by Michael J. Vandermark, Ph.D., former director of Corporate Programs for the Chopra Center for Well Being, and the author of the 7 Laws Workshop
Eight members of the community, each representing separate industries, watchfully entered the corporate classroom. Readily apparent was its décor, directly from the heart of India. The aroma of the place was soothing, penetrating, incense-like. The walls, adorned with Eastern artwork, promptly captured the group's attention and deep appreciation. The room was spacious, inviting, cozy, and set apart with soft, soothing background music.The furniture was sparse, chairs only, arranged in a circle with an unlit votive candle placed on each chair's seat and a colorful Indian blanket draped neatly over each back. On a richly carved side table sat the makings for hot decaffeinated tea complete with shredded ginger root and lemon for flavoring the beverage. No coffee, pastries, muffins or bagels.
The natural and uniform calmness of this seemingly not-made-for-corporate-America setting was drawn in by these newcomers with each curious breath. Somehow just being in the space of the room evoked the rather paradoxical response, "This is unfamiliar territory, yet comfortably familiar."
Why did these eight individuals from the fields of dentistry, filmmaking, healthcare, and consulting, as well as from the high tech and hospitality industries, come together in this unusual setting? What was it about this place and its decidedly Eastern climate that was so intriguing?
They came for a workshop.
Seven Spiritual Laws for the Workplace, offered by Deepak Chopra's Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California, was the point of departure. Departure from the typical, departure from the predictable, departure from the mundane and the safe. All were here to investigate a new approach to developing their organizations, and in particular, their personal treks within them.
Who is Deepak Chopra?
Deepak Chopra, M.D., born in India, trained as an endocrinologist, widely recognized in the U.S. for his skill in the integration of Western science with Eastern philosophy, has succeeded in leading the pack in the arena of mind/body medicine and spiritual revival. With over 26 books to his credit and 100 plus audio recordings, Deepak has garnered the attention of global political leaders such as former President Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Oscar Arias (President of Costa Rica). In addition, distinguished spiritual leaders such as His Holiness The Dalai Lama and His Holiness Vasudevanand Saraswati, sage-philosopher of India, have praised Deepak's uncanny ability to scientifically link seemingly indefinable concepts like God and Spirit to the everyday experiences of our lives.
The "So what?" lies not only in the work of Dr. Chopra and the deep-felt international effects of his teachings, but the emerging interest in what he offers those in the workplace.Yes, the workplace.
Rather than meander at this moment through the philosophical musings of whether Deepak's focus on quantum physics, spirituality, the mind/body connection and eastern philosophy should be a topic of corporate discussion, let us first investigate what those eight workshop pioneers experienced.Then you can draw your own conclusions.
Law #1 - The Law of Pure Potentiality
In the context of executive leadership, this law points to the power of the human spirit in the workplace.Notwithstanding the myriad interpretations of the word "spirit" or "spiritual," this law draws our attention to the scientifically-validated evidence that there is more to the experience of being human than simply our physical bodies.To illustrate, executives are charged daily with maintaining a high-spirited workforce, developing strong morale, and creating environments of enthusiastic contribution and production.A lexicographer would advise that an inspired group of employees is a workforce "in-spirit" and that to be enthusiastic (entheos) is to be close to God or God-like.While a discussion on the nature of God or organized religion lies outside the scope of this article, it is helpful to bear in mind that 96% of the general U.S. population believes in some higher power, albeit in several controversial forms.Nevertheless, recognizing such belief systems is important in this day and age, a time when 76 million baby-boomers are discovering a pull toward deeper spiritual meaning in their lives, including the workplace.This trend is important when one considers the number of boomers presently managing or leading organizations.
The law of pure potentiality reminds us that accessing human potential is most easily accomplished through certain practices such as planned occasional silence, spending time in nature, and by experiencing lower levels of mental turbulence typically brought about by dysfunctional blaming and judging of others.In other words, instead of yet another noisy and for the most part unproductive problem-solving session complete with facilitators and untold pages of flip chart paper, it may be useful to invite moments of silence among group members as a useful tool to invoke creativity.Why silence?Because calmness, focus, and creativity stem from spirit, from pure silence, from the field of pure potentiality.For example, where right now is the great idea you will have tomorrow? To some, this is a rhetorical or even meaningless question, yet field and quantum theories offer an explanation.The idea you will have tomorrow is presently in the field of all possible ideas you could have tomorrow.Notice how tricky it is to imagine a field of ideas "out there" yet to be experienced?Accessing the field of tomorrow's great ideas is to access the source of the ideas themselves, to access pure silence, pure creativity, pure spirit. In the language of corporate America, it sounds like this: "Excessive mental turbulence caused by workplace stress, as well as anxiety invoked by the need to blame and judge others, reduces the creativity and potential needed for success. It reduces access to employee productivity and well-being.Silence, on the other hand, opens the door to higher levels of creativity and overall well being due to accessing the source of the ideas themselves.
To summarize, the law of pure potentiality reminds us of our essential nature, one of pure spirit.Accessing our potential is greatly accommodated through practicing silence, being in nature, and by reducing mental stress caused by dysfunctional blaming and judging of others.
Law #2 - The Law of Giving and Receiving
We live in a world of give and take.Clearly, individual and organizational success are poised on the ability to receive payments for goods and services offered.However, we occasionally lose sight of the foundation for this seemingly simple principle, that is, the principle of dynamic exchange.One need only reflect on the nature of the cosmos to recognize nothing is static.As an executive in a leadership role, how often have you reminded others, "The only thing constant around here is change"?Yet, the comments often stop there, with just the reminder that change is occurring. What sometimes gets left behind is the dynamic nature of change itself and how it helps us or hurts us in the workplace.
Organizations and the people in them are in dynamic exchange.Here the important consideration is "dynamic," that is, giving and receiving are different aspects of the same flow of energy.Popularly characterized by the phrase, "What you give is what you get," this dynamism appears to be rarely understood or fully discussed in corporate settings.Yet beneath the surface, we have all lived its effects both at home and on the job. For example, offering a smile generally returns one.The same is true for love and attention. When offered by supervisors, appreciation is generally returned in like kind.The well-known and less understood notion of empowerment provides another example.That is, if you want power, give it.Of course, many executives have painfully noticed the dilemma here, "It took me a long time to get my power, why would I give it away?"Not giving power away, yet asking others to take it, results in stagnation of the organization's energy flow, or at least part of it.Stagnation ultimately leads to death and decay, not unlike many failed empowerment efforts in corporate America throughout the past decade.
Law #3 The Law of Cause and Effect
Executives are tasked with what often seems as infinite choice making.That is, the daily routine of a manager or leader is one of decision after decision.And it is fairly safe to say a poor decision may often lead to catastrophe.Revisiting poor decisions both in and out of the corporate arena is an easy reminder of the well known phrase, "What goes around comes around."Such was the case of Frank Lorenzo, former CEO of the failed Texas Air, the would-be largest airline on the planet.The painful story of Lorenzo's attempt to build his empire by annihilating unions and lowering wages across the board earned him not only the reputation as one of the worst U.S. CEOs of his time, but denial by the FAA in 1997 to attempt to build another U.S. carrier.The FAA's reason for denial had nothing to do with his financial capabilities and other assets.Instead, the regulator turned down his request based on his reputation and the evidence of destroying the livelihoods of thousands of airline employees.In short, what Lorenzo sowed was later reaped in similar fashion.In that brief story lies the foundation of law #3, the law of cause and effect.
This law is simple and straight-forward.The cause and effect aspect of one's life suggests decisions made now will lead to consequences later.Perhaps not immediately, as in the case of Frank Lorenzo, but sooner or later there is a debt to be paid or a reward to be reaped.In the airline industry, while Frank Lorenzo was busy with lawsuits and attempts at union-busting, Southwest Airlines' CEO Herb Kelleher was busy sowing the seeds of a playful yet fiercely competitive approach to doing business.It worked.Herb has reaped the benefits of his long-term employee orientation and belief in human spirit (the airline's in-flight magazine is titled "Spirit") and has been ranked among the top-rated U.S. CEOs.Not to mention Southwest's financial track record as having the best margins and profitability record in the history of U.S. aviation.
Law #4 The Law of Least Effort
In the martial arts, the underlying theme is to "go with the flow" and not push back.Pushing back depletes energy and leads to the risk of losing.However, in corporate America, the phrase "push back" takes on the very essence being avoided in the martial arts.That is, to push back often means to attempt gaining control through extra effort, sometimes at all costs.Yet seeking power and control wastes energy.As an executive, one may easily notice the louder the scream, the greater the anxiety, not to mention the risk of heart disease and other stressors.
The law of least effort is easily understood by turning a watchful eye toward nature.Nature does what it does effortlessly.Through nature's intelligence the cosmos exists with ease.Grass grows, the wind blows, waves endlessly and effortlessly meet the seashore.There is no struggle.On the other hand, visit a typical staff meeting at just the right time and all that appears to exist is struggle. Blaming, cajoling, defending one's view to the death, although dramatized a bit here, all deplete energy.The law of least effort suggests the opposite of extending effort and pushing back.The law stresses "do less, accomplish more."
Doing less to accomplish more seems antithetical amidst today's corporate battle cry of "do more with less."In the case of the battle cry, the focus is generally on resources, in the case of law #4 however, the focus is on one's state of mind.Applying the law of least effort requires an internal focus and is centered on 1) Total and complete acceptance of the status quo.No fighting back needed.The present moment is exactly as it should be.2) The taking of responsibility, that is, despite one's pleasant or unpleasant experiences in life, the person responsible for what happens to one is oneself.3) The practice of defenselessness. Express yourself as needed, but avoid relentless defending of your point of view.The emphasis is on the word relentless.Letting go of one's need to be victorious, to dominate at all costs, does not mean total letting go.But when the choice is made to fight, be it at a staff meeting or at home, and relentless defending of one's point of view occurs, maximum effort is expended and depletion sets in.
Law #5 The Law of Intention and Desire
As leaders set their organization's direction and managers put in motion the resources and logistics to move in the desired direction, goals become part and parcel of the effort.The law of intention and desire informs us that inherent in the goal itself are all of the mechanics needed for its fulfillment.The catch is the practicing of the other four laws.Looking back, recall law #1 focuses on accessing potential through silence, spending time in nature, and practicing non-judgment.Law #2 implies that giving to others what we seek for ourselves will create positive cause and effect (law #3) in our lives.With positive cause and effect, our lives become easier and therein lies law #4, the law of least effort. As our lives become easier, both at home and on the job, more time is available to focus on what we want. Getting what we want requires intention and desire, the foundation for law #5.
From an organizational perspective, this law supports the usefulness of vision and mission planning.Holding to a vision of the future with a steady firmness of spirit surely increases the odds of its accomplishment.As it is said, "Ask, and the door shall be opened unto you."Converted to organizational jargon, this passage implies that the act of asking is all that is needed to set the wheels of the universe in motion toward goal fulfillment.From the realms of quantum physics and field theory we are now learning significantly more about the power of human intent."If you put your mind to it, you can do anything" is not unfamiliar to most of us.The energy and information contained in one's intention are real, not imagined, forces in the universe.We experience these forces subjectively as our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires, memories, instincts, drives, and beliefs.These fields affect the physical universe in mysterious yet measurable ways.Holding steadfastly to an intention increases the likelihood of its fulfillment. Further, paying attention to one's immediate surroundings serves to facilitate goal accomplishment.Once a decision is made (for example, to buy a red car), the human brain, as a remarkable link between the physical and non-physical realm, acts immediately to facilitate goal achievement. (You notice red cars everywhere.)
The executive insight contained in this law is found in the need for goal clarity, the lack of which qualifies as culprit when it comes to underperformance by most struggling teams, as well as untold numbers of aimless employees.Managing the overwhelming amount of energy and information in the workplace must surely rank as one of the executive's top priorities.If the information needed for goal achievement is made available, it sparks the energy needed for accomplishment.No information, no energy.With information and the focus it brings, humans naturally and effortlessly set in motion the mechanics of intention and desire, of goal achievement in service to themselves and the organization.
Law #6 The Law of Detachment
For many, reading the law of intention and desire leads to the question, "If I hold to my intention, why doesn't it always materialize?"In many ways the answer is simple, that is, lack of paying attention to the other laws.However, there is another explanation, so profound in its own rite, it has become law #6, the law of detachment.This law reminds us of the wisdom of uncertainty.For some executives, this law reflects day to day routine. For others, it may feel like the kiss of death.
When addressing executives regarding this law, I enjoy asking the audience, "Have you noticed the strategic plan seldom works?"After acknowledging several nodding heads,I casually ask why this is true for so many organizations.The answers are typical."Too many variables.""Too many other opportunities may arise.""It's important to be flexible and take advantage in market changes." "Who can predict the future?" And so on.
The law of detachment tells us to pay attention to what we want, but to be open to yet unknown options.The notion being that if one sets his or her sights on goal achievement too rigidly, other opportunities may be sacrificed in service of the rigidity, not the original goal.That is, in the distance between goal one and goal two are an infinity of options, any of which may become a more viable solution than the original.However, if one remains too rigidly attached to one's intention and the outcome of the intention, especially if the intention is based on what is known versus unknown, the chances of benefiting from what the field has to offer becomes reduced.In executive jargon, this translates to, "Being too focused on one alternative because we are comfortable with it and have worked with it in the past, to the point of turning down future possibilities, places us at risk." What to do?Hold to the original intention with detached involvement.Paradoxical as it may seem, it works. Stay focused, stay flexible.Be firm, be ready to change.The reason being the infinite number of choices the universe will make available to you as you fulfill your intentions and desires.
Law #7 The Law of Dharma
Of the seven laws, most employees in the workplace relate most easily to this one.The word "dharma" is a Sanskrit word meaning "purpose in life."For those in the workplace, it is sometimes characterized as the difference between a job and a calling, a vocation and simple employment.Used here, dharma implies one's utilization of his or her unique talents or gifts in the service of others.It is a shift in thinking from "What's in it for me" to "How can I use my talents to help?"Of course in nearly all corporate environments, the majority of employees have "jobs," not dharmic experiences.The design of today's postmodern organization is likely the culprit in these cases, since we are still building organizations with the intention of creating a "finely oiled machine."The dilemma, that human beings, in their spiritual essence, are far more than a machine.The degree to which executives are successful developing meaningful work amidst the chaos of the corporate environment significantly contributes to the overall health and well being of the organization.
Putting It All Together
To summarize, the laws link together and may be viewed in this fashion.Law #1 reminds us of our spiritual nature, and to that end the executive's responsibility to view the organization as something far more than a machine.Law #2, the law of giving, implies that giving that which we seek is how to ultimately receive it.The next law, the law of cause and effect, drives home the point that as executives, each person eventually reaps what they have sown, and good or bad, it will come back to him or her. Law #4, the law of least effort, suggests that if a person, or an entire organization, develops beneficial cause and effect, life gets easier.With life being easier and less stressful, time and energy are available to focus on what is important and truly desired. This is the law of intention and desire. However, there is a catch.It is found in law #6, the law of detachment, which cautions against too much attachment to goals and to the past.Finally, the law of dharma sets the stage for personal and organization fulfillment by aligning one's purpose in life with the needs of others.
Taken in full, these seven spiritual laws represent the timeless teachings of the ancient sages to the modern day philosophers.To the executive, perhaps there are reminders here, especially about the true nature of human beings and how these universal laws may help to achieve personal and organizational success.
Dr. Mike Vandermark is the former director of Corporate Programs for the Chopra Center for Well Being, and the author of this workshop.