Search Weekly Wisdom
Insights at the Edge
Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with leading spiritual teachers and luminaries.
Listen in as they explore their latest challenges and breakthroughs—the leading edge of their work.
Larry Ward: Mindfulness in Action, in Business
Larry Ward is both a Baptist minister and a teacher of the Buddhist dharma, personally ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh. A lifelong advocate for nonviolent social change, Larry draws his main inspiration from the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr. He will be a featured presenter on Sounds True's Year of Mindfulness program. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Larry discuss how to tap into inner reservoirs of resilience and the factors that keep us from performing our very best work. They consider issues of race and ancestral healing in a time when these questions are prominent in the wider culture. Finally, Larry encourages listeners to develop a "fierce equanimity" and explains just what that means in day-to-day life. (64 minutes)
Tami Simon: You're listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Larry Ward. Larry is both a Baptist minister and a dharma teacher ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh. He's also a director of the Lotus Institute. Deeply inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Larry Ward has spent his life devoted to nonviolent social change, healing, and transformation on a global level. With Sounds True, Larry will be a featured presenter in our Year of Mindfulness program. A Year of Mindfulness is a program that brings participants together online from all over the world to receive guidance from a diverse group of leading teachers including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, and Larry Ward. Each month, participants will be introduced to a new technique and approach that helps them bring mindfulness into each and every area of their life. A Year of Mindfulness begins on February 13, 2017. For more information you can visit SoundsTrue.com.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Larry and I spoke about strategies to develop a deep reservoir of resilience while at work. We also talked about the five energy links that inhibit optimal performance at work—what Larry calls the secrets of energy management. We also explored how it's more important to demonstrate mindfulness than to talk about it; questions of race, self-esteem, and ancestral healing; and finally, what Larry means by developing fierce equanimity. Here's my conversation with Larry Ward:
Larry, to begin, I would love it if you would share with our listeners a bit about how you came in your personal biographical journey to this nexus point of meditation and teaching meditation, [as well as] working in corporations and bringing mindfulness and work together.
Larry Ward: OK, I'm pleased to have such a question. I've always kind of been a student, so I'd studied mindfulness and world religions back in the '60s when I was associated on the staff of the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago. Subsequently, during my time, I ended up serving in India, where I met a monk who really helped me understand the practice of meditation and mindfulness beyond the theory that I was already getting acquainted with.
From then on, every place I got stationed or moved to in the world, I would find a place to practice in different traditions—be it any contemplative tradition—Christian tradition, Buddhist tradition, Hindu tradition—in terms of the practice itself. My focus has primarily been within—and my scholarship has been within—the Buddhist tradition. It kind of led me over the years in getting connected with Thich Nhat Hanh about 25 years ago. [That] really was my impetus [and] continues to be my impetus for both my scholarship and my practice and service.
I think what has happened in the last maybe 15 years is our development of technology and tools in neuroscience has helped us understand that there's nothing spooky about mindfulness—that mindfulness actually is a description of a quality inherent in human beings, and it can be trained, it can be developed, it can be enhanced, and it can be optimized for good. Of course, because mindfulness in this sense is neutral, it can also be optimized for not-good. My goal is to encourage the wise application of mindfulness. And by mindfulness here I mean attention—where we direct our energy and our life force, be that collective in a corporation or individual at work or at home.
TS: Now, Larry, it's interesting that you first of all just talk about mindfulness as having a kind of inherent neutrality—that this capacity to pay attention could be used for not-good. Could you give me an example of that? What you mean by that?
LW: What I mean—the first time this really occurred to me that was not theoretical was in watching the films about 9/11. What I saw in the film of the airplane that didn't make it to D.C. was that there were people praying on the plane and there were other people associated with the terrorists praying on the ground. They were praying for different outcomes. They were directing their attention for different purposes. That's what I mean by—we can use our attention to be kind or we can use our attention to be mean. That's just normal human behavior stuff. So, that's what I mean by that statement.
TS: OK, and in bringing mindfulness into the workplace, I'd love to know a little bit more about how you see that. I know there are so many different trainers now who go into businesses and they will teach both executives and people at all levels of an organization beginning mindfulness practices—beginning practices of breathing and working with emotional reactivity. Do you see mindfulness at work going further than that? And if so, how? How will it really transform the workplace?
LW: Let's see. How should I say—my approach, unless I'm invited in to a business with the expressed purpose of me offering mindfulness practices, everything I do in terms of mindfulness in a corporation or in a business is stealth. I can go in either direction. I don't have a mindfulness agenda in that sense.
The reason I don't, again, is because I know it's a normal human quality. In this sense, this is more a secular interpretation of mindfulness. It is not a religious, and [not] necessarily spiritual interpretation of mindfulness. That's something a little different. My concern with organizations is their cultural adaptability—how the energy of attention can be applied skillfully on helping organizational cultures change, adapt, and grow.
That's one area of focus that I have, and I work with corporations in that way. I can do that without ever using the language of mindfulness—that's what I mean. The second area that I like to focus on—that I see [it] really requires—is leadership as a whole-person activity, rather than leadership as simply a cognitive activity—or in some cases, simply an emotional activity—so that the whole person gets developed and the whole person has access to all their skills, talents, and abilities to lead successfully, which continuously requires to pay attention in new ways. It's so easy to fall into habits.
TS: You chuckled when you said, "Leading in an emotional way." Did you mean just leading by screaming—?
LW: By screaming at people. [Laughs.]
TS: OK, I didn't realize that was an effective form of leadership. Maybe I should try that.
LW: Yes, I've actually experienced this. I've seen this all over the world.
LW: It's rarely successful, though it might be invigorating at the moment. [Laughs.] It's not a long-term solution. This brings up one of my operational points or principles—is that organizations need to shift from being problem-driven to vision-led. People often say they are working on their vision, but if you actually look at what they give attention to—how they spend time as leaders—whether they spend 20 percent of their time on actually what they think their priorities are. Some more, some less; but it's a really shocking way to evaluate one's attention as a leader in a corporation or organization. How am I actually spending my time?
TS: Yes, I think I understand what you mean by whole-person leadership. It's a complex thing to actually do, but I think I know what you're pointing to, I think, when you're talking about bringing in our—this is what I presume—our deep heart, our real vision, our deeper—
LW: Our emotional intelligence, our intuition, our sensitivity. The third area that I'm really connected to this is working with people on developing skills of resilience so that resilience is not just reactivity, but proactivity—learning to be resilient before you need to be resilient so that you actually build up a reservoir of resilience so that you can stay clear enough to make the decisions you need to make in a crisis.
TS: Let's talk about that, because I think that most people probably wish they had a greater reservoir of resilience. How do you help people develop that?
LW: I help people develop that by introducing them to mindfulness methodologies that help you first calm your body, which is a skill. As people learn how to calm their bodies [and] learn how to relax their bodies, that becomes the foundation for the emotional aspects of resilience, which have to do with learning how to calm your emotions—the storm, the wind; the waves of upset, embarrassment, feelings of failure, or even feelings of success that sometimes disturb people—in some cases even more. Learning how to live with your emotional life with other people, as you interact with other people in skillful ways. This especially includes customers.
I can't tell you how much I've seen, because I also had the chance to interact with customers by the request of who I work with in different contexts and different businesses. People remember how they're treated emotionally. They make decisions about that when they pull out their wallet the next time. So, for me, this is all very practical and has concrete implications for the bottom line, if you want to use that language.
TS: I'm comfortable with that. I want to track back. The very first way that you work with companies, you said, is that you help teams [and] you help people in a business learn to change, adapt, and grow. I'd like to hear more about that specifically. I think that's also a challenge that most people in business are faced with in our changing landscape.
LW: Yes. Yes. Years ago I developed a method that I call "organizational anthropology." What that means is to train ourselves to look at our organizations, we already look at them financially, we look at them in terms of demographics, we look at them in terms of product lines—we have lots of different ways of looking at our portfolio, how we're doing in the stock market if that's the case, but to learn how to look at an organization also as a tribe. When I see organizations attempting to change, they have difficulty seeing themselves well enough to know how to change. I've discovered if you begin to help people with methods, learn how to look at their organization as a tribal dynamic, they can really understand levels of resistance and levels of possibilities they hadn't discovered otherwise. I have four different ways of working on that.
The first one is to be mindful, if you want to use that language, or pay attention to the organization's story—both its conscious story—I don't mean just the story that goes out in the annual report or to the press, or what have you. I mean its living story—inside of people, that is often unconscious—that motivates behavior. These are the stories people tell in the parking lot, in the cafeteria, while they're on trips, on the airplane—or what have you—about who used to work there, how they behaved, all these kinds of things.
The second area is to understand the paradigm that the culture is in. Is it operating still as if it was 50 years ago? There's plenty of examples of businesses that aren't doing well now that could have been doing well now if they'd have got the paradigm shift in their industry—if they were paying attention to the larger story beyond their own tribe. For me, that has to do with the paradigm of the business, staying in touch with their industry, looking ahead, anticipating, helping people learn how to do that.
The third area is on relationships. What are the quality of relationships we have with our customers, with our suppliers, with our whole network of employees? And how does the vision we now have for the next three to five years—because I find it difficult for most people to get past five years on vision work—if we're going to do this vision, how do our relationships need to change? How do we need to relate to customers differently, suppliers differently, or what do we need to reinforce in those relationships because that's going in the right direction for us now?
The paradigm, relationships, the story, and I'm thinking of one more that seems so elusive. And habits.
An organization, to change culturally, has to change habit. That's very difficult.
What I mean is, it takes time, and I you have to know the habit you're trying to change and how to measure it, blah blah blah. But those four things—if those things don't change, in my observation, the changes that you want don't happen, or they don't happen as well as they could have. They don't get embodied. People, the CEO, the division manager, or whoever, comes in the meeting, makes an announcement about the new strategy, the new plan, the new direction, the spinoff, what have you, and everybody sits in the room. Then everybody goes to the parking lot and says, "We're not going to do that." [
It's like the silent veto. If you don't talk about this stuff, you can't become conscious enough of it to manage it. For me, that's my influence in action.
TS: I'd be curious if you could make it real for me by maybe giving an example. You don't have to name the company—but a company that you worked with—and you could use either side. People who weren't able to bring their attention to one of these qualities and make a successful change, or how a company did it successfully. I'd be curious about both, just to really get it real in my own understanding of tribal change.
LW: Right. So, one example is an international business located outside North America. Thirty years old, family owned, very successful, and growing with clients from 44 countries, or something close to that.
The founder of the business is ready to begin to move on in terms of her time, energy, and retirement thinking kinds of things. But the pattern in the organization still is focused on that person, so no one seems to want to make a decision, or to take a risk as long as that person is still somehow in the field, in view. It took some time—several years—to help people as well as this founder to work together to understand that they had a story that they could only function well if she made the decision, and they couldn't really trust anybody else's decision.
Another part of the story people had was this person who owned the business really didn't care about them. That was the story floating around in the organization.
Part of what I do to begin with is you might say I, like Margaret Meade I go live with the tribe. I go to the place—whether it's police, or fire or HP for that matter—I spend enough time in the organization that I'm going to be working with that I start to know the language, I start to see some patterns, et cetera, so I can—along with the team of people in that organization—become more conscious. More aware of the stories people have. The heroes and heroines they have in the company. This business had a couple heroes who turned out to be less than ethical, but the people survived because the story about them did not reveal that.
This is not something unusual in that sense. Then habits—people were late, they wandered, the meetings never started on time. And so we had some discussions and some working together on what are the new habits for what they wanted to do next in the vision, and one of the new habits was, "We got to be on time." If you're not here on time, we start without you. And clear communication about this stuff is where the issue really comes—even if people become conscious, you still have to communicate it skillfully to people or they'll just resist.
That's an example of habit change. Very mundane, but a lot of time is wasted waiting on people who've kind of floating around the building. I see this so much, anyway, in some cases.
If [inaudible], having people define the customer experience that they want to provide in the context of whatever their vision is in the short term is very important. And then you ask yourself, "If this is our vision, we want to increase sales this much or expand this much around the world or wherever—enter new markets, build new stores, whatever the case may be—what has to change here? What has to shift?" I try to train people in asking themselves, "This is where you want to go. What in our culture has to shift so we can get there?"
TS: What's interesting for me, Larry, in listening to you, is I'd say, "Oh, he sounds like a grounded and effective organizational consultant." I wouldn't know this stealth agenda, if you will—that you have a mindfulness background, that you are a teacher under Thich Nhat Hanh's ordination program, I wouldn't know any of that. There's nothing about what you're saying that tips your hat. So, I'm curious, how do you approach organizational consulting that's different with the background that you have? What do you think are those unique stealth features?
LW: I think one is my own mindfulness and meditation practice so that the quality I develop in my meditations I'm learning to embody, and I carry that with me into whatever interaction and encounter I'm going to have—or presentation, as the case may be—in an organization. It's more important to demonstrate mindfulness than it is simply to talk about mindfulness. That's one principle of my approach.
I don't have to do that, but I'm completely fine in doing that because my concern is that people get momentum in their lives with a forward-moving energy. I'm not attached to how to facilitate that or what language to use to do that, because I know—and like in a tribe—if you don't figure out enough of how to speak that tribe's language, it doesn't matter what you're offering. It will not be accepted. It's really big trying to be sensitive to who my customers and my clients are.
Another story; I'm trying to think of a story that won't be heard incorrectly. There was a business that wanted to expand into more diverse markets, and they had a plan—theoretical plan on paper and charts and everything—and I got invited in by the CEO through a friend of mine's recommendation. And I just asked one question: "Has anybody been to any of these places where you want to do this?"
TS: Seems like a fair question.
TS: Seems like a fair question.
LW: [Laughs.] Yes! So, this is to me mindfulness in action in business. What should my attention be on if I want to succeed with what I said I wanted to seed with next? Where do I place my attention? Where do I place energy? Where do I place resources? So many resources are scattered in organizations and that's part of the reason my topic is on energy management.
TS: Right, I'm glad you brought that up because I want to talk about that. As part of Sounds True's Year of Mindfulness program, you will be giving a presentation on what you're calling "The Secrets of Energy Management." What do you mean by that? And then go ahead: tell our listeners the secrets. Just go ahead: all the secrets.
LW: I have to give credit where credit's due. I developed these secrets after studying with an old friend of mine, Angeles Arrien. In one of her books, she—and I've taught with her and studied with her, et cetera. In one of her books, she had gone around the world—she was a cultural anthropologist—and identified what she called four addictions. The more I worked with those and understood those and started to see those, I decided that one way of looking at what she was pointing to was how people use energy. The addiction language is a little confusing for some of us, but to me this is about energy.
The first thing is to understand how you leak energy. Just like you do an audit of a house to find out where there are leaks in windows or wherever there might be. I have five that I've discovered so far. The first way organizations and individuals leak energy is by being preoccupied with what's not working.
TS: I definitely do that.
LW: I know, it's so natural!
TS: That's what I do all day.
LW: [Laughs.] Our neurology sets us up for that as well, right? In terms of how our brain works, [it's] much easier for our nervous system to remember disappointment than it is happiness. That's pretty striking, unless you really work at it.
Anyway, the second way we can lose energy is by being preoccupied with controlling things, or with certainty. It makes us risk-averse, and so we end up holding on to energy instead of releasing energy in the direction that we have chosen to go. Of course, I should say, in the energy leak of what's not working, you never get to think about what is working, and what could work. By the time your energy—you're just so preoccupied about what's not working you don't have any energy left to think about anything that's not in that climate of the mind you've created for yourself by that leak.
The third one is drama. Another way organizations lose energy is the drama, the rumor mill, the triangulation. I had a client once who—and I had mentioned the impact of rumors on organizations, and I said, "Well, we can't be serious. We're serious on the stock exchange. Why isn't it true in an organization?" The next time I visited, I was in the men's room, and I made up a rumor. Nothing threatening or scary—just a little simple rumor. And the next week when I went back to see my client, he's like, "Have you heard?" I said, "It's not true. I know it's not true because I made it up."
LW: This is what we do as human beings. We make things up. That's OK. It's not knowing we make things up, and getting over-caught up in what corporations and people call it—or in offices—personality conflicts. People will have conflicts, but it's different in the workplace unless you're doing a soap opera to turn it into one. So much energy gets lost in people's stuff. This is why the training in emotional intelligence is so very important because many people think that comes naturally. It does not for most of us. They have to be trained. We lose energy by focusing on what's not working, by focusing on control or certainty or drama.
We also lose energy by not having clear boundaries. This is especially challenging now in our 24/7, digital, interneted universe. Anybody can kind of reach out and touch you now, anytime, anywhere, and what I notice is that any call or communication from anyone is always urgent.
[For example,] people who get called in Hong Kong at 2 in the morning because the person in Canada didn't remember the time change. These are all concrete stories I've heard.
So, unless we figure out in our organizations how to create a greater sense of boundaries and clarity, until comfortable saying, "You know, that really is the wrong time to reach out for me." In so many organizations—I was in a meeting recently, and we facilitated a conversation about people, and this was their number one frustration. What we'd discovered is they'd never talked about it together.
It only took 10 minutes to solve it. This is again about bringing clarity in mindfulness—about bringing clarity to what's happening and figuring out how to skillfully handle it. The other way we lose energy is by being focused on perfection. If somebody who builds a new house and invites you over for dinner, and you walk in the front door and they take you over to the one flaw and point it out in this brand new whole house. I've been in meetings after meetings all over the world with different people at many levels all complaining because something wasn't 100 percent perfect—instead of figuring out what the 99 percent or 90 percent perfection was and how to improve that or how to reduplicate that—in terms of how much energy gets placed on things.
That's what the secrets are going to be about.
TS: First of all, I think all five of these are so useful to bring our attention to, at least for me in listening to you talk about them. I'm curious: number one and number five seem to have some overlap—this idea of being preoccupied with what's not working and losing energy about [how] things aren't perfect. I'm curious: how do you respond effectively? If that happens—just so happens, somebody I know, I think—has that challenge of focusing on the negative, how would you help coach that person to have a different kind of viewpoint?
LW: I shared a paper—some of my research from the neuroscience field—in that what we now know is that our brains are wired for survival and safety, et cetera, in terms or our amygdala that plays that function—and other parts as well. And so what happens when something is negative or could become negative, it literally sticks and goes into long-term memory almost instantly. But when things are positive, we have to actually pay attention to what was positive with five times more energy for it to go into long-term memory, or it just bounces off like Teflon.
What I like to say to people is that this is why you can be having an absolutely great day, and one person—one clown in traffic—can upset the rest of your evening by one gesture. Part of this is we're hardwired this way, so we have to learn to practice with our attention not to be caught in that. That's what this means to me.
TS: So, I have to actively put energy and effort—five times as much—into trying to hardwire the good things in my day.
LW: Yes. Save it to the hard drive.
TS: I'm too busy leaking energy and obsessing about the things that upset me—about what's not working.
LW: [Laughs.] One more practice, that if there's time during the presentation in October, I'll do a little bit on. I learned this when I was getting certified in trauma work, but it's called resourcing. This is—if we're going to use mindfulness language—it's like remembering. Resourcing is a practice to help people stabilize the nervous system. This is a part of resiliency skill development—and so that when our nervous system—you know, you fight, flight, or freeze, the basic responses to life experience—that we learn how to spend the time with our attention, remembering those things that are good. In our life, in our day, in our family, in nature.
This can be very mundane activity, but I think it takes effort, and it also takes some learning to know how to do this, but for me it's important for people to learn how to do this. My job isn't to be around forever. My job is to help give people the skills that they want to have if they want to have them—to enhance their way of being a human being in today's world, in a corporate world, and at home—and in this society. Or whatever society I happen to be in.
TS: I'm curious, Larry: in your own life and experience, which of these five energy leaks—if I can get personal for a moment—has been the most challenging for you in working with yourself?
LW: I would say for me, it's what's not working. I tend—in terms of learning styles, I am an analytical, logical-oriented learner. So, I'm befuddled [and] astounded at some things that would seem to be quite simple for them to work, and they don't. I have had to learn how not to let myself be overcome by being frustrated by somebody not being like me, and thinking the way I—every time I'm in a business, I'm redesigning it in my mind while I'm in line and I'm observing how customers are being related to, and it's kind of like my tendency is, "That's not working very well, that's not working very well, that's not working very well."
What I've learned how to do, is to then ask, when that comes up—which is fine—is to ask myself, "Well, what would you do about it? How would you change it? How would you improve it?" I flip as fast as I can to responsibility instead of critique.
TS: Now, one of the interesting things that I discovered in reading a bit about your background, Larry, in preparation for this conversation, was that you were at a certain point, a Baptist minister, and—
LW: I still am.
TS: Oh, you still are? So, OK! What I was going to say was I'm curious about the journey of being both a Baptist minister and a mindfulness meditation teacher, and how that role is for you?
LW: This is a question I'm often asked. The first thing I would say is my theological study was not Baptist. My theological study was at the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago, and the founder was a Methodist. But I ended up being ordained Baptist because the founder, after me studying there for ten years or whatever and teaching and all this and being on the faculty academy, and I had done all the work I needed to do for Christian ordination—but this guy was always in a hurry, so he arranged for my ordination with a pastor who was also a friend of Martin Luther King in those days, and that my mentor knew. So I got ordained Baptist by a Roman Catholic, by a Methodist, and by a Baptist.
I was already intellectually familiar a little bit with Buddhism and mindfulness practice, and that I mentioned earlier the India experience really helped me understand the value of it. And as I went around the world and learned, and then with Thich Nhat Hanh, and then my own scholarship and PhD, et cetera, in Buddhism and religious studies, "[It] seems like this is what I should be doing with myself at this time."
TS: I guess to ask my question in a different kind of way, does your Buddhist practice and being a Baptist minister weave together in you in some interesting way that has given birth to something new that, of course, would be different for somebody who was just a Baptist minister or just a meditation teacher—?
LW: Oh yes, that's correct.
TS: I'd love to understand and get a feel for that a bit.
LW: It does weave because my life—I try to embody my whole life. So, for me there wasn't this period and that period, because I'm still learning about Christianity, and I'm especially now learning about it from a Buddhist perspective, which is providing me with striking insight. But, I also continue to study various religious traditions as well as many Buddhist traditions from around the world. Recently I was revisiting the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius, and then I was re-reading Teresa of Avila, who I had studied before. So, it does weave together and it comes out in my teaching. I've never had any conflict with it or any—because it's all me, right?
So, I try to embody my whole life and bring that as something helpful to every situation. And so yes, so the stories from the Old and New Testament still are very alive for me, just like the bodhisattvas in the Buddhist tradition are also very alive for me.
I think what I—and this is feedback from other people—what happened for me that’s new is this I'm more a dharma preacher than a dharma teacher. I am a teacher because I have the scholarship and I went to university, blah blah. But my energy comes from the oral tradition. That's my heritage as both an African-American and the Pentecostal church I grew up in with my parents, and the Baptist church I went to with my grandparents. All that shows up. I try to warn people ahead of time. All that shows up when I teach outside of a corporation.
TS: Right. OK, a dharma preacher. I like it. Larry Ward, the dharma preacher.
LW: Yes, I was worried about that for a while, but there's actually a translation of the Lotus Sutra, and there's a chapter on the dharma preacher. So, I felt better once I came across that.
TS: OK, one other thing that I discovered in doing some research for this conversation was an article that you wrote [a] little more than a decade ago in The Mindfulness Bell, and it's called, "Being Born a Person of Color." I wanted to read a section of it if that's OK with you, and we can talk about it.
TS: Here's what you write in this article, "Being Born a Person of Color." You write, "Discovering a path of practice continues to bring me deep healing and transformation, which penetrates every fiber of my being and brings me peace, freedom, and understanding. This has come through the continuous practice of recognizing and embracing my suffering, my anger, and my fear as a person of color. I have come face to face with the self-esteem complex in the seeds of my psyche and the collective psyche of our society. I have become intimate with the pain of being devalued, threatened, and harmed. In so doing, I have become more connected with the despair of my ancestors."
That's what I wanted to talk about. There's a couple of things that you say in this paragraph—coming face to face with the self-esteem complex—I wanted to understand more about that, and also this whole notion of ancestral healing and how our spiritual practice can be a gateway to ancestral healing.
LW: OK. I'll start at the end and work backwards. Because I am, at the DNA level anyway, still carrying my ancestors in my present body and mind—and we now beginning to have some research on what can be transmitted in DNA that we didn't know before. Some people suspect psychological characteristics, trauma, patterns of incest—but also patterns of wonder and glory and greatness also. "I am not separate from how I got here," is one was to say that. Whenever I—and I really learned this from Thich Nhat Hanh—whenever I can create peace in myself, I am creating peace as well for my ancestors who live in me.
When I am able to be kind, I am manifesting the kindness—the potentiality of kindness that I've inherited as a human being. My ancestry is not just African-American—it's the human species. To me, the more I was able—and I continue to do this—the more I am able to attend to my suffering in skillful ways, the more I discover I can recognize other people's suffering. The more I am able to recognize other people's suffering, the more energy of compassion is born in me for myself and for them—whoever they may be.
This is both from the African tradition [and] ancestors are very important in the Buddhist Asian tradition. Ancestors are very important. I have biological ancestors, I have spiritual ancestors; I have their ancestors on the land where we live in the world—the indigenous peoples. We have ecological ancestors. I'm surrounded by bamboo here, and trees, and the forest, and we're all in this together in this moment. When I practice, I try to be in touch with in much of this awareness as I can. If you could repeat your first point?
TS: The first point was when you say in this paragraph, "This has come about, this peace"—
LW: Oh, the self-esteem complex.
TS: Yes, "—through embracing my suffering, my anger, and my fear, I've come face to face with the self-esteem complex in the seeds of my psyche and the collective psyche." I think both are important. Yes.
LW: There's a teaching in Buddhism about perception and in the complexes or the dysfunctionality within one's self and in society that can come from this unhealthy mind.
The first one is, "I'm superior to someone else." That's one part of the self-esteem, the self-identity, the self-value complex. Or, "I can't understand my value unless I tell myself I'm superior to somebody else’s." Then I have to live my life, build societies, or whatever, to act that out—whether I'm conscious of it or not.
The other one is, "I am less than." This is another part of the complex. "I am less valuable." This is so painful to encounter around the world. I've worked in villages and ghettos in Calcutta, and I've been in Africa and Latin America, and on and on and on—and in the US. So much of the suffering I see in people is this self-esteem complex in terms of being less than, less value than. We internalize these. We embody these. They drive our behavior from our unconscious.
The third one—that's the most difficult—is, "The same as," or the equality complex. What that means in Buddhism is that, as human beings, we are so vastly mysterious, that to assume to use language and understandings like "superior," "inferior," and "the same," is an inaccurate description of a human being. It can be a description of someone's skill set; it can be a description of someone's capability in terms of actually doing of things. But in terms of just the core nature of being, that's an inadequate description of one another. It actually is a cage that locks us into a narrow understanding of ourselves and each other. Then, anyway—you know what I'm talking about, so—
TS: I think there's a very, very important point, because a lot of times people will say, "Oh, we're the same. We're the same—underneath it we're the same," and they think they're being generous or open-hearted. But what I hear you saying is that they're actually missing something important here.
LW: Yes. So, it's like there's a great teaching in Mahayana Buddhism, "Not the same, but not different either." That's really what the teaching is. No, we are not the same, but we're not different either. We're all earthlings, to use the phrase from a friend of mine, [the] prayer abbott of Zen Center in San Francisco—or in Berkeley. We're all earthlings.
No, we're not the same, but we're not different either. That way of starting to look at ourselves and to look at one another can open up some freedom inside of us in terms of how we think about things, how we make decisions about things, how we envision what's possible for ourselves and for our society.
If we are simply preoccupied or caught in our complexes, we never get out to look at them and ask ourselves, "Is this wise? Is this healthy if we stay in these unhealthy parts of the patterns?" Of course some people are better than other people at different things. To me, that's great. I don't have a problem with that. Some people aren't as good at other people in some things. Fine! That's the way life is; that's not really what the teaching's about. The teaching's about our relationship to one another and our relationship to ourselves and how we perceive ourselves.
TS: I want to just dig in a little bit more here, Larry, because I think when somebody imagines creating understanding between people of different races, the idea of not putting oneself above or putting oneself down—the first two points you made. That's relatively easy to appreciate. But this third point, which is, "And we're also not the same, but we're not different. We're earthlings, but we're not the same." Help me understand how to put that into practice in a cultural way, if you will—or within companies, within groups. How do we actually live that so that the deep respect that I think you're pointing to in that insight comes into action?
LW: I think the first way I try to put this into practice—I do put this into practice—is by how I start my day. I try to start my day by first calming down my body, and then calming down my mind. And then I go outside of our house and I encounter the nonhuman world around me. What I'm trying to do is to get to have just a moment of experience in which the boundary between me and the other collapses.
In business—to take this outside of Buddhist teachings or philosophical thought—this means to me [that] you have to understand that you are your customer, and your customer is you. Your customer is not just some number, some faceless person, a credit card moving through a transactional phenomenon. That's a human being. That's a society, that's a job, that's a life for someone. For me, it means having a sense of wholeness as we interact with one another.
Even when you have to dismiss an employee, to me the practice is to first—in yourself, before you meet or do all this; which I've had to do, and I go through it myself. Then I place in my mind—I visualize myself as that person receiving this news, and I visualize, and I have my mind open and my heart open to all the implications as what happenedto that person. This is not a transaction for me. For me, the center one is about non-dualism, it's about in seeing yourself reflected in the other, and the other reflected in you.
In business this is especially true with our customers, but also with our employees. I am my employees, and my employees are me.
TS: This Larry, gets to the part of us that's deeply connected with other people. You could say non-dual—that there's this unity between us, but it sounds like you're also pointing to a respect of difference at the same time, and that's one of the things that I'm curious about here.
LW: Oh, to respect difference?
TS: Yes, but that seems like part of what you're pointing at, that it's a—
LW: Difference is what makes nature so stunning, so beautiful. Or the night sky! Every day I check out the Hubble telescope for a live feed for a few minutes, just so I remember I'm on a planet.
I think we have to learn to embody this. We have to train ourselves to do this. I've worked a long time and I continue every day, to keep myself trained so that I can also ask myself—here's another interesting way to look at it. When somebody comes to me and says, "Do you know Henry failed at such and such?" or, "Henry made this mistake," in myself, the first thing I say to myself is, "Am I sure about this?" For me, a part of this practice is giving people the benefit of the doubt.
Before I critique, I try to observe. I try to pay attention, but first, I pay attention to my own stuff. I worked with a company once where the owner wanted to know why this guy kept hiring people that looked exactly the same, and I found out after a little while he kept rehiring his high school girlfriend. I guess things hadn't worked out.
But this is what happens when you forget difference. Everything around us is made of different things combined together to create other things. This is how life is. So, to me it's really strange for people to—I understand the discomfort of difference. Different language, different food, different cultures, different weather, different attitudes, ideologies. But I'm not intimidated by difference. I think difference is cool and important.
I have a friend who's a classical pianist and I've had the pleasure of sitting with him in rehearsals. And man, if there's only one key on the piano, come on. To me, this is so obvious. I'm sorry I'm having such a hard time being clear about it, but this is how nature works. We're having to learn to be more like nature. It doesn't mean some amalgamation of sameness and vagueness and some kind of stew. It means deep-rootedness, deep clarity, deep caring, and deep respect. I know people where I live, they've got talents I'll never have. So, I need them in my life.
To learn to look at each other as each other. I don't mean there aren't difficult people and I don't mean there aren't people who need to be in jail or arrested or in therapy, because we all at least we probably need therapy. To me, the difference is not an excuse—is what I'm trying to say.
TS: Now, Larry, I just want to end on this one final question, which is: I've seen in some of your writings the use of a phrase, "Fierce equanimity"—developing not just equanimity, the ability—you've talked about calming the body and not being emotionally reactive—we've also talked about the leaders who are quite emotional as a leadership strategy. But what do you mean here by "fierce?" What makes our equanimity fierce? What's that quality?
LW: What makes our equanimity fierce is we embody it continuously. It is not something that comes and goes. Our practice has developed to the stage at which equanimity actually resides in our psyche, like a calm lake. Winds come, waves can come, different things can come, but the lake is not disturbed. For me, fierce equanimity is knowing that this is anchored in the cells, at the cellular level in my body, and so I can carry this with me and to the classroom.
My wife and I spent three years working in an international school with the owners and teachers and administrators at their request to teach mindfulness and integrate mindfulness into their entire curriculum. The capacity for stillness—there's a great article a friend of mine just wrote about this. There's a great talk on TEDx on stillness and its importance in creativity. There's also some great research on silence. To me, this is how we begin to—fierce equanimity is equanimity that is rooted in the body as well as in the mind, and it's beyond just the conscious act.
Where I live, there's a hundred-year-old walnut tree, and there's been a lot of wind where I live, and a lot of rain, but it's not moving. That's what I mean by fierce equanimity.
TS: I've been speaking with Larry Ward. You have the dharma name "True Great Sound"—is that correct?
LW: That's correct.
TS: What a beautiful name, and I can say, talking to you today, I heard it. I heard the true, great sound.
LW: Thank you very much.
TS: Larry Ward will be part of Sounds True's Year of Mindfulness program. This is a yearlong membership program. Each month, participants study with a different mindfulness teacher, gather with a community of people from all over the world online to deepen their practice of mindfulness and to bring it to every aspect of living.
Larry, as he mentioned, will be presenting in October in the Year of Mindfulness program in a special module that has to do with bringing our mindfulness to work. He'll be teaching on the secrets of energy management, and if you're interested in more information on Sounds True's Year of Mindfulness program, just go to our website, SoundsTrue.com.
SoundsTrue.com: Many voices, one journey. Thank you Larry for being with us, and thank you everyone for listening.