The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
– Rabindranath Tagore
In our human-centered world of corporations we have progressively
marginalized Nature as an inert resource. The predatory prowl of
technology has made our lives comfortable, but at the same time
it has removed us from our own natures.
– Dabshis Chatterjee
Sometimes, I am nearly awed at the coming together of events in that way Carl Jung describes as “synchronicity.” For the past six months, once again, I have been preparing to travel to India to teach a leadership course in Kerala in December. Last year, when I went to India for the first time, I went open to the call to go, but not really knowing why India had suddenly come into my life in such a dramatic way. Some things have been happening since, which seem to create a path out of the darkness, though its destination still lies in the unknown.
Nevertheless, because India is now in my consciousness in connection to my leadership work, when I was at the library some months ago, I was intrigued when my eyes fell up on a book on the shelf by an author with an obviously Indian name: Debashis Chatterjee. I had never heard of him, though the book, Leading Consciously: A Pilgrimage Toward Self-Mastery, seemed to take an approach combining leadership and spirituality, which I have been researching for many years. The foreword, I was surprised to notice, is written by Peter M. Senge, an American leadership consultant whose work, The Fifth Discipline, is one of the first leadership books I read many years ago. Senge has a chapter in his book on “personal mastery,” in a way the “secular” term that now stands in for “spirituality.”
Though I immediately checked Chatterjee’s book out of the library and began to read it some weeks ago, I had set it aside while busy with other preparations and ongoing work. I only picked it up again just this past week. After pondering and writing the last several posts on how our techno-industrial society has caused us humans to lose sight our own “nature,” I was pleasantly surprised to see in scanning the book’s contents a chapter entitled, “Nature’s Manuscript: The Leadership Manual.”
So, to begin this post, I want to quote two images from Chatterjee’s chapter. They are, for me, beautiful expressions of the transformed thinking required to return us to our original natural way. In the first, Chatterjee describes the difference between one of today’s “unconscious” corporate leaders and one who is “conscious” of his or her connection to the greater whole:
A conscious leader realizes that Nature never stands up like an egotistic demon and says: “I am the monarch of all I survey.” Even the tallest tree recognizes with humility its debt to the soil.
Chatterjee goes on to describe beautifully how the cycle of Life operates, always conscious of the rhythms of give and take:
Elements of Nature hardly ever exploit one another as passive resources. They do not dominate or plunder each other in self-seeking madness. All of Nature is conscious of the fact that in the welfare of all is the welfare of one. Therefore Nature is consciously seeking to replenish and share whatever it has taken away. The cloud gives back to the earth in the form of rain what it has taken from the sea. The flower knows that the bee is not a burden but is a co-worker in its life’s journey.
As I ponder Chatterjee’s words, and wonder about how we humans seem to have lost touch with the wisdom of nature, I can only at this point suggest that the problem seems to stem from the loss of our ability to control the human “ego.” But, in recognizing this, I am aware that the ego is also part of our human “nature.” It think coming to a better understanding of this part of our own nature is important because if we do not, if we seek only external solutions to our problems, we will be operating with the same dualistic mindset that got us here.
As David Richo writes, “In spiritual practice we encounter no dualism at all, since we have no ‘either…or’ self, only a ‘both…and’ interconnectedness.” Speaking from the perspective of psychology, Richo suggests that at the core of our addictive lives is our ego, which is always after control. In our industrialized culture, there is little over which we do have control. Control is also a way to attempt to escape from the pain of life as it is. The ego wants to believe it has full control. Fear and worry are directly related to ego. Richo says, “Fear thrives on powerlessness.”
Offering a spiritual practice that can help us return to wholeness within ourselves, and create wholeness outside ourselves, Richo describes the two axis on which we can choose to live. Each access centers on hope. One axis invites us to live by faith, hope, and love. On the opposite axis, we live by fear, hope and greed.
As we move through life, there are many fears to face. But, says Richo, we do not have to choose fear-based behaviors. He suggests the “two-handed practice” as a way of living the “both…and” of life, and avoiding fear-based choices. “I can hold my fear in one hand and my commitment to no longer act in a fear-based way in the other. Somehow that combination seems more doable than no fear at all,” writes Richo.
Richo suggests that we physically enact this balance with our hands:
A useful spiritual practice in any predicament is to hold both hands out, cupped, palms upward, and imagine them holding just such opposites. We feel the light and equal weight of both, since our hands are empty. We then say, for example, “I can serenely hold both my need for relationship and my not having one right now.”
In another example, Richo uses the balanced hand practice to suggest how one might live with the realities of losing a job:
I lose my job and am depressed and scared. At the same time, I know I have to search for another job. I hold my unemployed situation in one hand with serene acceptance of the reality of my loss. I hold my plan to do a job search in the other. This is how my depression, a given of every life from time to time, does not descend into despair. Holding my opposites grant me serenity and courage.(p. 15)
It seems to me the kind of mindfulness and psychological awareness that Richo is talking about makes far more sense than choosing to cope as the promoters of the Western consumeristic society suggest: by shopping. Since I began this post, I’ve now actually arrived in India, and that thought reminds me of an experience I had in the new airport in Delhi, where my plane landed the other night.
My traveling companion, who is from India, said the airport has only been open about four months. After we left our plane, we made our way through newly carpeted interiors and down an escalator to the checkpoint counters where we had to wait in line to have our passports examined. What got me, in this brand new airport, is that immediately beyond the checkpoint counters, the terminal opened up into a duty-free shopping mall. Passengers had to pass through the mall before arriving at the baggage claim area.
Where I stood in line, immediately beyond the counters where the officials checked our passports and visas, were two enormous displays of bottles of “Johnny Walker Red Label.” Next to the stacked bottles of scotch were large signs with giant lettering that read, “Reward Yourself.” As I stood reflecting on the message of those signs, I realized they intended to call out to my ego. And, recognizing that, I also realized that the only reward my body really wanted after the bone-weary, fourteen-hour flight I had just completed was to stretch out on a bed with soft pillow. Sleep seemed a far more natural reward. I didn’t need Richo’s hand meditation to figure that much out.
Chatterjee. D. (1998). Leading consciously: A pilgrimage toward self-mastery. New York, NY: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Richo, D. (2005) The five things we cannot change: And the happiness we find by embracing them. Boston: Shambala.