My cousin Gary is a successful businessman living on the East Coast. He works hard and with intensity, is prone to high blood pressure, and feels concerned about his heart and overall health. He asked me if I thought that meditation practice might be useful in improving his health, and I told him I thought it might. He decided to fly out to spend a weekend at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm.
A good friend of mine, Norman Fischer, was abbot at the Zen Center at that time. I asked Norman to look out for Gary and to say hello if they happened to cross paths. Gary told me that when he first arrived at Green Gulch he met Norman in the parking lot, and found him to be very friendly and welcoming, until Norman said: “If you think that being at Green Gulch for the weekend is going to help you, you are wasting your time.” Gary told me later (in a very funny letter) that he was not very encouraged by this statement. Norman had gone on to say:
“Zen practice is about changing your life, changing how you view yourself and the world, and requires much more then a weekend.”
The Practice of “Right View”
The practice of “right view” is the first of eight core teachings from Buddhism – collectively referred to as the Eightfold Path – that offer specific ways and practices to bring the principles and values of mindfulness into your work.
Each of us approaches our work lives with a variety of essential motivations and from different perspectives. You may be passionate about a particular activity or feel that you have a talent that needs expression. You might be driven by the fear of failure or the fear of not being able to provide for your family. You might be motivated by a strong desire to succeed, to achieve certain goals. You may want to make positive changes in your community. Your work may reflect your sense of identity and how you perceive yourself and your environment. You might feel a gap between what you want to do and what you are actually doing. You may feel a gap between how you experience your work activity and your image of what you want your work activity to be.
Mindfulness practice provides a container that is wide enough to contain all these possible motivations and to place them in a larger framework – the framework of practice or of awakening.
From this perspective, our work becomes a vehicle for working on our lives. All our passions, desires, and fears provide information and can be used in understanding and developing all aspects of our lives, inside and outside our jobs.
Right view means paying attention to the activities, people, and situations that bring out the best in us and the activities that bring out our worst. In mindfulness practice, “right view” is sometimes described as the act of watering the seeds of wholesomeness, while foregoing seeds that are unwholesome. Wholesome is defined as activities that lead us to peace, freedom, and awakening; unwholesome activities lead to suffering and craving and take us away from our true nature.
“Right view” is seeing how we hold onto perceptions and attitudes when they are no longer accurate or useful. It involves developing our understanding of how we create suffering. Sometimes we unintentionally build walls around ourselves, either for protection or just out of habit. Sometimes we don’t see things as they are but rather as we want them to be or through the distortion of our needs or habits. “Right view” helps us to identify when this is happening.
Business, when deconstructed, can be very simple: pay attention to and move toward what works and meets the needs of your customers; identify a need and find a way to meet this need.
My former publishing company Brush Dance, for example, was a very simple business. We made greeting cards, and we sold them to stores. We needed to sell enough cards, at a price higher than they cost to produce, to support the overhead of running a business – what could be simpler?
From another perspective Brush Dance was an extremely complicated affair, requiring hiring and managing employees, developing licensing agreements with artists and authors, managing cash flow and inventory, building channels of distribution, using the software, accounting, and fulfillment systems, and on and on.
Brush Dance took products from the conception stage and orchestrated the production, warehousing, sales, and fulfillment of hundreds of products, which were produced in China, Korea, and throughout the United States. Our customers ranged from individuals purchasing on the Internet to major retail chains.
A major turning point for Brush Dance was seeing that from a critical point of view, it was not a greeting card or gift company at all.
Though we made greeting cards and gifts, what distinguished Brush Dance from other card companies was that all our products combined words and images; and even more precisely, all our products contained spiritual or inspirational content. Realizing that we were a spiritual products company and not just a card company transformed the way we created products and how we viewed our channels of distribution. Operating a spiritual products business was very different from running a greeting card business.
The practice of “right view” means going beyond ideas to the heart of things – to the heart of your life and to the heart of your work. It is paying attention to what is most important at this moment. It is asking and being aware of the question: What does this moment ask of me?
Many of us have ideas about what we need, and what is needed, in our business. Often many of these ideas are based on habits and patterns that have little to do with the situation at hand, resulting in a narrow or self-centered perspective, and lack of clarity. We have to learn, through our experience, which views nourish us and which ones take us further away from what is truly beneficial (or wholesome).
It is no accident that the practice of “right view” was the first of the Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha.
It is the practice of assessing our own starting point, investigating the complexity of our motivations, and exploring the depths of our intentions. It requires looking directly and clearly into our habits and patterns, of seeing where we are stuck. Our own worldview shapes our reality, how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we see our work and our life. A famous Zen saying is:
“Complete awakening is easy, just stop picking and choosing; give up labeling right and wrong, good and bad.”
“Right view” is not being influenced by preconceived ideas – that is, being able to see and feel clearly, without being stuck or attached to a particular opinion. This requires being fully present.
When we develop this kind of awareness, it can sharpen our focus and allow us to make decisions and choices with greater clarity and authority. The right view, of not being attached to our own ideas, gives us some distance from the situation at hand, providing a unique and powerful perspective.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that we live in the relative, human world – we have opinions! And our views, passions, and opinions are important.
How do we pay attention to and understand our views without becoming stuck in a particular way of seeing the world? How can we express our views in such a way that we are not being one-sided but rather helping others to understand and loosen their ideas that might be harmful or be getting in the way? How can we be fully present and fully respond to whatever situation might confront us? There is a great quote by Nietzsche, which Brush Dance published as a greeting card:
“It is hard enough to remember my opinions without also having to remember my reasons for them.”
You could say that the essence of “right view” is paying attention. Noticing how your body feels when you arrive at work, when you talk on the phone when you are in meetings. Noticing your state of mind as you prepare to work, as you engage in the activities of your day.
Practicing with “Right View”:
- Notice how your state of mind, your view of things, affects what you do and how you do it.
- Pay attention to how what you do affects your state of mind.
- Bring a sense of curiosity to the work activities that give you energy.
- Bring a sense of curiosity to the work activities that drain your energy.
- Notice what situations and people encourage you to feel constricted and what situations and people encourage you to feel open.