Living at Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center in the middle of a wilderness area provided me with numerous lessons on giving up what I thought was supposed to happen on any given day. During my first winter in the valley, a week of winter rainstorms transformed the creek that flows through Tassajara into a raging river. As the water came close to overflowing its banks, I, along with the sixty residents, evacuated the meditation hall, perched just above the creek, and quickly walked to higher ground. We stood together, wearing black meditation robes in the pouring rain, holding our open umbrellas, wondering if the meditation hall would be washed away. (It wasn’t.)
The following summer an enormous forest fire surrounded Tassajara, and all the residents were forced to evacuate. I remember driving out on the dirt road, looking to the west, and seeing a tremendous wall of fire coming our way. Forest Service fire-fighters set forth from the Tassajara valley outward, saving all of the building. Just a few months later, in the fall that year, the one-hundred-year-old meditation hall burned to the ground during a ceremony. It is not known if it was started by a kerosene lamp left burning, or a faulty propane refrigerator.
Meditation practice is the practice of letting go. It is the practice of sitting still, not going anywhere, being completely present to whatever arises. It is the practice of giving up the quest for fame and fortune, giving up your ordinary view of yourself and the need to be, think, or appear in any particular way. It is the practice of giving up assumptions about who you are and what you are supposed to be or do. Meditation is the practice of openheartedness, of complete and utter honesty, of purifying your character and developing integrity. It is the practice of compassion, and of loving-kindness.
Seeing ourselves and the world as fresh is the starting point for integrating mindfulness practice and work practice.
We ask ourselves, what is needed? How can I best respond to these needs? These are the questions, over and over, deeper and deeper, that we have to address in our work lives. Meditation practice provides the framework for opening ourselves to truly asking these questions and to being present for the answers.
Meditation practice and business practice is recognizing the illusion that we can control what happens. When there’s a real downpour, it floods. When buildings burn, they will often burn down. Sometimes we face cash-flow shortages, or we don’t have enough sales, or we find that our business has too much staff or not enough staff. Our challenge, and our practice, is to completely give ourselves to the situation at hand.
When I first began as CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) the assumption was that our main business was offering trainings inside of corporations. At the end of our first year of operations we did our first public program, a two-day training, with the intention of attracting business leaders who might bring our trainings inside their companies. We were surprised to see who attended the first training – a large percentage of attendees were from small companies, or were coaches, consultants, doctors, and lawyers. We needed to let go of our assumptions and be open to seeing the possibility that offering public programs could be a central business offering. Today SIYLI offers more than 30 public programs per year.
- During meditation practice, explore letting go with each exhale. Experiment with counting to three as you inhale and to seven with each exhale, supporting the practice of letting go.
- At work, or in any conversation, practice letting go, by listening and being curious – letting go of being right or impressive – just listening fully.