By Anthony Rubbo
You've heard the word. Something about the mysterious word made an impact on you. You read about it and its message captured you. The word is Zen, and if you are one of the enthusiasts of this fascinating study and method, you share your interest with a surprisingly high number of people. In America alone, there are a documented five million people who actively practice some form of Zen. Join me this issue as we explore Zen and it's application to one of the most important aspects of our lives--our work . . .or our purpose.
So, what is Zen? Zen is ultimate simplicity. It is seeing into the essential nature of something, whether that something is sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position, shooting an arrow at a target, playing golf or designing or conducting a business presentation. The attraction for many is that it takes us out of our overcrowded minds to a place where we can enjoy the feeling of doing a single thing fully without distraction. We then find, that when we do this single thing without distraction we become better at doing it than we thought possible. This is why Zen is used in football, tennis and management, among many other activities. In fact, in Japan, Zen is a part of their very business culture.
Zen is about the intrinsic personal satisfaction in performing an activity, and it's about the advancement toward peak performance--the best of both worlds--involvement and outcome. Yet, there is still another part of Zen that goes beyond both of these concerns, and that is the connection to a person's highest spiritual ideals. It is intimated that through this method we go so deeply into the essential nature of life, that we can touch the source and experience life from that source.
DOING ZEN...The Basics
The essential method of Zen is to sit in on a little kneeling bench with the back straight and . . .just sit. Sounds easy? Well, sitting may be easy, but just sitting is another matter. Just sitting means not thinking, not moving, not doing anything but sitting in correct posture. When we try to just sit, we immediately see the depth of the challenge. This is also an attractive part of Zen meditation . It is the easiest thing in the world to do, and yet it is one the most difficult things in the world to do. Anyone at anytime can sit on their floor and they're doing (or aspiring toward) Zen.
Just sitting is possibly the most basic model of what I call the Total Involvement Experience, which I explore in my book, Personal Commitment To a Serving Purpose. A Total Involvement Experience (TIE) is the experience of an activity that takes us out of ourselves and completely into the activity. In a TIE, we feel as though we are merging with the activity, hours go by like minutes, we feel as though we become the activity. With all our attention focused on what we are doing, we have no attention left over to think about ourselves. It is considered to be the most desirable experience a person can have. The reason I explore it in my book on personal commitment is that a TIE is the foundation of personal commitment. In other words, when we discover activities that provide us with a feeling of total involvement, we want to perform such activities on an ongoing basis. The ongoing involvement becomes personal commitment.
THE TOTAL INVOLVEMENT EXERCISE
Let's look at the elements that make up a Total Involvement Experience. There is that feeling that is associated with Zen--the feeling of oneness, becoming or merging with something else, the sense of being fully present in an activity or being in the flow of an activity. To get to that state, we need three elements preceding it. We first need an activity in which we have some basic knowledge or know-how. Second we need to know what we want to accomplish, that is, our intention. Finally, we need a sense of being able to control the outcome with an appropriate technique. The greater our sense of control, the more we are inclined to "let go." Instead of pushing for a result, our proficiency allows us to go with the flow or to be totally present in the activity. Knowledge/Know-How, Intention, Control and Presence/Flow--these are the elements of Total Involvement.
Zen is possibly the most basic model of a Total Involvement Experience. The Knowledge/Know-How required is just sitting. The Intention is to just sit without thinking or moving for a certain length of time (the most popular time is about twenty minutes). The Control is in gently allowing our thoughts and movements to subside until we are quiet and still. And the Presence/Flow is the feeling of effortlessness of maintaining the posture-- a calm and powerful stability unlike an other experience.
So, when we practice Zen, besides developing toward higher philosophical ideals and mystical states, we are also practicing Total Involvement elements in their most basic form. When we recognize these elements we realize that we can take them into the purposeful activities of our work life and experience a new heightened sense of personal satisfaction, empowerment and enjoyment.
Whether your career or profession involves working with things, caring for people, working with data, influencing people, creativity, or solving problems, every activity within your work (when performed to its potential) includes the elements of Knowledge/Know-How, Intention, Control and Presence/Flow. And each activity has the potential to provide you with personal satisfaction, empowerment and/or enjoyment.
In my book, Zen In The Art of Selling, I explore exactly how one brings total involvement into one's work (in this case, a field that employs over ten percent of America's work force--sales). To make the reading enjoyable, I use a student-teacher format in which an aspirant learns the art of selling from a Zen Master.
So, if you have an interest in practicing Total Involvement in its most basic form and taking it into your work, begin with daily meditation (just sitting), and pick up a good book on Zen as it is applied to specific activities. One last point, when we do learn to let go and merge with our purposeful activities, we go out of of ourselves and into the activity. And when we feel proficient enough that we can do this regularly, we take the next step--we go out of ourselves and into the needs of the person we are serving. If you do pick up a book on Zen, skim it first to be sure that it includes an appeal to the heart. In this way, you will set your foundation on our finest motivation--the spirit of serving others.
©1996 New Frontier Magazine. All right reserved. Anthony Rubbo, author of Personal Commitment To A Serving Purpose and Zen in the Art of Selling, is a free lance writer and business consultant from Philadelphia, PA
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