CHAPTER 36 – Half Moon Bay

Michele Teaches Dan About the Nature of His Mind

The morning fog had nearly burned off.  The sun warmed their backs and cast diamonds of light on the expanse of ocean below.  From their perch on the cliff, the sea appeared nearly flat, rhythmically extending waves and foam to the sand, then drawing back into itself.  Save for the sound of gulls and the sea, the morning was still.  The salt fragrance of seaweed and water settled on their skin and softened the air.

They sat this way for some time, not talking.

“Dan, look to the horizon and fix your gaze there.  Let your body feel the expanse of the sky.  You don’t need to breathe any special way.  The breath will take care of itself.  Feel the space of the universe outside you.”  Michele waited until Dan settled even more into stillness.  She continued to instruct him slowly, leaving a generous silence between her phrases, so he could follow and complete each step she offered.

“As you look at the sky and the sea, relax your eyes…especially the area behind your eyes…let all tension in the eyes dissolve….  Now imagine that the entire brain, with its billions of cells, is mostly space…there are the cells, the neurons…the molecules that comprise the cells…the atoms that form the molecules…and at the subatomic level…it’s mostly space.  Feel the space inside the brain…and let its neural activity diminish…until you rest deeply in that space.  Grandfather says there is as much space inside you as there is outside.  Feel the space inside… and simultaneously feel it continue outside of you to the horizon…and behind you…above you…below you… around you in all directions.  Now rest in the continuity of space – inside and out…as though the apparent barrier of the skin itself is only space …just rest in the awareness of it…without having to say what is inside or outside… effortlessly rest there…is…only…space…all phenomena arise within it – your body…the ocean…the sky…

“Notice your breath as it comes in…and as it goes out…like waves extending and returning…like an undersea plant moved by ocean currents…the breath moves you…this breathing has no breather… it is stillness manifesting as breath. Let yourself rest in that stillness and in the expanse of space…from the deepest place inside you to the horizon…just rest, without adjusting your attention in any way…phenomena arise within this field…including thoughts.  They are like images appearing in a mirror…They come and go and the mirror remains clear…the true nature of your mind is like the mirror…pristine…just rest as the mirror and  whatever arises,  let it arise freely and dissolve on its own.

They sat quietly for another ten minutes.  Michele taught Dan how to rub his palms together, wash his face with the chi from his hands and with his palms moving in circles, spiral the energy at his navel.  When he looked settled she said, “How are you?”

Dan searched for a response and felt the strange absence of wit.

“It’s hard to describe,” he said.

“I know what you mean.”

After a few more moments of silence, Michele said, “Dan, since you have to drive home, let’s talk and move around a bit until I’m sure you’re ready to get behind the wheel.”

They stood, stretched and looked out over the bay.  “Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning,” he said.  Michele smiled and looked out over the water.  She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.  “I agree.”

“Dan, ordinarily I wouldn’t explain what we just did.  I’d give you some time to be in silence with the experience.  But I need to be sure you’re grounded enough to drive, and since small talk doesn’t seem appropriate either, let’s talk about it now.”


They sat down again and Michele began, “This experience is more profound and fundamental than words can express.  But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to approximate it with words.  Lao Tsu says,

‘The source of life is as a mother,
Be fond of both mother and children,
But know the mother dearer,
And outlive death.”

Click here to hear poem set to music. 

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“‘The source of life,’ the mother, is the ground of all being, the space in which all thingsa arise.   These phenomena – oceans, cars, trees, thoughts, you and I – are the children.  When you ‘know the mother dearer,’ you cherish the space rather than cling to what arises in it. You can enjoy phenomena, the children, without attachment. Like a mirror that is not stained by images that appear in it, the true nature of your mind is this unchanging, pristine space.

“The Tibetan Buddhists describe the capacity of the mind to rest in and be nourished by this space as ‘the mind’s secret, too easy to believe.’  It is meditation without meditating.  Since this ground of all being is always present, there is no state to enter.  Just relaxing into awareness is the easiest and, in fact, the only way to get to know it.  They call it resting in awareness.

“But what about all the instructions you gave me?  Weren’t you talking me into a state?”

“Yes.  Some of that is necessary in the beginning to point out the awareness.  Remember when I instructed you to not do anything, but just rest in an open awareness?  At that moment there was no technique, only resting.  Techniques can orient you toward awareness, but then, you have to let them go. Resting in awareness is an acquired taste.  Once you get the scent of it, it becomes easier and easier to let go, drop the thinking mind, and simply exist in the present.

“Being around an experienced practitioner helps, too.  Just as worry is contagious, so is awareness.  I know this from being around my grandfather.  I’ve learned more about meditation by watching him in the garden than any other way.”

They sat silently.  Michele said, “How are you, Dan?  Can you drive?”

“I think so.”

“You might think that as soon as you engage in ordinary activities, you’ll lose the sense of awareness.  But gradually, you discover that you can fully function while your mind rests in awareness. It actually improves my driving.  I’m acutely aware of the space around me and my car.  I can easily anticipate the moves of other drivers, and I’m relaxed.  Once you get used to awareness, driving becomes more safe and pleasant. What do you think?”

“It sounds fine until some fucking moron cuts me off.”

“Ah, I see you’re quite yourself again.  Very good.  I trust you to drive home safely.”

Dan clasped her right hand in both of his and looked at her squarely.  “Michele.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

They walked together down the path to their cars.  Dan’s ride home was peaceful and moron free.

Click here to read Chapter 37. 

Have you been able to integrate this kind of awareness in your daily business life? Please comment.

Click here to start reading Chapter 1 of Dragons at Work now.

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CEO Disease and Humility

Dragons-At-Work-Author-Stephen-JosephsI applaud Rick Brandon’s concept of CEO disease.

In my interview with Rick, he talks about saying to CEOs, “You know, you’re probably not as bright or smart or funny as you think you are.” Then he went on to joke, “Of course we don’t work at those companies anymore.” His joke is right on the money.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” we never find out what happened to the little boy who innocently exclaimed, “but the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!,” The fairytale is silent on that point, but we have numerous examples of contrarians, truth tellers, and whistleblowers whose careers have stalled or ended because they spoke up.

Here’s a passage from the bold new book, “The Great American Stickup“, by Robert Scheer. He tells us about Brooksley Born, the outspoken woman who headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who warned of the dangers of unregulated derivative trading. That lack of regulation is one of the contributing causes to our 2008 world financial meltdown.

“Born had known all along [about the danger of unregulated derivative trading], but her warnings were consistently ignored, even as she refused to back down. The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Schroeder captured the hostility of Rubin and other Born critics in a November 3, 1998, article entitled “CFTC Chief Refuses to Take Back Seat in Derivatives Debate.” The newspaper reported: “The nation’s top financial regulators wish that Brooksley Born would just shut up. For nearly a year, Ms. Born . . . has been warning about the risk of unregulated over-the-counter derivatives.” Greenspan, Rubin, Summers, and Leavitt opposed Born’s efforts to seek regulation, warning that threats of oversight could destabilize the financial markets and could also lead to lawsuits.

Born’s warnings continued to fall on deaf ears, the Journal reported, until September’s near collapse of Long-Term Capital Management LP, the hedge fund whose “huge exposure to derivatives threatened to rock already-shaky world financial markets. Suddenly, the maverick CFTC chairwoman looked less like a turf-conscious alarmist and more like a modern Cassandra.” Cassandra or not, she was finished. Born’s term was coming to an end, the president [Bill Clinton] had never uttered a word of support, and she did not request a new term. Despite the startling evidence provided by the LTCM collapse, nobody at the top wanted to hear her dire warnings. Clinton himself must be held accountable for this one; by embracing the Republican deregulation mania and ignoring Born’s prescient caution, he made a misstep far more damaging to the country than his dalliance with a White House intern.”

The real cure, not just symptomatic relief, is humility and maturity – qualities which are often in short supply.

Question for reflection:
What can we do in our leadership development trainings, our coaching, and in our own lives that allows us all to listen to each other with humility? What can we do to hold our “best ideas” more lightly?

We’ll see how Dan develops some of that capacity as the Dragons at Work tale moves forward.

Stay tuned.

In the comments section, share an example of “the emperor’s new clothes” syndrome you have experienced. Did sanity or delusion win in the end?

To go to Chapter 13 click here.

To go to the interview with Rick Brandon on Office Politics click here.