CHAPTER 52 – Ten Months Later…

Ten months later…

At first, he saw only her silhouette as she entered the restaurant, yet her upright carriage and her graceful movement made her unmistakable.  Michele smiled when she saw him.  She headed directly for his table, and greeted him with a look that was both appraising and appreciative.

“Looks as though you’ve kept up the good work, Dan.”

“I have. Life gets better and better”

“I’d love to hear the details.”

“How is grandfather?”

“Like a river, endlessly flowing, with undercurrents of impishness,” she said.  “Much the same.”

“And you?” he asked.

“A lot has changed for me. A few months ago I went to a weeklong retreat called The Hoffman Process that re-energized my life.”

“You? With more energy? That’s a scary thought.”

“It’s the quality of energy that’s changed. During the retreat I revisited and resolved some very old wounds. During the Cultural Revolution my parents were taken to a reeducation camp from which they never returned. I believe they died there.. I felt abandoned by them and stricken with inconsolable grief. Grandfather healed much of that, but the Hoffman process reached places in me that tai chi and meditation hadn’t touched. Life feels fresh to me now, innocent of the past. I’m  still dedicated to my work, but I feel more relaxed about it. There’s a lot more joy in my life, and business opportunities keep pouring in.”

The waitress took their drink orders and returned with a glass of Zinfandel for Dan and for Michele, Elijah Craig 18 year-old bourbon, neat with two ice cubes on the side.

Answering Dan’s unasked question, Michele said, “Bourbon is as American as you can get – declared America’s native spirit by a 1964 Act of Congress.  I like to honor my adopted country, my home.”

“What about your Chinese liver?”

“The secret of all medicine is dosage.  One ounce, sipped over an hour has a lot of flavor and Grandfather says it relaxes the nerves.”

“Here’s to Grandfather,” he said raising his glass.

“To Grandfather,” she said as their glassed clinked. “And the U. S. of A.”

“The last time I heard from you,” she said, “you told me that Bob resigned under duress.”

“Yes he did.  I gave him a chance to take the high road, but George discovered him falsifying data, and showed him the door. Bob went to work for a financial services firm in New York.  An old college friend arranged that for him.  I think he had that job lined up way before he left. Guys like Bob always land on their feet.  Or on other people’s feet.”

“Then what happened?”

“Then Catherine and I brought in Rob Evans.  With his help, we gathered all the stakeholders, redesigned and re-scoped the project, and it’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.  Mind you, I say relatively. After all, this is enterprise-wide software integration. But, so much for Bob’s being indispensable.  People liked working with Rob so much that we used him to help us redesign other business processes.  The guy’s a gem.  I take back my every consultant joke, at least where he’s concerned.

“We’ll know better in a year, but the initial surveys show much happier policy holders and agents are enthusiastic again, especially after we removed the onerous parts of Bob’s risk management program.  Our revenues are up.  So, things are looking good.  And our group just celebrated a major deployment, which went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped.  My staff is happy and their teams under them are producing great work.”

Their waitress appeared, took their dinner orders and left.

“OK, Michele.  What did you do to me?”

“Dan, you were there for all of it.  What do you think happened?”

“I know what happened.  I want to know the thinking that guided your process.”

Michele took a micro sip of bourbon, put down her glass, and rested her hands, fingers interlaced, on the table.

“Now that’s a good question.  I don’t think a client has ever asked me that.”

She looked into Dan’s face and let memories of their meetings filter into her awareness.  She saw him in the Thoreau room, in meetings with his staff, and in Golden Gate Park with Grandfather.  She thought of the feedback interviews, his behavior chart, and their first meeting where she’d challenged him.  She remembered meditating with him at Half Moon Bay.

“I could tell you the technical details, but that’s not the heart of it,” she said.

“Then tell me the heart of it.”

“What I do is simple: I help people feel more fully alive. I reintroduce them to their natural vitality and gifts. I teach them how to appreciate others and bring out their best work. But none of this would work if the essential lesson didn’t take hold.”

“And what’s that?”

“Get over thyself.”

Dan laughed. “That’s it?”

“Yes. Until you begin to care about the world beyond your personal sphere, you are not useful and not fully alive. Lao Tsu says, ‘The invincible shield of caring is a weapon from the sky against being dead.’”

“Some people use their work to avoid their humanity. These people inevitably create organizations where telling the truth is dangerous, where overwork is a virtue, and work-life balance is scorned. So I introduce sanity into the system, like a positive virus.”

“And I thought we were trying to get an IT project under control.”

Michele laughed.  “Yes, that’s why you hired me, and that’s a result you got.  But to make it happen, to paraphrase Einstein, you had to approach it from a new level of understanding, not from the level of thought that created the difficulty.”

They sipped their drinks.

“How are things at home?” said Michele.

“Janice may have gotten at least as much out of coaching as I did.  She listened to all the ALIVE MP3s, and the Sedona Method CDs, too.  She’s happier, and more willing to say what’s on her mind.

“How’s Maggie?”

“If I said I knew, I’d just be fooling myself.  Adolescent girls mystify me, but Janice and she have grown closer, and that makes me feel better.  These kids are so locked into their phones and social networks, it’s a little scary.  But Maggie seems to want to connect with me, too and I’m grateful for that.”

As their conversation began to wind down Michele asked if Dan wanted to learn something new.  He did.  Most dinner guests had left and only one other table remained occupied.  It was quiet.

“Dan, part of our work has been about letting go of emotions that block you and working with the physical body to feel fully alive.  There is another way of working that removes energetic blocks. I learned this from Bruce Frantzis, an American Taoist, who learned it from his teacher in China. Sit quietly and tune into your breathing.  Let your posture naturally find its balance.  Bring your attention to just above the top of your head and feel any sensations of energy there.  Can you feel something?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Now, imagine there is a downward flow of energy from the heavens.  It’s like a mist, like a gentle rain that dissolves all knots, all obstructions.”

She waited until his breathing deepened.

“Now keep that going and extend your awareness to the space that is both outside and inside you… like we did at Half Moon Bay…and rest in that space… as this dissolving energy works to soften you…remove energy blocks.  I am doing this meditation with you.”

Dan felt the top of his head tingle with energy.  Then he felt as if his brain was being saturated with a calming mist that continued descending.  After fifteen minutes he felt it fill his torso down to his belly and finally to the bottom of his feet.  His breathing became effortless.  He felt both clear and full at the same time – filled with soft energy and empty of thoughts and concerns.  He opened his eyes and looked into Michele’s, and for a moment he saw endless space.  She asked him to sit quietly and rest in the experience.

They sat silently for a while longer and then said their goodbyes.  They agreed to touch base in a couple of months.  On the way out of the restaurant, he noticed the feeling of softness was still with him.  And it was there in the car on the way home.  Softness and peace.

 

It was almost 10:00 when Dan pulled into his garage.  The house was dark, save the few dimmed lights Janice had left on for him.  Through Maggie’s opened door, he could see her sleeping.  She liked the door angled just so – not completely closed, not wide open, and the night light in the corner adjusted to cast its glow on her stuffed animals.

Looking at her face he saw no trace of dreams.  He quietly lifted a chair, placed it next to her bed, and settled into it.  As he gazed at her, he remembered when she was only an hour old.  The same mouth, the same lips, in miniature.  The same ears.  The color of her eyes had changed but the feeling of Maggie, the person behind them, had stayed and remained in his care.

Dan smiled as he noticed his own breathing had fallen in with the small rise and fall of the quilt covering her.  He let his ribs and spine catch the rhythm, too, until his smile, his breath and the movement of his torso sang this simple song with her.  After a time he stood, replaced the chair and left Maggie’s room, leaving the door just the way she liked it.

In his own bed now, he carefully reclaimed some of the covers that had migrated to Janice’s side of the bed.  She stirred lazily, turning under the sheets. Close to her, lying on his side, he reached out and placed his hand on her back and felt her body through her silk pajamas.  She rolled onto her back, cradled his hand in hers and took it to her breast. He slid his other hand under her and they lay still.  She kissed him and they lay still again, then kissed and laid still, alternating this way until stillness was no longer possible.

 

Michele entered the front door of her house.  At 10:30 Grandfather would have just begun his evening practice.  Moving though the kitchen she could see the outline of his sitting form in the garden, motionless in the moonlight.

She changed into her cotton pants and tai chi slippers and stepped into the back yard.  Night blooming jasmine mingled with the moisture of the evening air and its softness called forth in her the gentlest of tai chi forms.  She settled into each movement – stately, yet yielding and poised.  With each successive posture, she eased into deeper connection to the earth beneath her feet.  She sensed and absorbed the profound peace of her grandfather’s meditation, until her every motion was both still and vibrantly alive.  She continued this way, with stillness in motion, motion in stillness, until the distinction between them, and in fact all distinctions, vanished.

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CHAPTER 51 – Bob, Dan, and George

George Summons Dan

“Excuse me, Dan” said Sue through his partially opened office door. “Mr. Corbett just called. He said he wants to see you in his office immediately. Five minutes later Dan stood in George’s office.

On previous visits, Dan had been struck by the size of the room, the oriental rug, the rosewood desk, and the view of the grounds through two abutting glass walls. Now it was George’s direct gaze from underneath his heavy brow and his big voice that captured Dan’s attention.

“Bob sent me your report on our risk management program. I just finished reading it. Seems like you went on a fishing expedition and came up with very little. Why are you wasting time on this crap?”

Dan sensed tightness in his chest and his belly, and he automatically began to breathe into his torso. He waited. Something didn’t make sense. His breathing felt more even now.

“Is that the report?” asked Dan, motioning to the document on George’s desk.

“Of course, that’s the report.”

“May I?” Dan said, reaching for the document.

“By all means,” said George, still with an edge in his voice.

The first page contained an executive summary, authored by Bob, followed by Peter’s table of contents. Dan sensed the heat of George’s impatience emanating from across the desk.

“Look, Dan, I want an explanation. I don’t need to watch you reread this thing.”

“George, you asked me questions that need answers. May I have three minutes to look this over? Then I’ll be able to shed some light on it.”

“Three minutes!” said George, looking at his watch.

Shed light? Right now it’s all heat, he thought. Ah, but look at this! A ray of light. Bob, you son-of-a-bitch! Nice work. Or rather, nice try.

The table of contents had remained the same, but Peter’s numbers had been altered, the conclusions changed, and the executive summary not only exonerated Bob, it pointed to the outstanding value his program brought to CSI. Dan reached inside his briefcase, pulled out Peter’s report, and placed the reports side by side on George’s desk.

“George, this is Peter’s original report, and this one is Bob’s new and improved fictional version. He changed it to make himself look good, thinking that you wouldn’t ever see the original. But as you’ll see, the original shows Bob’s program is costing us much more money than it saves.”

“Let me get this straight. Bob altered the report to make himself look good and to hide the real data?”

“Yes. Frankly, this is shocking. I thought Bob was smarter than to falsify a document that’s so easy to check against the original. He’s slipping.”

“Show me what you’re talking about.”

Dan walked George through the discrepancies between the two reports. He could hear George’s breathing get more ragged as they progressed. He could use a few lessons from Michele, he thought.

“And this is Peter’s original conclusion,” said Dan, “the one that Bob didn’t want you to see.”

George read it to completion; his lips mouthed every word, as his eyebrows progressively raised. He slammed the report on the desk. “Unbelievable,” he said, as he reached for the phone and dialed. “Bob, I’d like to see you here in my office, right now. Regarding? It’s regarding you being in my office in five minutes.”

When Bob entered George’s office and saw Dan, his expression fell.

“Ah,” he said looking at Dan. “My favorite IT guy.” Looking at George, he said, “What’s going on?”

“Sit down,” said George.

Bob took a seat.

Handing Bob the first report, he said, “This is the report you gave me, is it not?”

“Yes,” said Bob.

“And this is Peter’s original report, do you agree?”

“Yes.”

“So Bob, can you explain to me why there are discrepancies between these two reports?”

“George, the first report was amateurish, and I didn’t think all its conclusions were supported by the data, so I wrote something more readable and accessible with an executive summary.”

“Bob, I just read the original. It’s far from amateurish.”

“I was trying to simplify it so you wouldn’t have to spend so much time to grasp the essence of it.”

“Bob, I read both reports. You altered the data. That’s the essence I grasp.”

“I reformatted some of the charts –“

“Bob, now you’re insulting me. I don’t like phony data, and I don’t like to be played for a fool. Regardless of the reports, your behavior in front of me, right now, is enough to get you fired.”

George stood, placed his hands on his desk, and leaned toward Bob. In distinct, measured tones he said, “Bob, I want your resignation, effective immediately, on my desk in half an hour. And then I want you out of this building.”

“George, trust me. This is not what it appears. My program achieves solid results, and Dan here wants to make me look bad, so he can divert attention from his own mess in IT. I think we need to take a moment to  understand what’s actually going on.”

Looking at his watch, George said, “You now have twenty-eight minutes to get me your resignation. I don’t want to have to say this again, Bob.”

“OK,” said Bob, “If that’s the way you see it.” He stood, turned without looking at Dan, and left George’s office. George and Dan watched the door close and looked toward each other.

“Dan,” said George, “I owe you an apology. I imagine Bob has made it difficult for you, and you’ve had enough on your hands without his interference. I should have seen through Bob’s act a long time ago. I guess I wanted to believe it. I know that you and Bob have had your share of conflict.”

“Yes. Thanks for saying that. Honest conflict is healthy. Unfortunately, this was not the honest kind. But I believe we have a good shot at making this a great company, and it will be a lot easier for us to get it done now. I appreciate that you can set the direction and clear the path for that to happen.”

“Dan, I know you understand the delicacy of this situation. I will make a formal announcement about Bob’s resignation, and figure out an interim plan for Customer Service. The communication about Bob’s departure needs to come from my office, so I want to be the sole source of information about this. Understood?”

“Understood,” said Dan.

“Good. You let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your project a success,” said George, sitting straighter.

“I’d like to give that some thought and get back to you. Can we set up a three way meeting with you, me, and Sean?”

“Definitely. Put it on my calendar.”

“I will.”

Dan felt a sensation of warmth in his chest, hands and feet. He was happy. Happy that Bob was out of his life? No, that wasn’t it. He looked at George.

“George, it may not be my place to say this, so forgive me if I’m overstepping my bounds, but I feel happy to be working at this company and glad that I work for a stand-up guy. Thank you. It means a lot to me.”

“Thanks,” he said, shaking Dan’s hand. “Thank you.”

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CHAPTER 50 – War

Dan and Bob

“I read your report,” said Bob.

“Peter’s, actually,” said Dan.

“Peter’s.  Whatever.  Anyway, I think it’s very clever, but it’s full of shit.”

They sat opposite each other, separated by Bob’s substantial walnut desk.  Bob leaned forward as he spoke, pushing the report toward Dan.

Dan leaned forward to meet him and said, “It sounds like you’ve got some alternative ways to interpret the data.  Before we get to that, could we start by talking about what we want to accomplish in this meeting?”

“I’d like to talk about what you’ve already accomplished, which is to launch a frontal attack on my program which has been working perfectly,” said Bob.  “You just want to deflect attention from the failure of your people to deliver on your hopelessly mired IT project.  And frankly, I think the people who count around here will see through your tactics, and you’ll be out of here.”

“Oh, I think it’s worse than that,” said Dan, “I’ve been thinking about it from your point of view.  You bet your career on this risk management strategy.  You built a little empire around it.  And now some asshole, who you’ve never liked, is declaring war against you, and you want to obliterate him.  This conflict used to smolder underground, but now it’s all out war and you’re going to fight with everything you’ve got – all the political capital you can muster, and you won’t stop until you annihilate me and return peace to your domain.”

“What is this, some kind of fancy negotiation shit you learned from your dragon lady?”

“Yeah, this fancy negotiation shit is called telling the truth, so let’s see if we can put our cards on the table here.  Am I right that you’re going to fight me all the way?” said Dan.

“You bet your ass, Sonny, and you’re going to lose big time,” said Bob.

“Maybe.”

“So is this your best shot? No more salvos from nerdland?”

Dan laughed.  “Nerdland!  Cute.”  He was smiling now.  “You know, it’s too bad we’re on opposite sides.”  Dan’s smile faded.  “But let’s get back to being enemies.  It’s so familiar and comfortable.  Here’s what it’s like from my side.  You’ve been a colossal pain in the ass, obstructing and complicating my process at every turn.  And now I find out all your requests may not only be unnecessary, but they further develop a program that damages the company.  If you were in my shoes, wouldn’t you be just a little pissed off?”

“If I were in your shoes, I’d be worried that I’d stuck my neck out to discover that Bob isn’t just going to roll over and capitulate.”

“I didn’t expect you to roll over and capitulate, but I think you’re smart enough to consider alternatives to war.”

“Like what?” said Bob.

“First, this is only a report.  As we know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.  If the statistics in this report are distorted, I want to know that as much as you do.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you do.”

“Bob, no one else has seen this report.  I can keep it that way.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I trust that somewhere in you is a canny strategist who can course-correct if that’s what the situation calls for.  You may even come out looking like a hero. With your political skills, it’s possible.  But if you don’t, you can still come off as someone who’s wise enough to admit mistakes.  That’s a rare and valuable quality in a leader.  You can rethink your strategy, adjust your program, and get us on a more productive path.   It will all be your idea.  Not invented by some IT nerd like me.  What do you think?”

“If I say your idea is a good one, I’m admitting that your statistical slander has some validity.  I’m not willing to admit that.”

“And you shouldn’t admit it.  You should go over the figures carefully, and see if they make sense.  You can debate this with me and try to poke holes in the argument.  I’d be happy to do that.”

Bob reached for the report and glanced through the first two pages.

“Bob, my intent is to make this company run smoothly and profitably.  And if in the process you come out smelling like a rose, that’s the way it goes.  I’ll just have to find some other way to annoy you.  What do you say?”

“Let me think about it,” said Bob.

“When should we talk again?”

“Let me think about that, too,” said Bob.

“Bob, I need a definite date for a next conversation.  I want this resolved quickly. I’ve had a lot of trouble getting on your calendar.  Today is Friday.  If I don’t hear from you by Wednesday, I’ll assume that you’ve  decided to fight me on this.”

Bob glared.

“And, if that’s the case, this report will no longer be just between you and me,” said Dan.

“If you go up against me, you’ll wind up fired.”

“So be it. If this company can’t look data in the face, I don’t want to work here.  It’s your choice. Will Wednesday by the end of the day give you enough time?”

“Yes,” said Bob.

“Will you let me know one way or the other?”

“Yes.”

“One more thing, Bob.  I don’t want to go to war with you.  I want to work with you to make this company great.  You’re a smart guy.  I’d like to see what it’s like if we were both pulling in the same direction.  That’s my preference.”

Dan could detect no change in Bob’s facial expression, although he did draw his head back slightly and his eyes looked away for a moment.

“Is there anything else we need to discuss now?” said Dan.

Bob shook his head.

Standing, Dan said, “I’ll wait to hear from you.”

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CHAPTER 49 – Bob’s Game Falls Apart

Bob and George on the Links

As Bob and George sat together on a bench at the sixth tee, waiting for the foursome in front of them to hit their second shots, George asked, “How do you think Dan is coming with the IT integration?”

Bob sighed, shook his head, and paused as if he were searching for just the right words.  “I think he’s doing as well as he can, given the circumstances.”

“Bob, I know you want to be diplomatic, and no one wants to speak ill of a colleague.  Still, I need to know what you think.  There’s a lot at stake here.”

“I know.  And that’s why I’ve been trying to work with Dan every step of the way.”

“How are the project manager and her team doing? Are they bringing this under control?”

“According to Catherine, Dan keeps presenting her with problems, reasons why we can’t get the kind of system the company ultimately needs.  She’s good but she can only manage a project that can be professionally executed.  I’m afraid Dan has gotten to the stage where he’s trying to cover his ass for his team’s miserable performance.”

“How’s he doing that?”

“Have you received the report that he’s circulated?”

“No. What report?”

“I managed to get my hands on it the other day.  It’s supposedly an analysis of the results of our risk management program.  It’s amateurish and statistically so full of holes I’m a bit surprised Dan has shown it to anyone.  I’m meeting with him tomorrow to talk about it.  I think he’s just trying to deflect blame and get out of having to program the software with the changes we need.”

George had the honors at the tee.  He drove his ball into the center of the fairway about 175 yards out, just short of the traps on the par 4.  He would still need his fairway wood for the next shot, but he was in good position.  Bob said with more fervor than usual, “Nice shot, George.”

George turned and smiled at Bob.  “I liked it,” he said.  “By the way, I talked to Chuck Sumner.  You know him, don’t you?  The former CEO of United Insurance?”

Bob nodded.  “Yeah, they’ve always been strong players in the market.”

“He told me that they had an aggressive risk management program like ours, and it ended up losing money.  It was a lot more trouble than it was worth, and they had to recover their image of being evenhanded and a prompt payer of claims.”

“That’s surprising,” said Bob.

“Yes, I was quite taken aback.”

“Maybe he doesn’t remember the details anymore.  It doesn’t sound right to me.”

“He’s just a few years older than I am and his mind is still sharp as a tack. You don’t have to lose your edge, you know”

“Absolutely” said Bob.

“Anyway, after you meet with Dan, send me the report.”

“Sure, I’ll get it to you as soon as I can.”

Bob’s practice swing scooped a fairly deep groove in the grass at the tee.  He replaced his divot, stepped up to his ball and drove it 275 yards into the adjacent fairway.  He slammed his driver back into his bag and said to George, “I’ll take you to your ball and after you hit, I’ll go find mine.  My shot may take me a while.”

“Take all the time you need to get back in play,” said George.

Bob chose to shoot over the trees.  His ball met the trunk of one that soundly returned it to the fairway not far from where he stood.  Then he played it safe with a seven iron back to the first fairway.  A five iron landed in a trap by the green.  Two sand wedge shots got him on the green for a three-putt finale.  He was down for a 9 on a par 4.

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CHAPTER 48 – We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Dan and Michele Contemplate Dealing with Enemies

Dan paced, waiving a folder in his right hand.  “You should read this, Michele.  It’s unbelievable.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a report from Peter.  It shows in lurid detail how Bob’s highly praised, praised mostly by Bob incidentally, risk management program is costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars and eroding our market share.  There are survey results that show growing dissatisfaction among our policy holders and our independent agents. Bob had access to all this information, and he’s been sitting on it while he continues a program that’s tarnishing our brand.  And all the while, he insists that I program in all the minutiae that bloats the software and makes our project nearly impossible to execute.”

Dan dropped the report on the conference table and sat opposite Michele.

“And to top it off, Bob’s program was supposed to lessen the risk of litigation, but in fact it’s increased both our litigation and our settlement amounts.  All this, and Bob parades around here like he’s a freaking hero.”

“What are you going to do with this information?” said Michele.

“I don’t know.  In the old days I would have gone straight for revenge.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I need some help on this one.”

“What makes you think revenge is such a bad idea?”

“Because, it’s not what your grandfather or Lao Tsu would recommend.  Aren’t you the person I engaged to get me to not go for the throat?”

“Yes, but revenge would still be satisfying, wouldn’t it?  Do you want to get Bob fired?”

“I would love that.”

“And do you feel like even that wouldn’t be enough?”

“It would be a start,” he said.

“How about something physical?  Would you like to beat the stuffing out of him?”

“What are you getting at?”

“I’m thinking about a Sedona Method process that could help you clarify what’s worth doing.  It’s not for the faint of heart though; it involves generating some violent fantasies.”

“Gosh.  That’ll be a stretch, but I’ll give it a try,” he said.

“I know you’ll do your best.  Imagine this: If you could do anything you wanted to Bob and there would be no consequences to you, him, or anyone else, what you would do?  That includes anything –  torture, beating, dismemberment.  In your mind’s eye, just let it rip.  There is a next step in the exercise, but it only works if you do the first part without holding yourself back.”

“Anything I want?”

“Anything.  And you won’t tell me what you imagine.  I don’t need to know.  Ready?”

Dan nodded.

“Begin.”

Dan closed his eyes and imagined himself at the top of a building with Bob.  As Bob pleaded for his life, Dan listened politely and kicked him over the edge.  Bob fell, screaming. Dan was airborne beside him, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll talk you down.  It’s not the beginning of the fall that kills you, anyway.  It’s the last couple of inches.’

Bob hit the pavement flat, bleeding from many places.  Dan scooped him up and brought him back to life.  Then they were in Dan’s back yard where the tree guy had left the shredder, which Dan put to steady, methodical use.  In a bucket at the output end, Dan collected what he could find of Bob and fed him to the piranha at the aquarium. All in a day’s work.

“OK,” said Dan. “Done.”

“Okay.  Get in touch with the emotions that you felt as you were doing whatever you imagined.  Take a few moments to feel it fully. Good. Now answer this question: What do you want?”

“I want to stop him and make him do what I want.”

Michele took Dan through many rounds of releasing.  He wanted control of Bob.  He wanted Bob to feel humiliated.  He wanted Bob and others to approve of all his hard work.  He wanted to protect his reputation.  He wanted to be recognized for his expertise.  He wanted applause for outing Bob’s idiotic strategy. Revenge was multifaceted and rich, yet at the end of all the releasing, he could take it or leave it.  To complete the exercise, Michele instructed Dan to see Bob as whole again.

“Here’s another exercise that will give you additional insight.  It’s more of a Taoist take on your situation.  First, bring to mind memories of Bob.  What are some of the things Bob does that particularly irk you?”

Dan shifted in his chair and scowled.

“The more fully you can give yourself to this, the better it will work,” she said.

“OK.  I see his office and I recall our last conversation.”

“Observe his behavior. What would you call that?”

“Self-important.  Arrogant.  Mean-spirited,” he said.

“Even though it’s not the way you act, just for a moment imagine that you are acting like Bob – self-important, arrogant and mean spirited.”

“OK.”

“And let yourself experience the emotions that would have to be there for you to act that way.” she said.

Dan described a tight feeling in his chest and tension in his shoulders.

“Take the energy behind that tight feeling and bring it to your face.  Let your face express the emotional energy from your chest…What would you call that expression?”

“It’s like a mixture of anger and fear – like they’re vying with each other for prominence,” he said.

“Good.  Now, never mind what the fear and anger are about, just experience the constellation of sensations in your body.  Now feel the vast space outside your body, out to the stars.”

Michele waited until his breathing and skin color changed.

“Good,” she said.  “And now, can you feel the space inside your body as it extends infinitely inward?  Got that?”

Dan nodded.

“Now, simply rest in that space and allow those sensations to exist, as they do, without having to adjust them in any way.

She waited until his breathing became even and deep.

“Now, let those sensations dissolve and change at their own speed, as you rest in the expanse of space, infinite space with no center.”

Michele led Dan through a few more iterations of this process until the tension in his body dissolved.

“I hate to admit this…” he said.

“If you hate to admit it, then you have more dissolving to do,” she said.

“Actually, I don’t hate to admit it, I’m just using outmoded language.  I’m more amazed, because I now know that under the right circumstances, I could act like Bob. I could act exactly like Bob.”

“Yes, we all could.  That knowledge keeps us humble and allows us to connect with our enemies.  I’ve been carrying around a scroll of calligraphy that Grandfather asked me to give you at the right time.  This feels like the right time.”

Michele opened her briefcase and took out a scroll tied with red ribbon.  As she unrolled it and laid it flat on the table, Dan took in the beauty and balance of the Chinese characters.  The brush strokes, alive and free, formed a composition of uncommon grace.

“He made this for me?”

“Yes, he did.  He told me that you would need the wisdom of this poem someday.”

“Please thank him for me.  I’m overwhelmed.”

Absorbing the intricacies of the brush strokes, Dan said, “What does it say?”

“This is the 69th chapter of the Tao te Ching, Lao Tsu’s famous book.  I wrote out Witter Bynner’s translation for you,” she said.

Dan read the translation aloud:

 

69 – Witter Bynner Translation –Used with permission.

The handbook of the strategist has said:
‘Do not invite the fight, accept it instead,’
‘Better a foot behind than an inch too far ahead,’
Which means:
Look a man straight in the face and make no move,
Roll up your sleeve and clench no fist,
Open your hand and show no weapon
Bare your breast and find no foe.
But as long as there be a foe, value him;
Respect him, measure him, be humble toward him;
Let him not strip from you however strong he be,
Compassion, the one wealth which can afford him.

Click here to hear the poem set to music as song. 

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“That’s beautiful. I’m afraid I don’t have enough compassion to afford Bob right now, but I’d like to get there,” he said.

“The Dali Lama tells of a monk who was tortured by the Chinese.  The monk told him that throughout his experience the only thing he feared was losing compassion for his torturers,” Michele said.

“I’ve been in circumstances like yours, where I wanted to retaliate against someone who had wronged me.  I wasn’t clear what actions would create positive results in the long run.  If you keep calm and offer your enemy the opportunity to act his best, then a solution may appear.  And if not, as Grandfather would say, ‘If you want to make a point of it, you can push.’  In that case, if you prevail, Lao Tsu says, ‘Conduct your victory as a funeral.’ ”

Dan felt a clever remark arise, but it simply fell into vast peaceful space.  As he picked up the scroll, he imagined the old man smiling at him.

“Thanks, Michele,” he said.  “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

 

The next day Dan sent an email to Bob that summarized Peter’s analysis. He asked Bob if they could meet in the next few days to discuss it.  Bob’s administrative assistant contacted Dan immediately and set up an appointment for Friday.  She requested that he send Bob a copy of Peter’s report. Dan complied within minutes.

 Click here to read Chapter 49.

Have you been in situations where your or someone else’s anger has been so intense that it blocked all solutions? Please comment.

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CHAPTER 47 – Revelations

Peter Presents His Analysis

Dan’s weekly one-on-one meetings with Peter had become progressively more interesting.  Rather than telling him what to do, Dan asked Peter about the problems he faced and the approaches he planned to take.  Coached in this way, Peter discovered some solutions on his own that Dan would have suggested.  He also generated innovations that hadn’t occurred to Dan.  He enjoyed this, and looked forward to his meetings with Peter.

They sat opposite each other in the Thoreau Room.

“Peter, what’s on the agenda today?”

“Can I be honest with you?  Off the record?” said Peter.

“Yes.  Off the record.”

“This is about the company,” said Peter.

“What about it?”

“Did I ever tell you what I did at my last job?”

“Statistical analyses of processes as well as some programming,” said Dan.

“Yeah, a lot of statistics.  Finding causal relationships between things that were seemingly unrelated.  Privately, we called our group the ‘Ministry of Unintended Consequences.’  We found stuff no one else ever thought to look for.”

“What kind of stuff?” said Dan.

“Through a statistical analysis, we found the interaction between a metal and an adhesive on a circuit board that caused operational failure at certain temperatures and humidity levels.  We pinpointed the cause of a problem which no one had been able to find.  In a similar way, we found how boosting the sales reps’ commissions for sales of a new product accounted for a loss in market share.  I see patterns and connect the dots.  I can’t turn it off.  I see this stuff everywhere.”

“And what have you found here?”

“You know how Bob Shaw brags about what his group contributes?  And how their extra procedural hoops for policy holders protects our company from litigation?”

“Yeah, I hear t it all the time.”

“Those extra hoops and the large staff that it takes to make sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed?  That’s all supposed protect us, right?  It’s our ammo, should we have to litigate.”

“Yeah.  Are you saying it doesn’t protect us?” asked Dan.

“Protect us?  It has the opposite effect.”

“What do you mean?”

“It gets us in a higher percentage of litigations.  And when there is litigation, the dollar amount for settlement is higher than the industry standard.  I’ve checked this extensively.  Any way you want to look at the averages – mean, median, or mode – we pay a higher dollar amount than our competitors.  The higher the claim, the higher our net cost, and that’s not even counting our increased labor costs.  I’ve read our customer surveys, and the message comes through loud and clear.  The extra hoops we make them jump through and the subsequent delays in payments make our policy holders vehement about demanding higher settlements and they’re more willing to go to court to get them.  We think we’re being thorough and they feel like we’re stonewalling them.  All our extra work only pisses them off.

“It’s a little ironic,” Peter continued. “Bob insists that we program in every single regulation and step in his processes, tailored for each state we do business in.  His program not only fails to achieve its intended result, it has higher labor costs, higher settlement costs, and it’s beginning to erode our market share.”

“Interesting,” said Dan.

“Interesting? It’s a freaking disaster!”

“Yes, it is.”

They sat in silence.

“Peter, you’re sure about this?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.  I even ran some analyses on the probability of these figures being attributable to chance.  There’s a 1 in 250,000 probability that the output of Bob’s group and these financial results have nothing to do with each other.

“And here’s the other thing: we’re starting to get the reputation in the field for slow payment of claims.  Our settlements involve agents’ time and our surveys show they don’t like it.  Independent agents are starting to not recommend us.”

“Peter, have you written this up?  I’ll need all the stats and details if we’re going to try and do something about this.”

“I can get that to you.  It’ll take me about a day.  Dan, do you think you can do something about it?”

“I can’t answer that yet.  I need to see your report and have some time to digest it first.”

“I’ll e-mail it to you by the end of the day tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Peter.”

“I wish I could say it was a pleasure.”

 Click here to read Chapter 48.

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CHAPTER 46 – The Calm

“Things are good now,” Dan told Michele. “My worst fears about the new org structure  haven’t materialized.  In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.  In these six weeks Catherine has shown herself to be a good partner and a positive force in keeping us organized,  so I’m able to  focus on strategy, quality, and technical execution.  My team has learned to play nicely with hers, and I spend more time at the VP level making sure that their perceptions of our progress match reality.”

“How’s that going?” asked Michele.

“For the most part it’s good, except, of course, for Bob. He publicly complains that we’re not giving him the functionality he needs.  If he had his way, the system would automatically order pizza after it compared all the menus and prices in fifty states.”

“When’s the last time you talked to him?” she said.

“That’s a problem.  I keep making appointments with him and he blows me off at the last minute.  The people he assigned to the project are B players at best, and they do the same thing with Carla. When she does meet with them, they come armed with a new list of desired features. She’s having a tough time making any progress at all, and if Carla can’t make headway, no one can.”

“What about Catherine?” she said.  “What does she have to say?”

“She’s trying to stay neutral, but I can tell she’s bothered by it. Their feature creep jeopardizes our milestones,” he said.

“So, what do you make of all this?”

“I don’t know.  When the system goes live, every transaction and process in the company will be visible.  Maybe there are some things Bob doesn’t want to see the light of day.  Time will tell.”

“How’s your leadership stacking up against your chart of old and new behaviors?” asked Michele.

“I’ve almost completely dropped my old style, because I’ve seen how the new ways always produce better results. But the real shift is how I respond when I’m frustrated. For the most part, I can dissolve tension before it takes me down the path to an old behavior. Then the new behavior seems like a viable choice.  I feel calm underneath – happy, actually, more of the time.  I’m excited about delegating and watching people grow by taking on more and learning as a result.  My peers and direct reports have noticed the change and tell me they appreciate it.

“Things are different at home, too.  I make time for my family, and I’m enjoying them a lot more,    I’m getting more sleep.  I’m losing weight.  My doctor is happy with me.  My wife loves me.  I’m only working fifty-five to sixty hour weeks.  I’m cured.”

“Congratulations. You’re really making progress. All your hard work is paying off,” she said.

“Yeah, in six months we’ve done a lot,” he said.  “So, if we continued, where could we take this?”

“It depends on your goals.  If you want to move through further stages of development, deeper into post-heroic territory, there’s a lot we could do.”

“Like what?”

“For instance, a hallmark of high stage leaders is   their ability to easily imagine themselves in the shoes of their key players and stakeholders.  Because their time horizon expands as well, they understand and care about the ripple effects of their decisions – how they affect individuals, communities, society, and the planet for generations to come.  As you grow in positional and organizational power, you gain the leverage and the desire to make a difference. You confront bigger challenges that demand greater humility and clarity.  When your leadership stops being about you, you become exponentially more effective.  Dan, you’ve taken the first step on that path. And if you choose to, you can continue.”

“Why stop now? I mean, I’ve got the humility thing nailed. What’s next?”

Michele laughed.

“Seriously, I’d like to keep going. Any thoughts about what my next challenge might be and what it might demand from me?” he said.

“I don’t know, but I believe it will find you.  At least that’s what Grandfather says.  Just as trouble never lasts forever, neither do periods of calm.  The trick is to enjoy them both.  Then neither success nor failure can distract you.”

“Distract me from what?” he said.

“Unattached and full appreciation of life.  From that place, you choose the right timing of useful actions as a leader, a father, and a husband.  There’s no shortage of joy to be had in living and leading wisely, without self-importance.”

“I’ll get right on it,” he said.

 Click here to read Chapter 47.

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CHAPTER 39 – Power Play

Dan and Sean

Sean’s office offered few comforts or decoration other than the standard corporate issue chairs, desk and credenza.  What made this plain office remarkable, arresting in fact, was its expanse of uncluttered surfaces.  An expensive pen and pencil set and a telephone sat alone on his desk.  His computer was placed ninety degrees to the side, just a swivel chair rotation away.  There were no papers or reports stacked and waiting to be read or filed.

On Dan’s first day as Sean’s direct report, Sean told him that as a kid in his father’s spotless house, he learned that a messy desk meant a messy mind.  Although he tested the veracity of other aphorisms that sprang constantly from his father, this one took hold in him uncontested.  In fact, it was easy, because every piece of paper belonged somewhere, and multitasking was a myth.

“I hear the offsite went well,” said Sean.

“News travels fast.  It’s only Monday.  Who did you hear that from?”

“I heard it from Marcia, who heard it from her new HR hire.  Allison, is it?”

“Yes, Allison.  She did a great job, by the way,” said Dan.

“Yes, Marcia is pleased with that hire.”

“Good.”

“Sean, I’d like to run an idea by you. Through Michele, I met Rob Evans. He’s an experienced consultant who’s an expert in enterprise-wide projects.  After talking to him at some length, I think hiring him would increase the likelihood of our success, including the speed of adoption of the new system and stakeholder buy-in.”

“I’d be happy to talk about that, Dan, but I have another matter that we need to address first.  It also pertains to the project.”

“What’s that?”

“Last Friday, George called me into his office. He’s concerned about the amount of time and energy that’s gone into the project so far, and he’s nervous about whether we’ll realize the return on investment we hoped for.   He heard the schedule is slipping and while he understands that some of that is inevitable, he wants it kept to a minimum.”

“Me too.”

“He also knows that your team is stretched thin.  Some of them have other projects competing for their time, and he wants to ensure that the project is professionally managed as well as technically executed.”

“What does he have in mind?”

“I want you to know that he greatly appreciates the work that you’re doing and what I’m about to propose in no way belies his absolute faith in your technical skill.”

“Jesus, Sean.  Enough with the preamble.  What is it?”

“He wants to hire a consultant to act in an oversight capacity for the project.  He wants professional project management to have a strong role in this.”

“How would that work?”

“We’re still working out the details, but right now we’re thinking that Frank, as the CFO, would take responsibility for the project.  The head of the project management team would report directly to him.  You would still report to me and also to the project manager.”

“Wait.  Let me get this straight.  I’m no longer in charge of the project?  My role is solely technical execution, is that right?”

“Your role hasn’t really changed that dramatically.  You were always in charge of technical execution.  We’re just adding some additional support and reorganizing to accommodate it.”

Dan felt his body temperature rise. An internal voice ranted, Sean, how can you say this with a straight face.  You’re demoting me.  Just say it!

Yet a countervailing voice was equally strong and present in him.  This could actually be a good idea.  I could use the help, and it doesn’t sound like the organizational structure is set in stone yet.  Also, it doesn’t seem like a permanent change.  When the project is done, I’d still have my IT role.  He noticed that he was breathing evenly and to his surprise, he had a choice of whether to be upset.  He no longer felt flushed.

“So, whose idea was this – providing additional resources?” asked Dan.

“It’s been talked about off and on for about a month.  George mentioned it to me a couple of times.  Bob and I have talked about it as well.  He’s recommended a consultant who would lead the project management team, a woman he’s known for a long time.”

“Since this will directly impact me, I’d like to be involved in these preliminary conversations.  I could make some useful contributions regarding the feasibility of the plan and how the reporting relationships will work.”

“Of course, you’ll be involved.”

“Yes, I’m sure.  I mean sooner, rather than later.  Is that possible?”

“I have a meeting with Bob, George, and Frank this afternoon.  I’ll tell them what you want.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea that I’m involved at this formative stage?”

Sean thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I do.”

“I don’t mean to push you Sean, but there’s a difference between telling them that I want to be involved and that you think it’s a good idea.  When you speak with them, will you recommend that I be involved at the planning stage?”

“Yes.  I’ll recommend it.”

“Good.  Thank you.  Do you have time for one more related agenda item?” said Dan. “It’s what I mentioned at the beginning of this meeting.”

“Can we knock it off in ten minutes?  I have an 11:00 conference call.”

“We can get it started.”

Dan told Sean about Rob Evans, the daisy vs. the sunflower, and how that model had made immediate sense to his team at the offsite.

“The more I understand these large projects,” said Dan, “the clearer I am that stakeholder involvement all along the way makes the difference in how fully we realize the return on our investment.  We can have highly efficient project management, but if stakeholders are not onboard at the outset and it isn’t scoped properly, it doesn’t matter how efficiently we complete it.  The system will reject it like a bad organ transplant.”

“What do you think we ought to do?” said Sean.

“I think we bring in Rob as soon as possible – have him facilitate a Design Shop to re-scope the project, with all stakeholders participating.  This would be a good way to integrate the new project manager into the system.”

“OK, I’ll introduce that idea as well at the meeting.  I’ll let you know how it goes,” said Sean.

“Good.  Sean, this is a critical juncture.  If we slow down and do it right, we’ll end up with far superior results,” said Dan.

“I hear you.”

“Do you agree?”

Sean paused for a moment.  He stared at the space over Dan’s left shoulder, as if he were visually arranging the milestones of the project.

“I do agree, Dan,” he said.  “I’ll let you know what happens.”

By mid afternoon, an e-mail came in from Sean:

Re: meeting with Bob, George, Frank

Dan,

We struck out on both counts: Bob, George, and Frank don’t feel you need to be in on the discussions at this point. And they don’t think your consultant is necessary.  They figure the project manager will clarify the goals, and they don’t want to spend money on an additional consultant.

I’ll let you know about next steps, and my door is open if you want to strategize about how to best operate in this new org structure.

Sean

Click here to read Chapter 40. 

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CHAPTER 37 – The Offsite, Part 1

The Offsite Begins

The offsite location was the cheapest of the three contenders. The dull white latex paint held only tenuous purchase on the walls and the bowed quarter round molding that snaked along the floor and up the vertical corner seams accented the misalignments of the sheetrock walls.  The industrial carpet, originally thin and now threadbare, offered little comfort underfoot.  But sunny views of a secluded south bay inlet and the small boats tied along two decaying piers trumped the cheapness.  As team members filed in, they gravitated toward the open sliding glass doors to join others on the weathered cedar deck.  At 8:00 AM the air was still moist and cool.

Prior to the meeting, Dan had e-mailed his team the agenda for the offsite.  They would assess the progress of the project against its milestones, and each team member would present a status update on their part of the project.  Nothing new there.  There were, however, two new agenda items.  A generous amount of time would be devoted to discussing how to involve the stakeholders in building a system that met everyone’s needs.  They would also brainstorm ways to become a highly functioning team that understood the value of its collective contributions to CSI.

This new emphasis on team functioning was the first item on the agenda and scheduled for the whole morning.  Allison Crane, a new Human Resource Manager, would facilitate.  Team members had already received a short questionnaire from her – something about assessing thinking styles – and now they were meeting her face to face for the first time.

Dan watched how easily Allison introduced herself to everyone.  She had arrived early, organized a small stack of handouts, connected briefly with Dan to make sure nothing had changed in the agenda, and headed straight for the deck to shake hands and link faces to names.

Marcia, the VP of HR, had suggested that Allison might be an excellent facilitator for the meeting.  Having met her face to face, Michele was convinced she would do a good job.  “She’s perfect for it,” Michele had said to Dan.  “Eight years of corporate experience and ten years before that as an elementary school teacher.  And a little improvisational theater as a hobby.”  Responding to Dan’s skeptical expression, she added, “Simplifying content to make it punchy, classroom management to keep chaos at bay, and breaking up fights at recess – what better training can you imagine for a corporate meeting facilitator?”  Seeing that Dan was still not persuaded, she said, “Dan, she’ll deliver what you want.”

Prior to the offsite and with Dan’s permission, Michele showed Allison his behavior chart.  She told Allison that Dan would like her to keep track of when he exhibited his old or new behaviors during the meeting.  She agreed.

Now, watching Allison extend herself so genuinely to members of the team, Dan felt encouraged.  It was as though she were the host, not a guest, meeting people for the first time.  Gracious with a dash of humor. Good start.

The meeting began at 8:30.  After the requisite jokes about the site, they had to admit it was great to be in a secluded spot on the Bay.  Dan reiterated his intent for the meeting.  He hoped by the end of these two days they would redesign how they approached their work and how they worked with each other.  He requested that they keep an open mind and participate fully.

“I know we’ve been under a lot of pressure lately,” he said.  “And for many of you, I’ve been a major source of that pressure.  To some extent, it’s the nature of the project.  It’s complicated and demanding, but it doesn’t have to be this hard.  I’ve been working on my leadership with Michele and hopefully you’re starting to notice a difference.  Now, we need to put our heads together.  By the end of this project I’d like us to be proud of our accomplishments and who we’ve become in response to the challenge.”

As he spoke, he looked into each set of eyes.  He was simultaneously aware of their shared history, old wounds, and the possibilities for the future.  Their reserved responses were not surprising now.  Once bitten, twice shy.  But gnawed on regularly…let’s not expect immediate change.  He was glad to introduce Allison and hand the morning session over to her.  Maybe she would warm them up.  If what he wanted for the team was sincere, somehow it would emerge as real in these two days.  Would they sign on for the ride?  He didn’t know.

Many times over the past week he had envisioned a successful meeting.  As feelings of being misunderstood and underappreciated arose, he released them.  He was surprised at the depth and persistence of these feelings. He thought of them as petty, but that didn’t take away their power.  It was only after he experienced them fully and let them go that he felt free and eager to create something new with his team.

Allison asked everyone to gather at the end of the room where there were no chairs.  On the floor lay two strips of masking tape, one horizontal and one vertical, intersecting at the center to mark out four quadrants.  A flip chart stood at the outside corner of each quadrant.

“As I’m sure you’re aware,” she began, “the world is divided into four quadrants. This was given unto us by a consultant in biblical times, and it is not ours to question.”

She waited.  A few weak laughs surfaced.

“I’m so relieved.  I thought maybe you thought I was serious.”

More laughs now.

“I’m going to introduce the model underlying the Hermann Brain Dominance Survey you took.  It will help you understand your team dynamics and what part each of you prefers to play. As with all models, it’s like putting on a pair of glasses that distort the world.  If through these distortions, patterns emerge that give us insight, it’s useful.  And as with all models, we have to remember to take the glasses off and see the world without them.  So, with that disclaimer, are you ready?”

A couple of tentative yeses.

To help them interpret their survey results, she gave them a quick overview of the four distinct thinking styles represented by each quadrant. As they stood in each quadrant, she asked them for examples of how a business would fail if it had too many or too few Analysts, Detail Oriented People, Risk-Takers, and Caring People.

She joked with them, teased them, played straight man, and appreciated their humor.  She gave them room to poke fun at their organization and Dan.  Their lowest group score was in the Caring quadrant, and following Allison’s instructions, they somehow found themselves holding hands and singing in unison, ‘Someone’s trying to manage the project my lord, Kumbaya.”

Volleys of laughter.

But just as quickly as they warmed up, they cooled.  Back in their chairs, with their survey results in front of them, they slumped.  In flat voice tones, they began to discuss how they functioned as a team.  A few were clicking their pens; others doodled.  One team member thumbed her BlackBerry beneath the table.

Allison audibly dropped her palms flat on the table in front of her and looked at the group.  “Notice anything about the energy in the room?” she asked.

No one spoke.

“It’s dead,” said someone.

Some heads nodded and others looked away.

“Let’s take a break.  When we come back, we’ll do something different.  We’ll start in 15 minutes.  Can you all agree to be back here in 12, so we can start on time?”

Silence.

“Raise your hand if you agree that you’ll be back in 12 minutes.”

All hands went up, some slower and lower than others.

“What are we going to do when we get back?”

“Something different,” said Allison.

“You have no idea, do you?”

“Absolutely none,” she said.

A few weak laughs.

“Actually, I have two ideas and I need to choose one.  I do know one thing for certain.  Either you’ll like it, or together we’ll invent something better.  Take a look at your watch.  See you in 12 minutes.”

 Click here to read Chapter 38. 

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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.”

“OK.”

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.

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