Zen at work

I have done zen about 15 years, not monastic nor full-time, but rather serious lay practice. This is how i translate zen to the working life.

In principle there are two ways to do zen-meditation:

Intensive concentration is essential in breath practices and shikantaza (pure sitting). Just come back to the here and now, whenever your attention is lost. Gradually you are able keep your attention in the one thing you choose. Every now and then you enter samadhi, a state of pure concentration. The practice deepens, you learn, the samadhi happens more often. The quality of life improves.

The Great Question, Koan, is the second kind. Along the practice, or already earlier, a burning question arises. What is this, really? Who am I? What is real? What I do, really? You go on questioning, day and night. In meditation more intensively, otherwise as situation allows. Continuous “I don’t know.” Gradually you get insight to the question, even radical.

Facing fear, anxiety and loss – suffering

When you have strengthened the mind during good times, facing difficulties is easier.

The meditation returns the balance of the mind. A trained mind is more stable. Seeing the true nature of things helps to accept whatever happens. You make better choices.

The zen tradition supports in other ways too. The rituals, habits and mental images create safety for the subconscious. Likewise do the community, the meditation room and the presence of other practitioners. Sense making and the teacher’s advice is helpful.

Zen at work

When you return to the principal task, again and again, the concentration builds and the work proceeds. Gradually the skills and routines improve, there will be flow, more often. The work goes well.

By experience there will be wondering and questioning regarding the work, the principal task. What is this? What should we be doing now, really? Why are we working in this way? What the heck is going on? The continuous alertness and questioning state of mind will create enlightenment at work too. They create learning, understanding and innovation. Creativity is a state of mind.

Facing challenges at work

Individuals and organizations spend a huge effort in anxiety management. Anxiety often causes bad decisions. Leadership teams often have anxiety, even at good times.

When you have built a functional organizational culture during good times, facing difficulties is easier.

Good routines and continuous returning to the principal task help – flow over plans. Continuous learning leads to better decisions. It is wise to accept conflict, uncontrollability and uncertainty.

As an individual you can use concentration to the principal task and the questioning state of mind. If you have practiced them at good times, you have the ability during crisis.

A group can learn to concentrate to the common work, to be curious and embrace diversity. You can learn to process fear and anxiety in groups.

As a leader, or otherwise in an influential position, you can learn from zen when building your organization. There are shelf-meters of practical ways, for example in the Lean literature, organizational theory and psychology. You need just to concentrate and question. What is this, really? Action will follow.

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2 Comments on “Zen at work”

  1. Ari Tikka says:

    I got a request to clarify what is learning from zen… briefly:

    First rephrasing the main point in the blog. Please keep the concentrating and questioning state of mind.

    Some other solutions, that the zen tradition has kept for the last 1000 or 2500 years, depending on how you count:
    * Trust to the wisdom of people. You can not explain what needs to be learned and experienced by themselves.
    * You help people (and yourself) to concentrate by creating empty time and space in their hectic life. To create boundaries for this time you use concrete means, like silence, timing and place (meditation room). You use also subconscious conditioning like smell of incense, similar sounds, repeated rituals and timing.

    Interesting similarity to Scrum and retrospectives. But Scrum, even the name, has it’s background in Nonaka’s research of the Japanese culture.

    If you wish to read about zen, there is a huge list of books about this thing that cannot be explained. My favorites are:
    Joko Beck: Everyday zen
    Shunryu Suzuki: Zen Mind Beginners Mind
    Zenkei Shibayama: Zen Comments on Mumonkan

    You may google or or try these:
    Meditation instructions: http://www.mro.org/zmm/meditation/index.html
    Research collection http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVL-Zen.html
    A site: http://www.thezensite.com/

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