“Small Things With Great Love…” Mother Theresa

June 16, 2009 § 3 Comments

A few months ago, I attended a monthly dinner held by a group of New Yorkers who love to get together and talk about myth and enduring truths at an Italian restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan.   At the end of the evening, a man pressed a book in my hand called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.   It looked like the kind of business oriented self-help books I ran screaming from when I was a book reviewer for PW.  Indeed it is,  but this one has a fascinating twist.   After France fell to Nazi Germany in 1940, the U.S. government created training programs called Training Within Industries (TWI) for corporations who needed to gear up for the war.  One of these programs was the brainchild of a statistician and quality control man named Dr. W. Edwards Deming (could there be a less  Zen-sounding background?).  Deming advised a fluid attitude of “continuous improvement.”     Instead of pressing for  radical and costly  innovations, he urged a war-time mentality, an all-hands-on-deck, everyone-grab-a-musket kind of attitude.  Suggestion boxes were placed on factory floors so that line workers could relate their observations and suggest small changes that could speed up production.   As paltry and timid as such an approach sounded,  it worked really, really well.    After the war, General McArthur  brought the Management Training Program (MTP) to a shattered Japan.  It  was built on Deming’s tenants about focusing on tiny changes that flowed from observations made in the present  moment.   This approach helped revolutionize Japanese business.   The Japanese called it the properly Zen-y sounding  “Kaizen.”

Does it work?  When I was practicing yoga yesterday, I happened to observe that if I energized certain muscles more, my back relaxed.   No big deal, barely worth mentioning.  Except that I noticed that when I made that tiny change, something subtle shifted in me.   I had the impression of  coming out of the fog of thought and opening myself  to the play of forces in the real world.   I had the feeling that if being here–liberated from separation from reality–is where the real magic happens.

“To God there is nothing small,” said Mother Theresa.

Do you have an example of a small observation that led to a small change that ultimately led to a big difference in your life?

An Ancient Way Out of Fear and Insecurity

June 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Here is a bit from The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: A New Translation and Guide by Ravi Ravindra, which I am reviewing for Parabola.    These ancient sutras, which were collected by Patanjali more than two thousand years ago from what was already a long-standing tradition, offer a way out the dark little tunnel of thought and emotion that most of us blunder along in most of the time into the light and spacious  that comes with a realization of our interconnection with the whole of life.  The eight limbs of yoga are:  yama (self-restraint), niyama (right observance), asana( right alignment or posture), pranayama (regulation of breath), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (free attention).   Patanjali’s ashtanga or eight-limbed yoga, was not just a rigorous physical exercise routine.  It was a deep and subtle practice,  aimed at clearing away all the obstructions and tensions, all the grasping, lying, fighting, and contracting in fear, all the wounded animal behavior,  that stood in the way of a direct and defenseless connection with reality.

Patanjli goes on to explain that the yamas or limbs, the work of  non-violation of others and the planet, of non-grasping,  of coming into proper alignment in the world, inhabiting your space with dignity and grace, it’s always the same for all humans and in all times and places, regardless of birth, time, and circumstance.   We live in scary, uncertain times.   It is revelatory to me lately to realize that the source of true confidence isn’t to be found in outer circumstances but in ourselves.  But it turns out it has nothing to do with the strength or our defenses or the numbers on the bank statement,  it has to do with our capacity to just be open to what is, without picking and choosing conditions, without any buffers at all.  As businessman Michael Carroll recently wrote in Tricycle:  “Trying to make our lives secure by amassing all the goodies and avoiding all the difficulties turns out to be an aggressive game devoid of courage.”

Learning to let go and open up as Patanjali (and other sages) advise us to do turns out to be the sanest investment of our time and energy right now.  It is a way to connect with the reality of our interconnection–a way to confidence, dignity, and joy.    What’s your way?

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