Zen Of Business Administration

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Sunday Talk.
Life at Green Gulch in the 1970s; giving, fearlessness; improv; no mistakes; parenting.

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i thought that
since this is my first time speaking here at green gulch on a sunday morning that i should start by to say a couple of things about myself but seems it seems strange and this practice where we talk about no self but i'll start there does despite that problem
my name is mark lesser and when i was when i was at rutgers in their early seventies i took a a one year leave of absence and then spent the following ten years living here at zen center and
my tenth year i was director of tassajara and
and then it's from there seemed like the the natural progression to go to business school
just just what i did and i came back from business school and i started and ran a company called brush dance that makes calendars and greeting cards and journals and things and the entire time i continued my my pratt
the present center and i was i was ordained as a priest a few years ago i'm on the
zen center board of directors
i am i married and have two two grown children and fact i was married right here in this room and ah
and i've i've just done i've written this book that i'll talk a little bit about called zba zen of business administration and ah
and i've started a our company called zba associates that as coaching and consulting working with businesses

i also thought of the other place that i thought about starting with with a
a zen koan but this this isn't exactly a traditional zen coin because it it has it has an answer and so it's more like a riddle and and this one is
what is the difference between
and then lecture and stand up comedy
and they between the answer is that stand up comedy isn't always funny
zen zen lectures you might noticed
there's generally some humor because it's it's pretty funny when you spend a lot of time just sitting and looking at a wall and especially when you do it for for long periods of time
and because eventually you start to notice that the story the story that we tell ourselves about on who we are it starts to get very tiresome i by about like in a in a seven day sitting by about a third or fourth day
the story begins to
we get really bored with it and we start to we start to see some some cracks in the story of who we think we are in what we will we tell about ourselves
i would i'd like to talk about this morning is a is a particular practice and i think it's a it's a practice that is from the world of zen and it's it's a very very practical practice that we can use in our
constantly in our daily lives in our business lives wherever we are and this is the practice
of generosity the practice of giving and in in buddhism it's called donna progeny are power meter and donna means giving or generosity on prajna means wisdom and parameter is the word that it's it's sometimes
sometimes translated as perfection but the more accurate definition of this word this parameter this is practice of generosity this practice of giving is about crossing over and about crossing over to the other side and in again in
buddhist practice this means shifting your world from
a world of grabbing a world of that it's all about me to a much more awake a world of awakening or worldly we can live an awakening
i was just reading this morning as i was preparing for this i was kind of reading some of suzuki roshi his words and
he talks about
this practice of giving and the particular only back up a little bit that particular part of giving that i want to focus on is a part of giving that may seem a little bit surprising
when we might be used to thinking about giving and generosity is the idea of giving things like giving materials being being generous and this is some this is important particularly around here at zen center these days
and the other the other aspect of giving is the aspect of giving our presence are giving our joy and are giving patients all these are aspects of giving that the part the part about giving and generosity that i want to focus on this morning is in zen it's called go
giving the gift of fearlessness and when i was reading about this morning meeting suzuki roshi his words he says that
it's not it's not possible that
that we that we just we think that we just appear in this world when were born but the truth is that we've always been here
and chris things can't just appear for nothing and he goes on to say that it's not possible that when we die that we that we disappear because things don't just disappear that are here and he goes on to say this is kind of famous quote of
his that that the world is it's own magic and
the sense of
giving the gift of fearlessness and this practice of generosity is this to be able to feel and experience that everything everything about our lives has been given to us that our our hands and bodies and minds
how all ah gift
it's easy it's easy to think that but this was practice this zen practice is to
devote to devote our lives towards actually realizing that and feeling feeling that and living that in our day-to-day lives whether it's
where there were a green gulch or with our families or or whether we're working
this realization that the world is its own magic

green gulch for me has always been a very magical place and
i i
i lived her for three years i was when i was a young student at tassajara i was
i was just settling into life at tassajara when i was things worked a little bit differently at zen center than back this was in me the early nineteen eighties
actually it was even earlier this was the late the late seventies i was a young student debt at tassajara and i was tapped on the shoulder and was told that it was time for me to go to green gulch and i wasn't very happy about hearing that and then i was told that my job was going to be i was going to be in ch
charge of the draft horse farming project here green gulch and i i i i thought for sure that someone had misread my resume
that it was true that i was i was very athletic when i was in
high school and i liked gymnastics and i didn't do some work on the horse but i had
but i had absolutely no experience with the four legged horses and and in fact i had i had almost no experience at all in doing anything with my hands my my father looking back i realized that my father had been an electrician and never felt good about
to it and this would never felt that this was a worthy profession and wanted me to be a professional so he he was very consistent in keeping me away from doing anything physical with my know in terms of he was always fixing televisions and radios and puttering and building building things around the house with would
good and i never i never learned any of that and then when i came to green gulch i knew nothing and but found it was it was as though it was as though i had been living here my whole life in some way that i immediately found that i loved being around these huge beautiful animals and
and being around plants and farming and and started learning the various skills that are
that are so important to farming at one of these was that i needed to learn how to weld
and there is a
one of my teachers here at green gulch was a man named harry roberts
and harry also became harry was a
a uruk trained showman who is also a cranky outspoken irishman and was was one of the leading experts on native plants and also had tremendous skills and harry taught me how to weld and he he acts
x-plane to me that the secret of welding is realizing that everything just appears solid that that actually the world is liquid and that this was
him to metals so that when you when you looked at a piece of metal it was realizing that it has just been frozen and that the trick was to apply heat to these metals which return them to their natural state in which they were liquid and then you can shape shape the metal however you wanted to and as
this was the secret of welding and as harry said this he would he would run out this huge laugh and and say this is also the secret of being a human being to realize that we're just fooled by thinking that everything is everything appears solid
things appear fixed people appear separate but that in in actuality our lives are are much more are completely fluid fluid to the point where it takes tremendous fearlessness to actually realize how
fluid our lives are
i wanna do something i'm seeing
i've been
as a it's as though i don't have enough areas in my life to feel terrified and to feel like a beginner i've started taking improv classes and

and i found that improv has been a tremendous teacher for me about generosity and
with practice of giving the gift of fearlessness
because one of the many lessons in improv that apply so well to our lives and and to our work into practice
one of them is that it's not possible to make mistakes and in fact we all know that we always make mistakes that that were always constantly making mistakes and that and in fact that we should celebrate our mistakes read
every time every time this this was the very first this is the first thing that they taught us in improv was you will make a mistake just by you will do things in which you look completely foolish and that when you do that you should stop and celebrate it and go
i feel stupid i feel really dumb and and this and this became and i think i'd like to practice i think i'd like us all to practice that
how can we can we will you he'll remain on this can we do that together so it's a simple practice i'm all you do is you throw your arms in the air and say
do i feel really dumb so on the count of three let's let's try let's try that together one two three
i feel really
guys are great like we did do that all morning
imagine imagine if george bush woke up each morning
or if this were a practice in congress
you know
i mean this is actually see i'm you know i'm serious about this actually that this
imagine imagine if
practicing fearlessness and fearlessness meaning
admitting mistakes and developing an open flexible mind and having an open an open heart being willing to listen be willing to change course having the kind of fearlessness to ah
to realize that
problems and conflicts can be solved through people getting in a room together and throwing her arms up in the air and sang woo hoo i feel really dumb and and and starting from that starting from that place of
having an open heart

i was thinking about so there's so many things that happened in my in my life while i was here at green gulch and
i want to talk about them all in this some
this container of practicing generosity and this container of practicing with giving the gift of fearlessness and i i always it
case you haven't noticed i'm always when i talk about is what i'm working on right so that my practice this idea of
fearlessness i realized isn't about it doesn't mean not being afraid
it means not being totally frozen and responding from our fear that means really being open and moving actually moving towards what we're afraid of moving towards what we're uncomfortable this is what improv teaches s this is right
says what zen practice teaches us and this is also right
our lives and business practice teach us to move towards to move towards what we're comfortable with uncomfortable with as a way of getting to know ourselves more and more than i was thinking that this practice there's so many practical applications to this practice of giving the gift of fearlessness for some people
i'm being fearless might mean asking for what you want
i'm some of some of us in this room even might have a hard time
i'm asking and saying what it is we want for other people the practice of fearlessness might be being quiet and not always asking for what we want and then it's that it's it's different for each person so with fearlessness is understand getting to know what your own
proclivities are what your own orientation is and how it is that
each of us has built building our own story and protecting ourselves from something as a way to not give the gift of fearlessness

i was thinking of an event here that happened when i was living here at green gulch
i gotta call one day from my from my mother back in new jersey saying that my father had become quite ill and was in a hospital with cancer
and i immediately got on an airplane and left and went back to new jersey and found that that my father had been
highly drugged and that he was he was actually literally tied the wrist straps around him and he was tied to his bed and the doctors told me they did that because
he was wandering around the hospitals is running in the hospital at night with disoriented and
i fortunately i had a tremendous support system back here at green gulch and a zen center there were people who had a lot of experience in hospitals and in working through that kind of system and i got some and that that kind of connection was
so important to me the advice i was given was that the doctors worked for me that i should act with a kind of fearlessness in that situation and fire the doctors and hi my father stopped giving him drugs and actually have a conversation with him about
to what was happening one of the things was that he was he was on drugs in this hospital and no one was telling him the truth this was
added to my my mother and brother were told the the family the way of operating in the family was don't speak about things that are difficult don't say to someone that there but they're quite ill and
ah so this was a very very powerful time for me this was i was in my i was in my early twenties and
a pretty young is student and
and my father my father had for most of his life like my father was manic depressive and was pretty unhappy and and just spent most of his life kind of holding on and not really i'm feeling a lot of joy in his life but
when it it took a few days for these drugs to wear off and i was able to sit and talk to my father and explain that that he was in the hospital and that he was diagnosed with cancer and that according to the doctors he probably probably didn't have very long to live but that one never know
those about these things i wanted to keep some semblance of hope and
there was a there is a meeting that i had with my father that was unlike any meeting that we had ever had in our in our lives and in fact he was quite as you might imagine
college and came to zen center
did not make my father very happy and it wasn't it it was particularly bad in having things to talk about with other family members who always ask well what does your son doing in know all the other all the other family members could talk about things that people under his at least understood but in this case all
my parents can talk about with oh he's a he's a present center and in new jersey this was not a big plus

but this meeting that i had with my father he
he in that moment just transformed and suddenly his own fears just melted away and one of the most the there are several really beautiful things that happened one was that he said to me that he finally understood what i was when it was that i was doing and that he
should accept and under understand why i left the world and life i was in and went to zen center and and he also asked me to hand him a telephone and he started calling everyone that he knew to express how much love and appreciation we felt and this
was i had never in my entire life heard my father express any kind of rather appreciation and this is very very moving in and powerful
to see this feet again this fear melting away and what that was like on the other part of this story though that was also powerful western
to see what happened i took i took my father home
so that he could be comfortable and and die at home and and slowly but steadily he started to go back to the state that he had been in in terms of being kind of depressed and feeling a lot of fear and it i think i i think this is what
i am
what in zen when they try and diminish the enlightenment experience because there's a way in which i think of this as my father finding out that he was going to die had a kind of awakening experience which was very very beautiful and very powerful but didn't didn't have the practice didn't have the support
to stay anywhere close to that and he
went back to being i'm quite closed and fearful and and it was it was a real important lesson for me to see that
no in in part
in my in my role these days as a as a consultant and coach
my prescription for when people need in their lives as i say that that everyone should have a regular meditation practice
but everyone should be in therapy
that everyone should have a coach
everyone should have a physical trainer and and everyone needs a community and in their in their lives and it's just it's just that simple
with with that kind of support system
it may have a a fighting chance at at dropping some of this some fear that is that we've inherited that's in a in our bodies

i was also thinking how much fearlessness it takes to be apparent as both of you our parents knowing i'm just being around children i i sat down for dinner with my daughter who's seventeen years old the a day
and my my daughter is has become a great teacher for me
and she's both in this it's great seeing this this age seventeen where she expresses tremendous appreciation at things sometimes and sometimes is very closed and angry and kind of pushing away there is a a beautiful moment i had with her in which we walked
into greens restaurant i had to pick up something that greens in the city and she had been in there many times but she walked in and there's this big redwood burl and greens and it was as though she sought for the first time and tears almost came to her eyes as she and she said to me has this all
she's been here and she just threw her arms around this redwood burl is it was very very touching and beautiful
this other moment that i was going to describe as she and i sitting down at the table the kitchen table and her
looking up at me and saying
but i think i've taken on the worst traits of you and mom
of course all of my fear came right to the right to the forefront but but i i worked on this was know i worked on staying open and i and i and of question gave me and she explained to me in great detail
and what she what she meant by this
it was actually it was actually really powerful powerful experience

i was also thinking a lot about
oh my these these golf stories come to mind in terms of fearlessness i used to i grew up on golf courses in new jersey and
one is a
interview i saw recently about ben hogan who was one of the greatest golfers of all time and someone said to ben hogan they said how is it that
under great pressure when when most people would would feel pressure and feel afraid you seem to time after time be able to hit really great gunshots how is it that you do that and ben hogan's response was it's just luck and
then the interviewer said
but i've read that you practice golf more than any other human being in the history of sport and ben hogan looked it looked up at the person interviewing him and said well i guess the more i practice the luckier i get and
and i think i think it's that way i think it's that way with
with giving the gift of fearlessness that there's no
in order to be lucky enough to not be caught by our fears it's giving ourselves over to this practice this practice of sitting meditation this practice of practicing generosity
where this
generosity and i i talked about it as being one of the parameters and there's there's six of these parameters which are right generosity is the first one and then the second is an ethical conduct or morality and there's patience and there's energy and
there is the practice of meditation and then the practice of wisdom and these are these six practices or and a very very basic practical ways to
bring meditation practice into into our lives and sometimes it's talked about that this practice of generosity includes all all other six practices that there's no
it's not an accident that generosity was first

i was also thinking of a time when
when my mother became ill and
she was living in florida and my mother was a great example of living and fearlessness in that when that after my father died
within i think it was literally within a matter of days my mother sold house and moved from new jersey to florida but she had a way of making these decisions very very quickly and then which when she found out that she was
that she had cancer it was a very quick decision for her to sell her house in florida and come live with us in our house in mill valley and
when it became clear that she didn't have much longer to live we brought her home and my wife and i thought that she would want to be in a secluded place in our house and me kind of
rearranged our bedroom so that she could be there but she made it very clear that she that's not where she wanted to be she wanted to be in the center of things and she came and died on our living room couch
than my son my son was about them was eleven or twelve and i was thinking how
my children both to care of my mother as she was dying and it was
very beautiful and the night she died at night and the next morning i said to my son jason that i explained to him that his grandmother had died and he came out and i think this was his first experience at seeing her a body of someone who was who is not allow
who is dead
and he couldn't i could see he couldn't quite take it in and he said that that he wanted to go to school that day which was he was in middle school and i was i was very very perplexed by this and thought well you know and i said you don't you don't have to go to school and but he was clear that he want
a few hours later after he was at school i got a call from his counselor saying that jason wanted to come home because he couldn't stop crying
and let he wanted to and that he wanted to walk on and he didn't need to be picked up
and if it was some about a half hour later he came he came into the door of our house and he just came and threw his arms around me and he was crying and i was crying as was just about twelve hours after my mother had died and jason looked at me and said dad walking is
really a good thing to do in times like this you should mission try this and so i found that that he he found his own and then he was able to come and really be be present
as i mentioned i was
it was my my tenth year of living at st center
that i was director of a and
i i had a i had the experience of being director of
having this strange realization that though i thought that i was a
i was living the life of a zen monk and zen practitioner and this was my my day to day practice that i was also very much involved in the practice of running a business for at tassajara is a is a resort as well as a
as well as a monastery
and my day to day activity as director of tassajara was managing people and solving problems and i was really surprised how much i loved doing that and that there was a little hard for me to believe but it kept it kept coming up for me that that this is
is that this might be the next thing for me and my in my own life was to find some way to bring this
this being living and working
as a spiritual practitioner and also being in the world of business and the world of work that there didn't seem to be any conflict at all in doing these these two things this was a a time in which the book in search of excellence was the number one book on the near term
times bestseller list then and when i read in search of excellence
i kept seeing how oh what they're talking about here is is really zen practice
that in search of excellence was about what separates really good successful companies from companies that are that that don't stand out and the first the very first lesson was being close to the customer step and and this as i read this i thought oh this is this is
listening practice this is meditation practice and each of the lessons in this book were like that
and i remembered that in so it seems like it seem like an obvious choice to me
though it may seem strange to go from tassajara to to business school because i realized that
i knew a lot i had just had ten years of zen training but i knew very little about business practice and that if i were going to somehow find a waiter
incorporate these to these two practices business practice and spiritual practice where i needed to get this this other training and thus my my choice and
and i've never chosen an easy way soil i went right to business school on wall street to n y u business school and it was a quite a shock to my system
and i think i'll tell one little story about what it was like being a new york and then i want to i'm just read read a piece for my book about being here at green gulch
but when i first went to new york i did me too
find a way to make some money and i the one skill i had was typing so i went to a a temporary agency and tried to get a job in manhattan as a as a temp typing and
i walked into this this was like under fifty second floor of a madison avenue high rise in my my best actually probably my only suit and tie that i had and i handed in my resume which told the exact truth about what i had done with my life
and i was sitting in the waiting room reading for someone to come get me for an interview and i could see a group of people in this office around a desk and they were
i believe what was happening was they had my resume and they were all kind of snickering and laughing and i saw someone i thought i heard someone point to me in and say look there's a zen monk here looking for a job and i'm so as you as you can imagine if it wasn't it wasn't really easy
finding work in manhattan
and it was a several month process and my my resume evolved and changed over this time and i think sometimes that i could write a book about how my resume evolved i became
i think i characterized my job at tassajara as the human resources director of a resort in california and
and i was at it i was at a job interview in which this was at a executive search firm in which one of the owners of this from interviewing me looked up looked at my resume looked at me and she said who are you kidding
i know tassajara
and i'm gonna hire you because i i would like to hire as and students here

so this
because this book is called zba then a business administration and the title i'm started as a joke i was at of i was at greens restaurant having lunch and the person i was having lunch with introduced me to prison he brought as someone who had their z b a degree and know it's like an ant play on
an mba degree z b a degree that some and it's not a it's that's where the name comes from and and people often ask how long have i been in one of the common questions is how long have you been writing this book and the answer is i get there are three possible answers to some twenty years ten years or two years
rs so somewhere i feel like the the idea for the book came about twenty years ago and i was director of tassajara and was starting to see where ways in which business practice the commonalities between business practices and zen practice
this is a on this is a chapter
the title the title is read cash be your king but let flexibility be your god
when i was in charge of the draft horse farming project at green gulch my duties included taking care of the horses as well as our jersey milk cow daisy one morning in the midst of my morning work period days he became ill i found her lying on her side in her stall i knew
that if she stayed in this position for long she would die i was able to coax her to sit up but to keep her sitting up i had to lean up i had to lean my back against the side of the shed and hold her up by putting my feet just below her neck and use my body as a kind of lever i was able to get someone's utm
tension so that she could call them veterinarian several hours later the veterinarian arrived injected daisy with a drug and she popped up on her feet
i didn't pop up quite as quickly i was sore and exhausted as i was walking toward my room someone came running over to me yelling that snip one of our draft horses were stuck in the mud
smith but knew that i had to go investigate snip was in the back pasture which contained a large pond and so this was this pond as upon that you see when you come in and the milk shed the milking shed with this shed right out here outside the sender
snip was in the back pasture which contained a large pond she'd been drinking from the pond and had sunken into the mud to the tops of her legs and she appeared to be slowly sinking further we tried calling her and then with the help of several more people retired some ropes around her and pulled
finally it was growing dark we we call the local fire department when they arrived they wrapped fire hoses around snips torso by this time nearly all fifty gringos residents had come out to watch the spectacle this was a good thing
as we needed everyone's help we asked everyone to pull on the on the hoses and in this way we were able to slowly extract snip from the pond
working as a zen farmer taught me a tremendous amount about flexibility rich served me well in my role as ceo of a growing publishing company every day working with the horses and cows was unpredictable each day began with a plan and a lot of things to accomplish when life on the
harm unfolded every day at work at brushed answers unique and unpredictable employees call in sick or resign the phone rings and a customer orders a large amount of product that we don't have in stock and important order does not reach our customer and time an artist has a family emergency and as unable
to create a design that we promise to a customer specialty retail stores are primary customer base began to struggle and each year more and more of our customers go out of business every few years our computer systems become outdated as we grow our software becomes outdated and at some point useless
then and business share the same ultimate goal flexibility and responsiveness zen practice helps us to develop a flexible responsive mind free as a free of assumptions and habits free of rats and patterns businesses exist to meet the changing needs
needs of customers understanding and meeting these needs requires flexibility and responsiveness and i would add
fearlessness and giving the gift of fearlessness

i think i want to end with
as a way to
practice my own fearlessness to try
singing something and not just miss things having us all sing something together because i'm too afraid to sing along
but this is this is a song that i think of as one of the
it's one of my all time favorite zen songs or though it wasn't wasn't written by dogan
and that the words go like this and i hope i hope some of you know it so that we can
i'm sure some of you know it so that we can sing it together the words are hey ho nobody home now eat nor drink nor money have we known still we will be merry
k i hope you can do this as good as or maybe we should just keep doing the who
let's try this
hey nobody home know we know dre no money have we known still we will be married a girl know by
the home we know drink know mine he had when i'm still a win
the mallory a no nobody home now we know dream know my may have will now step
the man the a
no padding
that is great you guys did the round all by yourself
now it's it's i feel about tremendously honored and humbled to be with all of you and please
celebrate your mistakes and
practice giving the gift of fearlessness thank you very much
yeah and ten