to develop our own spirituality, always saying “you gotta have something.” As a young teen, I went to youth bible study groups, from there I started searching for more knowledge and found more spiritual teachings that helped me navigate the challenging times of adolescence all the way through college. I read books on Hinduism and Buddhism, and even celebrated Jewish holidays with friends at an early age. Everyone needs some spiritual guidance to become a better person in the community. This was a key influence on LHI, designing programs based on authentic scriptural texts that address the similar challenges and goals we all have.

What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?

From the beginning, my mother taught us about the benefits of prayer and contemplation, and how that can help us have more compassion for others. My father struggled with life-threatening illnesses for most of my childhood, and this showed me the fragility of life. It made me aware early on that we need spiritual guidance in life to get through the hard times, as much as medical support and financial well-being.

My mother was a living example of compassion and she showed us the way to treat all people equally. Her golden rule was to help anyone in need no matter what! She took care of her husband, seven children, and the neighborhood with the same concern. This gave me insight into the idea that everyone is equal in needing love. It also showed me that when people in the community need help with their basic needs to live well, you must share your own resources, even when you don’t have a lot — which we didn’t.

My mom was a Girl Scout community leader, and every year at Christmas time she would organize a gift and food drive for the people in the neighborhood who were financially struggling. We wrapped all the gifts, divided up all the canned and dry foods until the house was overflowing with gifts for anyone who needed it. This is just one of the many amazing acts of kindness that my mother did throughout my life that taught me about equanimity in humanity.

Because these childhood experiences were so important in shaping my path, I created LHI programs for young people that help them develop their inner resources and their dreams to contribute to the world. Just as my mother got my siblings and I involved in feeding the neighborhood, LHI’s Youth Ambassadors lead their peers in meaningful projects that benefit their families and communities. They follow principles based in traditions, such as give what you want, avoid hurting people, stay calm and peaceful, have fun doing good, meditate every day, and seek knowledge. They inspire other young people to use these principles as they work on projects together, and they especially help them take joy in the great things they are doing.

How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?

Well first of all, since I was ordained as a Buddhist nun my spiritual, personal and business life became one life. There is no separation between these aspects of my life, and it has taken years of classes, studying, and meditating on ancient spiritual literature to help me walk through everyday life in this way. As an ordained nun, we’re encouraged to work within the community and not to live behind the walls of a monastic setting. But what good does learning all this beautiful knowledge if you don’t use it to help others? This is why I started LHI, as a way to make sure people can have access to these ideas so that they easily apply them to their lives. None of us should ever have to feel we are compromising our core beliefs in our work, as it is the essence of who we are.

To me, the current genre of “mindfulness” practices is an inaccurate presentation of the way the mind works. It is a misleading way to talk about the mental process of attention or having focus, and the long-lasting benefits that may bring. When we talk about mindfulness in the moment, we have to remember that the present moment doesn’t even exist. As soon as you are aware of the thoughts of the “moment,” the next moment has arrived. We must always look ahead and think about our actions in the moment and how they will affect the future.

Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices? Can you share an example or story about that with us?

I am only successful because of the spiritual practices that form the foundation which Limitless Health Institute is built on. At the core of all projects that LHI does is how we support and help other organizations within the community.

Our motto is: “Help People Help People” which permeates everything we do and guides us each day. The ancient teachings inform our work, values, and principles at LHI. They give us the roadmap so we can do what we do. It is a wonderful system of knowledge and practical time-tested methods that gives authenticity to the work that we do. It is accessible to everyone, no matter what background they may have. It is about humanity at is best.

For example, when we begin a project, let’s say a marketing campaign, we have a goal in mind: we want to get the word out about a certain program. Then, before we get started, we think about someone else, maybe at another non-profit, who is also trying to market one of their programs. Then we reach out to the person we were thinking of and do something to help them; maybe we have an idea or a connection that can help them out. And then we take a moment, and just feel happy about it. Starting out by first helping someone else is really important — it charges up our own actions to be successful.

What would you say is the foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”? Can you share a story that illustrates that?

In order for me to lead a good life, I must help support others to have a good life. I can’t say my life is good if I see a lot of suffering around me. For example, our Self-Care Exchange program was designed for the frontline workers who have given so much to help us all to have a healthy life through these incredibly challenging times. In it, professionals reflect on the ways they help others and explore why the care they give will bring them what they need to take care of themselves. This is a self-care program that honors the work we do in our lives and show us that the care we give others is the main ingredient to having a good life.

Our state of mind is also a huge part of having a good life. Our meditation series, Inner Essentials, features meditations to increase concentration and sharpen awareness of how one acts and thinks within the family and community. Meditating also helps us understand why it’s important to stay conscious of how our thoughts trigger actions and speech, and why being watchful of how we are acting with others affects how we feel later on. Our goal is to help every individual have what they want and need and then after we care for others, are we able to take care of ourselves.

Our services for young people, Songs Connects Us, Platform of Peace, and Youth Ambassadors all encourage youth to support each other and to help each other succeed. They also teach the importance of not competing with others. We stress that in order to succeed it is better to help everyone to come together to make changes in the world and in themselves and in their families.

Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual/mindful life?

I did a 3-year silent retreat that completed in 2014. When I say this, most people’s eyes pop out of their heads. It is difficult for most people to imagine three years of silence, solitude, and being off the grid; no cell phone, no computer, only solar power. Supplies, food, medical needs and general home maintenance were provided by a team of extraordinary kind community of people, so I was able to survive well for the three years with all my needs being met.

I arranged to have a unique way of staying in contact with my mom during this time; we exchanged poems and spiritual messages that kept us connected. Even after years of studies and training to prepare for this 3-year retreat, I still had advice from my teachers during the retreat. The impact of this retreat will be shared in a book I am writing which will hopefully ready for people to enjoy soon. In general, I will say, this experience gave me the understanding, more strength, and endless determination to share the essence of this spiritual path that can help everyone. Many LHI programs were created by inspiring moments from this retreat, which showed me again that the only reason I meditate is for others!

I used this intensive experience with meditation and my study of traditional practices to create the Inner Essentials program — it provides many contemplations to help people get into a meaningful meditation practice that will help them through today’s difficult times. LHI’s Inner Sanctuary program helps people go even deeper by guiding people who want to undertake their own meditation retreats. My extensive experience in doing retreats helps me design customized retreats based on people’s needs.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My mother was the most compassionate, equanimous person I’ve ever known. She started me on my spiritual path which led me to become the spiritual practitioner I am today. In Buddhism, it is tradition to learn from a teacher, in a class, with personal advice, and they support and guide you in your life. It is too difficult and not effective to just read a book and learn. We all need to learn from others who have studied, and been successful in their practice of the philosophy, which is learned by their teachers, and so on. You can read hundreds of books, but we learn from living examples, and you need a teacher. So with that being said, yes, of course, I had some who helped me along the way, and I could not have done it without them.

I searched the world to find the teachings and someone who could teach me these Asian classics, and to my surprise, it wasn’t till I went back to the old neighborhood that I meet my teachers. As the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher is there.” I was very lucky to have found my incredible teachers, an American monk, Geshe Lobsang Chunzin in New York, and Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin from Tibet who came to a Mongolian temple in New Jersey. Whatever I have learned from these special people who have helped me the most, I must use to help others achieve their success. It is only then that I can enjoy success.

Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?

Before our eyes, it seems, work culture has changed dramatically in the last few months. Today, more than ever, with many people now working remotely, people need to reassess what is important to them in their work. Work should provide people with what they need to not only survive but to thrive in their life.

Now is a good time to look at work culture in a new way. How can we build a creative, productive, happy working community when we may continue to be working remotely more and more? Our organization has always worked in fluid places, never having an office, but we did gather, and we work hands-on in all our programs. We’ve had to adjust to online programs — and in some ways we have reached more people.

So I think work culture will expand a bit more globally and not be bound or separated by country. How can we bring people together in uplifting ways, whether it is in the same physical space or virtual gatherings? How can we increase connectivity either way? It seems important now that people will gravitate towards working with people who have the same beliefs and missions because that is a connection that we can do from anywhere. It brings people closer together. Corporations will have to be totally transparent in their values, how they treat their workers, and how they channel funds, as these are concerns of people everywhere.

In terms of office culture, our Self-Care Exchange program serves people who have had some sort of trauma from bullying at work or sexual harassment. It will be interesting to see how these dynamics play out in the remote workplace, but we have to continue to be vigilant about them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone can benefit from following the Four Steps of a karmic path. Karma is movement of the mind; everything we do, say and think creates mental images in our subconscious. These impressions stay in our minds for a long time, like seeds. When something triggers them to activate, they flower into the different experiences that we have in life. We use this principle to create the things we want: health, happiness, money, or any other kind of success. We create the good things we want to happen in society and the world.

To see something you want to happen, there are four steps. First, think of something you want; make it one simple sentence. Second, think of someone who wants the same thing, and make a plan to help them get what they want. Third, the plan is taken into action and you help the person who has the same goals as you. The fourth step is very important: consciously be happy that you tried a new system; you helped someone else get what they want in order to help you achieve your goal.

Let’s apply this to physical health; let’s say you have a cold. First, what do you want? You want to feel better! Next, think of someone else who has a health problem and wants to feel better. You think of a friend who has a fever, and make a plan to help them. Then, step three: you go online and you surprise them by sending them your favorite remedy. Finally, you sit back and feel happy about doing something to help your friend to feel better.

Then you can become a living example of what you’ve achieved. It would be amazing if everyone understood that the way to make money is to share your own resources and that to have a successful program, you must help others with their own programs. This principle applies to greater health as well; we must help people to have greater health in order to experience it ourselves. Likewise, to have peace and good meditation, give others peace of mind. I would love to see a movement that inspires this knowledge and love to ripple throughout the world. The more people see these principles working, the more others will practice them and use care and generosity to achieve their goals. This will lead to more and more people having the success that they are looking for, as more and more kindness spreads in the world.

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