Wisdom at Work
Let Davidson, Ph.D.
1. The Wisdom Path
I would like to share with you how I have been applying the principles and techniques of the wisdom tradition to the workplace in my role as consultant and trainer for the past sixteen years. In these times of transformation, a generation of people are coming out of the closet, unwilling to keep their deepest truth locked up and separated from our work and organizations. At a certain point in the evolution of consciousness, maturity calls for the integration of inner truth and outer behavior. As we express this integrity in the way we live and work, it not only strengthens our individual wholeness and unity with others, it also empowers us to share our wisdom effectively for the benefit of others.
Because spirituality is personal and unique to each individual, it is likely that each of us will teach our own way at work, based on our particular traditions and practices, personal preferences, and what actually works for us. While I am obviously presenting my way here, I intend to provide as universal, inclusive and unitive an approach as possible. I am also aware that we will inevitably have differences in our understanding and approaches. As Charlie Brown mused after Lucy freaked out at his zen-like comment that we should live each day as if it were our last, "not all philosophies are for all people."
My approach is based on the "Perennial Philosophy," the core wisdom at the heart of the great world spiritual traditions that I have studied and practiced for over twenty-five years. It is founded on the direct realization of our true nature or ultimate reality here and now. While this awakening is beyond mind to grasp or language to describe, we attempt to convey the experience of this mystery with words like freedom, wisdom, love, enlightenment, bliss, peace, eternal life. Whatever we call it, it is the fully experienceable ultimate stage of human fulfillment, which is at the same time an awakening to our identity with the unitive presence which is the underlying source and essence of everything. This supreme mystery has been given many names: Consciousness, Spirit, Absolute, Self, Buddha, God, Being, Reality, Tao, Energy, Truth. The nondual or unitive realization is the direct knowing that you are the One, and that all phenomena and beings are manifestations of this-that-you-are which lives in and as each of us. Life is the opportunity to know this fully and to express it lovingly and joyfully in our lives and work.
This realization is the inspiration and background of my work and life. My ongoing challenge has been not only how I can personally live unitive consciousness in my day-to-day family life and work, but also how I can translate key principles and techniques from the wisdom tradition into language that makes sense to people's ordinary experience, and can be applied directly for greater effectiveness and success at work. In this sense, my most creative work is as a translator.
I have found useful concepts and tools consistent with the wisdom tradition in a number of contemporary secular disciplines applicable to the worksetting:
- Personal growth, human potential studies, high performance psychology;
- Mindbody studies, holistic health, Psychoneuroimmunology;
- Whole systems theory, cybernetics, computers and information theory; ecological sciences, chaos studies and other "new paradigm" sciences.
Drawing upon these fields, I have developed an approach specifically relevant to the key areas of corporate and workplace training I provide:
- Individual high performance and empowerment;
- Personal wellbeing and stress management;
- Building high-performing teams;
- Change management and organizational revitalization;
- Enlightened, empowering leadership.
I have presented this work to a wide range of clients: universities; manufacturing, information technology, and engineering organizations; healthcare agencies and hospitals; small businesses of many types; school districts, community and human service agencies; and for all levels of individuals and teams, including executive leadership, mid-management, professional, administrative, technical and custodial staff, and plant production workers.
My basic commitment has been to balance the organization's demands for successful change and high performance with the individual's needs for wellbeing, freedom and fulfillment at work. In their struggle to survive and adapt, organizations are placing tremendous demands on their employees: they want highly skilled, self-motivated, committed, creative, resilient, risk-taking, collaborative people operating at the highest levels of quality and excellence. In essence, transformed organizations are calling for transformed people. This is the call for the full realization of the human spirit.
To tap the creative spirit that brings out the best in people and organizations, I have developed an integated approach consisting of three key processes:
- Awareness of essential principles,
- Cultivation of individual virtues or qualities,
- Mastery of a personal technology of transformation.
At introductory and intermediate levels of accomplishment, people can apply these processes to enhance skillfullness, effectiveness and satisfaction at work. At advanced levels of mastery, they can be the springboard to fulfillment, self-realization and freedom. In the worksetting I teach only introductory and intermediate levels. If people are interested, they can go farther outside the work context.
2. Underlying Principles
There are a number of key underlying principles and beliefs from the wisdom tradition that provide the basic context for all my training and consulting work. I discuss these in varying degrees of specificity, sometimes explicitly stated, often just implied, depending on the context and the audience:
Change & Impermanence
To recognize and accept the reality of continuous change is the essence of successful change management, continuous improvement, and organizational and individual resilience. I integrate this awareness of ongoing flux which was originally associated mostly with Buddhism and Taoism with the brilliant understandings coming from whole systems theory on how self-organizing systems undergo periods of intense stress as the catalyst toward higher levels of complexity and adaptability. Into this I fold the Judaeo-Christian serenity prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr. The wisdom to distinguish between what you can and cannot change or control is basic to effectiveness. I find that our ability to apply this polarity to relentless impermanence is strengthened by the Taoist understanding of the balance of yin and yang the two mutually complementary forces that together drive the wheel of life. Seen as individual qualities the yang is the courageous, proactive, responsible, goal-oriented, rational masculine principle; the yin is the flexible, intuitive, flowing, accepting, patient, feminine mode. When we learn to integrate the masculine and feminine forces within each of us, as individuals or organizations, we find our wholeness and can express our full creative power to capitalize on the opportunity within change.
Unity and Interdependence
The underlying unity of existence is reflected at work in the dynamic process of interdependence, the web of relationships that manifest the workings of the whole. When people recognize that their survival, success and wellbeing at work depend on their mutual reliance in a collaborative whole system, they can move toward greater harmony and effectiveness. I emphasize a unitive vision that sees wholes within wholes: the aware individual as a holistic, self-regulating mindbody unity; the successful team as a whole system of interdependent, supportive individuals committed to one another and to their purpose; the organization as a self-organizing whole system strengthened by defining its mission, vision, values, and core competencies, and then by living self-referentially, consistent with its identity; and, finally, seeing the organization as part of a wider, global unity with the environment (customers, world economy, external technological innovation) to which it is constantly responding and adapting. As we honor and develop this interdependence, we empower each concentric whole system to attain greater internal effectiveness and respond more appropriately to its context. Interestingly, the spiritual reality of underlying unity is not static, but a dynamic process of wholes-within-wholes evolving toward higher levels of unity, self-knowledge and effectiveness. People, teams and organizations each have a spiritual path as the unfolding of their inherent potential.
The Human Potential
It is a fundamental principle of the Perennial Philosophy that the essence of the human being is the divine Self, the absolute being-consciousness-energy which manifests as each individual or soul. I refer to this deep reservoir of resourcefulness within us as the human potential, the pool of possibility, power ability, creativity, talent that is available to each of us for accomplishment, happiness and fulfillment in our lives and work. I view it as pure possibility, a coding within each of us call it genetics, karma, God's will, or destiny that represents all we could become, individually and collectively. Like the oak tree encoded in the acorn, within each human being is a design for full actualization in this life. Work is the opportunity to bring this out. It is leadership's role to provide the environment, resources and encouragement to release this potential, as it is the individual's responsibility to acknowledge the inner power and to go for it. Paradoxically, this requires our free will: it is up to each individual to choose to actualize the possibility and express it in their life and work.
This potential is literally the vital energy that drives our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. When we own this force we can channel it and ride it to empowerment and peak performance. This is the source of self-motivation, enthusiasm and morale at work. When we disown it, we live as if we are powerless, which shows up as complaining, negativity, helplessness and dependency in the workplace. I have this dialogue about who we are and what we could be almost every day in my work. Challenging, risky and often confrontative, it is the ongoing meditation that can can release the power we need to rise to the occasion.
The Power of Awareness
My main work is supporting people and their organizations to be aware. In the wisdom tradition consciousness is an essential property of the Self. To be fully conscious is to realize one's nature as awareness itself. Not only is it the ultimate spiritual act to be conscious, it is also a practical tool for success and skillfulness in the worksetting. For the individual, self-reflection and introspection are the bases for self-knowledge and personal, professional development; listening and paying attention provide clear seeing into the nature of people, communications, relationships, and work processes; openness to learning is crucial to continuous improvement and the empowerment of the workforce. Unconsciousness sustains the repetition of automatic patterns of behavior, both individual and organizational, that impede learning and limit success. Awareness gives people freedom, power and choice, strengthening their ability to change.
For the organization, awareness is a function of the flow of information, which is literally consciousness "in-form". Accessible information freely flowing through open communication provides the self-correcting intelligence required for the successful learning organization to adapt rapidly to internal and external challenges. Effective communication, information and computer systems form the nervous system which allows the shared reservoir of knowledge and experience at work to circulate as a collective consciousness. Information is literally the aliveness, and creativity that taps the group potential and allows organizations to self-organize to more mature, emergent structures. The conscious organization is as much a possibility as the self-aware individual.
Mind Creates Experience
This awareness enables people to understand how their minds can either limit or expand their potential. Our deepest, mostly unconscious, interpretations assumptions, beliefs, values, self-images, opinions shape and channel the energy of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. What we are unaware of controls us. As we become aware enough to see the unconscious conditioned mechanisms of mind that drive experience, we have the power and choice to change our experience and behavior. This awareness gives us the freedom to consciously choose appropriate values, acknowledge our strengths, and identify limitations to resolve or accept. We can envision a future and co-create it. People can learn to use their minds wisely to develop the virtues and master the techniques for fulfillment and effectiveness at work.
3. Cultivation of Virtues
To implement these principles requires a commitment to self-development that strengthens both the individual and the organization. Like the American Transcendentalists Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau, who celebrated the simple values and noble virtues, my focus is on the relationship between honoring your soul and doing good work, between consciousness and down-to-earth utility. I emphasize the cultivation of certain soul qualities or virtues core competencies or characteristics of successful people that are the basis of the high-performing, empowered workforce that organizations are demanding today. By developing these qualities individuals can release their full potential for professional effectiveness and personal growth. Carried to maturity these virtues generate and express the fullness of what we call sainthood, enlightenment or self-realization.
These characteristics can be divided into personal virtues that support individual empowerment, and interpersonal competencies conducive to collaborative interdependence and teamwork within the collective organization. Developed together they provide the foundations for a "spirituality of democracy" which balances enlightened individualism and harmonious community for the greatest good of all. This balance, which we have been seeking in American society for the past two hundred years, is now appropriate for the success and wellbeing of our businesses and organizations.
In my courses I present indepth, experiential modules to engage people in applying each of these virtues to their specific work context. I seek a balance that supports people to understand the relevance of these qualities to the work, to identify personal and organizational obstacles to their implementation, and to learn specific skillbuilding exercises that develop the quality. Modules can vary in length from an hour up to a day or more of indepth exploration.INDIVIDUAL INTERPERSONAL *Self-awareness *Interdependence *Values *Communication *Integrity *Acceptance *Responsibility *Compassion *Self-Esteem *Trust *Courage *Appreciation *Resilience *Support *Commitment *Collaboration *Detachment *Leadership *Play *The Empowering Stand
4. Mastery of the Technology of Transformation
Virtues remain nice-sounding abstractions until we put them into practice through the application of specific tools. In the great spiritual traditions or peak performance disciplines, it is the committed, regular practice of precise exercises and techniques that builds the desired skills or outcomes. Without meditation there is no Zen, what is Christianity without praise and prayer? stress management is empty talk without relaxation techniques, and listening is required for good communication. I have drawn from a wide range of my experience in offering a set of tools that people can practice at work to develop the desired skills and channel their creative energy for both individual and organizational success.
Stress management tools: the isness of business
I have found the continuing need for stress management in the workplace to be the easiest opportunity for introducing the practices that for millenia people have used to let go and be energized. If we can't get away from work to retreat to the mountain top, then we bring the mountain to work. Stress management has come to include ways to center, relax, find inner peace, access inner knowing and intuition, release and transform stress and emotional upsets, reorganize our lives and promote our wellbeing. It helps us to find the very ground of quiet being the isness of business which revitalizes us for our productive work.
Specific practices I have taught regularly through the years include:
- Breath awareness meditation for relaxation;
- Self-awareness (mindfulness) meditation: noting thoughts, feelings;
- Body scan and progressive relaxation for dealing with emotional upsets;
- Music meditation;
- Yoga postures.
Mind tools for creating the possible
I have consistently taught a number of dynamic mental techniques that enable people to develop qualities and skills for their personal development and professional performance. Drawn originally from the spiritual paths and secularized through the language of personal growth, high performance athletic training, and holistic health therapies, they are extraordinarily potent tools for proactively creating experience in many areas of our lives. In these sessions, often the most high energy experiences in my trainings, we integrate left brain reshaping of positive thought processes, and right brain wholistic imaging:
- Positive self-talk, designing empowering beliefs and affirmations;
- Visualization and guided imagery, team and organizational visioning.
Communication tools: the flow of unity
While on the surface, communication may seem purely utilitarian, I have found teaching the simple elements of effective communication to be a profoundly spiritual process. The word "communication" itself derives from the same root as "commune," "communion," "community," and describes the flow of consciousness within the Unity, the way the One speaks to itSelf, shares itSelf, knows itSelf. It literally means what we share in common. When people actually practice basic communication tools, they not only build the skills for working together interdependently, they can also come to know one another in ways that can reveal their shared Unity. The key communication techniques I emphasize are:
- Integrity, self-expression and assertiveness;
- Constructive and positive feedback;
- Managing conflict skills.
Not only do these constitute effective workgroup communication, from a spiritual perspective they circulate the love and intelligence of the conscious organization. Listening is the basis for meditation that opens one to greater knowing, while integrity and assertive self-expression release transformative energies. Feedback and managing conflict skills are instruments of compassion, service, and peacemaking on the job.
5. Integration: The Balance of Commitment & Detachment
The ultimate point of my work is to integrate effectiveness with spirituality, a balance of skillful doing and conscious being. I often approach this near the end of a seminar with a discussion of how to balance two apparently opposite qualities simultaneously: being committed and being detached. How can we be fully, energetically, proactively involved at work while at the same time see it all from a transcendental perspective and that does not cling to changing appearances? How can we give our very best shot, and yet not be painfully attached to endless peak performance and the stressful perfectionism of continuous improvement? That is, how can we find our identity and wellbeing in the underlying perfection that can never be measured or quantified? Can we take our work seriously and yet joyfully express the light spirit of play and humor? How can we want the very best for ourselves, our co-workers and our organizations and still accept the fleeting ups and downs of this changing manifestation? In heeding Shakespeare's reminder: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," can you play your role effectively and yet remember you are the Being behind all the roles witnessing the play of your own consciousness? As we find our interior answers to these questions and grok the mystery of how to be in the world but not of it, then we approach the integration Robert Frost describes so movingly:
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living
Is to unite my avocation and my vocation,
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future' s sakes.
Robert Frost, "Two Tramps in Mudtime"
6. Wisdom at Work
As we realize the meaning of these words, we begin to intuit the wisdom and wholeness we have been seeking. Wisdom is knowledge embodied within us, come to fruition in the integrity of our speech and actions. It raises for us the ultimate questions: Who am I? What am I doing? How can I truly integrate myself in my work? Our challenge as individuals is to see our work as an authentic expression of our deepest identity and values, an opportunity to express our talents and gifts fully, a context in which to evolve and flourish, a place of spiritual practice and contribution. The challenge for our organizations is to recognize that the individual spirit is the true source of corporate success and revitalization, and to wisely create an environment that welcomes it, that encourages consciousness and the unfolding of the human potential, that provides meaningful work in which performance and individual wellbeing are in balance. When we recognize the mutuality of individual and organizational requirements in these historic times, then we will understand there could be a perfect fit where "love and need are one." When we learn how we can make a living in harmony with our deepest truth, as individuals and as organizations, we will taste the joy and freedom of our wisdom at work.
Let Davidson, Ph.D. has been President of Mastery Training & Consulting, Ithaca, New York, for sixteen years. He has longstanding consulting relationships with Cornell University and Corning Incorporated on change management, leadership, empowerment, high performance teambuilding, individual wellbeing and stress management. He has also specialized in working with hospitals and healthcare, and has given nationwide programs on personal renewal and compassionate caregiving to over 20,000 nurses and health professionals for Carondelet Management Institute. For thirty years Let has engaged in spiritual practice with recognized masters in Zen, Vipassana, Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, as well as studying in his native Judaeo-Christian tradition. He is currently studying with H.W.L. Poonja, an enlightened master in the tradition of human freedom and nondual consciousness. He has taught meditation and self-esteem courses at the Omega Institute and the Kripalu center, and has led hundreds of personal growth, relationships, and spiritual development seminars throughout the US.
Let Davidson, Ph.D.
Mastery Training & Consulting
412 Linn Street
Ithaca, New York 14850
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