By Jessica Desai
What does Buddhism and the corporate world have in common?
Oddly the secular answer to improving business is similar to the Buddha’s suggestion for improving self.
I worked for a Fortune 40 company that loved Six Sigma, which is a process improvement methodology aimed at removing defects and improving quality. One of the main techniques used in this methodology for uncovering big problems is called the 5 Why’s.
In this technique you have to ask “why” five times to uncover the root cause for any problem. Extensive research uncovered that it took asking the question “why” five times before the true reason surfaced. Reasons 1-4 were only part of the problem or an effect of the root cause.
This is a similar strategy that Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggests in his book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation. Hanh suggests that instead of immediately reacting from your gut instinct, you instead simply ask, “Am I sure?” According to Hanh, this question is directly related to how we view the world, and how we view the world directly affects our experience with those around us, with ourselves and ultimately our future.
Having a “Right View” according to Buddhists is the first step on the Noble Eight-Fold path. And the Noble Eight-Fold Path is our way out of suffering.
Hanh explains how asking “Am I sure” affects our worldview:
“The Buddha advised us not to be fooled by what we perceive. He told Subhuti (disciple), “where there is perception, there is deception.” The Buddha also taught on many occasions that most of our perceptions are erroneous, and that most of our suffering comes from wrong perceptions. We have to ask ourselves again and again, Am I sure? until we see clearly, our wrong perceptions will prevent us from having Right View.”
For me this question has been transformative, not only with my own internal battles, but in relationships as well. There are many situations that tempt us to shoot first and ask questions later such as a miscommunication at work or an argument with a spouse. These interactions often prove to be a breeding ground for exposing our “soft spots” or areas of sensitivity. And these “soft spots” color our view of the world. They are literally like a contact lens that sits over our eye. The eyeball sees the raw unadulterated reality of any given situation and the contact lens sits over this reality only showing us its interpretation.
Here are a few examples of how I rip out that contact lens by asking “Am I sure.”
Externally (relationship centric)
I used this technique in the corporate world frequently. I worked with people who unknowingly poked at my soft spots, every day. The condescending tone often found in the corporate world mixed detrimentally with my anxiety of not being smart enough. Due to this heightened sensitivity, I had to ask myself a lot, “Am I sure.”
Am I sure that he meant it that way?
Am I sure she was annoyed with me?
Am I sure that his tone was about me?
Asking that question over and over until I got to the root cause allowed me to quickly realize that rarely is the other person thinking about me—they are thinking only of themselves. Everyone has their own soft spots that they are trying to hide.
This question is quite helpful with having a Right View about yourself. It is often shocking to realize that we don’t have to believe everything that goes on in our brains. A lot of it is horseshit, plain ole clutter, or downright lies. For example, there was a lot of fear surrounding the creation of my website. I was terrified of being seen and exposing things about myself, especially my infertility. I am an intensely private person and I thought others would judge me, or at the very least they would “pity” me, which might even be worse.
There was a big draw to remain small and unheard. At least I wouldn’t be risking it all then. But asking the question, Am I sure that I’ll be judged, was important. And the answer was that 99% of people have been nothing but supportive. I’ve even helped some people with my story. So, wouldn’t the risk of staying small and quiet be too costly if I had believed that lie?
Let’s break the cycle of our primal gut reactions and ask ourselves, “Am I sure”?
Am I sure that there is something wrong with me? Am I sure that infertility needs to define my life? Am I sure that everything in my head is true? Am I sure that others are talking about me? Ask it five times. Even if you’re sure you know the answer, keep asking. Dig deeper and deeper to find the truth; not just the surface crap. The truth is always there. It lives deep down in the nutrient rich soil of the soul, down in the core of who you really are.
But we have to cut through the stories and lies we tell ourselves first.
And by the way, we’re not God. We will not know with 100% certainty what the answer is. We don’t know without a doubt that our co-workers aren’t talking about us. And if we’re not 100% sure after all this questioning, then maybe let’s just let it go and move on.
Welcome to freedom. Welcome to the realm of unlimited possibilities. A whole new world has opened up for us.
Welcome to not giving a shit. Or giving less of a shit. It’s wonderful.
Jessica Desai is a blogger and yoga teacher specializing in yoga for infertility. She is passionate about bringing peace and healing to women who are struggling to reach parenthood. Jessica provides customized yoga sequences and self-help exercises to mend broken hearts and help women reclaim their inherent value as WOMEN regardless of parental status! You can find out more about Jessica and her story at healyourselfyoga.com.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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