Mind Is the Matter

What The Hell Is Happening.png

I fell in love with this comic by Reza Farazmand of poorlydrawnlines.com a few years back. Thanks, Reza!

It’s a great question to ask instead of always feeling like we already know what is happening. Rather than experiencing “what’s happening” and trying to compare it to our past in order to feel like “we know”, this question can invite us to view any current moment from a “beginner’s mind”, or “Shoshin” in Japanese Zen Buddhism. It is described as an empty mind and a ready mind. This means a mind free of preconceptions as to how to approach certain experiences.

From this free and expanded perspective, we avail ourselves to new possibilities in the ways we think, speak, and take action. We’re not limited by our conditioned perspective, which is heavily influenced by our past experiences and stories about those experiences. Many of us affix these stories to our sense of self, and that shapes what we perceive to be possible and not possible as we move through the world.

I call this “the path of limitations”. We are “limited” by our deeply embedded experiences and the stories we concoct about what has happened and who we now are as a result of those experiences. We get boxed into our own narrative.

Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi famously said, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.

Yet how often do we move through the world, exerting ourselves from an “expert” perspective, claiming certitude about our particular vantage point relative to what’s happening?

This is particularly true in a business context, where the primary “action logic” of many leaders is to influence through one’s sense of their own expertise (or sense of right-ness), as Bill Torbert and David Rooke note in this HBR article called Seven Transformations of Leadership.

So perhaps a more appropriate and effective question would be, “what’s my relationship with what’s happening”?

In this context, something happens, and we very quickly make an assessment about what’s happening by labeling it as “good” or “bad”. We assess what’s happening as “pleasant” or “unpleasant”. And perhaps one of the most powerful assessments we make about what’s happening is, “is this happening to me, or is this happening for me?” All of these assessments form our relationship with what’s happening, thus our story about what’s happening, and continues along the continuum shaping our story about who we are in the context of what’s happening.

So what the hell is really happening?

Many teachers have offered that what’s happening is neutral. It’s just what’s happening. It is the unfolding of many things, most of which are invisible to us, out of our conscious awareness, and out of our control. They are not the result of our typical “cause and effect” way of experiencing the world, as we like to believe. We do this as a means to avoiding uncertainty, one of the more dreaded states for many in the human experience.

This is the area where our minds box ourselves in and we become trapped. We create unnecessary suffering for ourselves and for others by creating our own meaning out of what’s happening and believing our meaning making of the occurrence to be true.

Dr. David Hawkins, most noted for his book Power vs. Force, writes, “Perceptual fields are limited by the attractor pattern with which they are associated. This means that the capacity to recognize significant factors in a given situation is limited by the context that arises from the level of consciousness of the observer. The motive of the viewer automatically determines what is seen; causality is, therefore, ascribed to factors that are, in fact, a function of the biases of the observer and are not at all instrumental in the situation itself.”

Hawkins is making the case that our relationship with what’s happening, based on our motives and our level of consciousness, is what makes the meaning out of what’s happening… it is not actually what is happening.

I also stumbled upon a story penned by Jim Dreaver in 2005 about a lecture offered by Indian-born mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti. Dreaver recounts that Krishnamurti rhetorically asked a gathering of a couple thousand people in Ojai, CA,  “Do you want to know what my secret is?”

After a brief silence, he softly said, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.

Dreaver shares that Krishnamurti continued, “When you live with this awareness, this sensitivity, life has an astonishing way of taking care of you. Then there is no problem of security, of what people say or do not say, and that is the beauty of life.

A Course in Miracles (ACIM) makes this case right from the beginning in the first five lessons of this highly regarded body of work.

Lesson 1: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.”

Lesson 2: “I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Lesson 3:I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].

Lesson 4: “These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].”

Lesson 5:I am never upset for the reason I think.

ACIM encourages us to practice these perspectives regularly as a means to “heal” our minds from our illusory narratives about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what it means about who I am and what’s possible.

James Allen was a British philosophical writer known for his inspirational books and poetry and as a pioneer of the self-help movement. His best known work, As a Man Thinketh, has been mass-produced since its publication in 1903.

Allen offers, “Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Devine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.

Based on my own experiences, these teachings seem to be true. There is what’s happening, and there is my story about what’s happening.

It’s our story about what’s happening that most frequently gets in our way, prolonging and intensifying our suffering, and predetermining what we believe to be possible or not, as we run these scripts over and over again in our minds.

I have come to call these stories my “MINDFLIX”.

Why do we spend so much time binge watching NETFLIX?

For many of us, it is to escape our mind’s own incessant streaming of our own stories about what’s happening in our lives.

We have no influence on the narratives that we watch on NETFLIX and they do not impact our sense of self. However, our self-created MINDFLIX run our lives. Until we are able to acknowledge this, we’ll continue to believe that our MINDFLIX are reality, when that is seldom (if ever) the case.

As we become more aware that we are the creators of our own reality, as played out in the drama of our own MINDFLIX, we can begin to act as agents on behalf of ourselves to relieve our unnecessary suffering by letting go of our attachments to the meaning we have given to the events of our lives, and subsequently, to our own sense of self.

When you get home tonight, rather than turning on Netflix, try tuning in to “MY MINDFLIX” and see what literally has you and your attention.

Assess the degree to which this storyline, the leading actor and supporting characters, are starring in the reality you would consciously choose to create. Or are you, the viewer of my Mindflix, somehow “at the effect of” this blockbuster that’s got you hooked?

Note, are my Mindflix leading me down a path of limitations or down a path of possibilities?

The good news is, that our stories and our relationships about what’s happening are plastic. We have the ability to change them in ways that allow us to move through life and it’s inevitable challenges with greater ease and with more kindness and compassion for others and ourselves.

If we want to change our lives and the way we experience the world around us, the quickest way to do that, is to change our story about, and our relationship with, what the hell is happening, and remain open to the miraculous nature of it All.

Yours in Loving Practice,


Transactions versus Transformations

I was lamenting to my friend over lunch about the perceived “failure” of a recent project that I had been deeply invested in, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. As he asked what happened, I told him I thought we had agreed on doing transformational work together, and it feels like I was part of a transaction.

To which he replied, “Great! Go write a few paragraphs on transactions vs. transformations.

So, here they are.

Transaction: an instance of buying or selling something; a business deal.
Transformation: a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.

“We want this transaction to transform our culture.” Won’t happen. Not when the transaction has to maintain and preserve what are often held as “non-negotiable” cultural norms and traditional business metrics, not to mention protecting our fragile egos.

Transformational work typically has a longer view. It likely considers a broader set of stakeholders, accepts and celebrates risk and “failing” as an integral part of creativity, and actually rips apart our delicate egos. Transformational work looks unblinkingly at a Purpose and a future to which we all serve at the pleasure of, which will not come about if we maintain our entrenched “that’s just how it’s done around here” excuses.

If we want to achieve results we’ve never achieved before, we must become leaders we’ve never been before.

During the past 25 years, I have been steeped in conversations primarily related to building and growing businesses and the various ways we attempt to maximize the performance of the individual and collective human dynamic in order to achieve our desired results.

What I have come to experience more often than not, is while people and organizations ask for help with transformational change, the transformational efforts are many times doomed from their inception as they are cast as transactions… business deals.

A transformation cannot be born from a transactional mindset.

It’s impossible. The nature of a transaction goes something like, “we’ll pay you X dollars for Y service in order to get Z outcome”. And so, if Y service offered by a coach or consultant does not produce Z outcome, many times the coach or consultant is removed, the transaction ends, and so does the transformation.

Transformational work is ultimately the responsibility of the party who is asking (and needing) to be transformed.

Therefore, transformational success is directly related to people’s willingness to endure the required pain that comes from tearing away long held and deeply sacred beliefs, behaviors, cultural norms, and systems and allowing them to die. Yes, die. Transformational work is painful. The very nature of our relationship with what we hold as deeply sacred actually determines the volume, duration and quality of the suffering that accompanies this pain. The pain is given; our suffering emerges through how we engage it.

We must recognize that unexpected outcomes, stumbles, and falling are the path of transformational work.

We must be willing to become destabilized, inefficient, awkward, and ineffective in order to transform ourselves into a new way of being that eventually becomes stable, efficient, coordinated, and effective. Watch any toddler learn how to walk. They fall, bump, bonk, break, and bruise, constantly. We transform ourselves from crawling on the ground, to walking, by falling down… over and over and over.

Falling is the path of transformational work.

Falling is generally not welcomed in a transaction.

Transactions are like, “this for that”.

Transformations are like, “we all come into this relationship one way, and we move through the work and the relationship in ways that leave us each reordered, reshaped, and literally reborn into new ways of being by one another and the shared experience.

Organizations asking for transformation, while engaging in transactional ways of being with their people and their partners, will continue to struggle in a “this for that” paradigm.

They’re perpetually wondering why people aren’t engaged. Wondering why we never really hit our stated performance targets, and never really realize the full potential of what’s possible. The organization fails to evolve in ways that transform the people, culture, and communities they serve.

If you are not willing to have a substantial part of your identity, your patterns, your culture, your decision making, your predictable known universe to be blown away, you will not allow for the breakthroughs that you so desperately seek, performance stagnates and eventually deteriorates. This leaves everyone more frustrated than when we began the journey as another “flavor of the month” is cast away and we regress to the comfort of our known and predictable pain.

Spring does not negotiate a transaction with winter in order to achieve some result. It does not get frustrated and give up during the process. It follows a natural evolutionary path of death and birth; a transformation that promotes the emergence of new and beautiful possibilities for life.

So, if you are looking for transformational outcomes, don’t expect transactions to get the job done. Find partners who care deeply about your purpose and your people, and who embrace the pain and the mess as the path.

And, as best you can, take comfort knowing that you are simply a participant in the natural cycles of life and death, which we are all subject to, without exception. Attempting to shape transactions in order to avoid these natural rhythms only prolongs and intensifies the pain and leaves us dreaming about a better life, a better business… someday.