Zen Master Michael Scott: Dharma in Everyday Life

Often a hyperbolized version of a white collar boss, his character clearly pokes fun of what many see in corporate environments—the manager that tries and thinks he can relate to the employees who report to him, an overly inflated sense of self importance, politically incorrect and sexist commenting that seem to go unnoticed by upper management, and a complete lack of real social skills.

By Dana Gornall

I’ve been in a writing funk lately.

A good friend of mine once said that when we find ourselves with writer’s block, often we need to re-fuel with life experience. We need to participate more in life to get the muse burning again.

Sitting down on my couch, laptop balancing on my legs, I have The Office on as I sit staring at the blank screen. I’m looking for a little bit of Zen—a smidgen of Dharma—to stand up and show itself to me. Ironic probably, yes. Isn’t there a bit of Dharma everywhere we look? Am I participating fully in life?

“Guess what, I have flaws. What are they? Oh I don’t know. I sing in the shower. Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering. Occasionally I’ll hit somebody with my car. So sue me.” The quip came out from Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, while I sat staring at the blinking cursor on the screen. That’s when it occurred to me that we could look at some of these quotes and see a lot of zen in them. Maybe I’m reaching, but I think at the very least, all of us can relate to Michael Scott a little bit.

As branch manager of a paper company set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Michael just tries to do his best to be successful and make everyone happy. While often misguided, ignorant and somewhat idiotic, he plays the jester and often mirrors back the darker parts we all have in our heads.

Often a hyperbolized version of a white collar boss, his character clearly pokes fun of what many see in corporate environments—the manager that tries and thinks he can relate to the employees who report to him, an overly inflated sense of self importance, politically incorrect and sexist commenting that seem to go unnoticed by upper management, and a complete lack of real social skills.

This may seem like a nightmare, but done with comedic timing and satire, it’s actually quite funny.

Without further ado, a list of Michael Scottisms, to add a little Zen humor in your life:

“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked, but it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised.”

We don’t like to admit that we want to be liked. Many of you reading this right now may be guffawing at my suggestion that yes, even you want to be liked. Okay, so we all have different levels of self-esteem—and some of us may fall more in the realm of enjoying the idea of going against the norm—but, deep down, we all want approval from someone. Maybe our parents. Maybe our spouse. Maybe our Zen teacher. Maybe the people who read our columns.

It feels good to be recognized and noticed to some extent. The feeling actually comes from a surge of dopamine in our brains that results in a natural high. It is simple biology. Holding some kind of esteem and belonging to some sort of tribe kept us alive back in the caveman and early days. Being an outcast meant death. It has even been shown that having a strong community and circle of friends results in a longer lifespan (Yes, even for us introverted folks). The trick is to keep it all in check.

When we let our egos run amok, we end up with that overly self-confident dick personality. We lose a sense of compassion and empathy for others. We may even find ourselves randomly commenting on people’s social media posts about how that person is most certainly wrong (Ahem), or we may end up holding political office.

“Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.”

This statement runs in my blood. I really don’t know what the hell I am doing. I sometimes put on a good show, and I sometimes don’t even quite do that, but I’m just rambling along trying to figure it out as I go along. I have a funny feeling a lot of us are.

This reminds me of a Bodhidharma quote: To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.

While there is a time and place for striving (because not all of us can or want to be monks or living on a street somewhere), going about life with an open mind, an open attitude, and an open heart is Zen. Being okay with not knowing what is next is Zen. Understanding that nothing is permanent, everything will change, and not getting caught up in wanting a purpose for everything is Zen.

“Sometimes you have to take a break from being the kind of boss that’s always trying to teach people things. Sometimes you just have to be the boss of dancing.”

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. ~ Rumi

We can all get caught up in our to-do lists, our routines and our ideas of what we are supposed to be. This reminds me of when my kids were very little. As a working mom, I often had to get up early, get the children fed and dressed, get myself fed and dressed and get them to daycare. I hated this routine and hated my job, but it was a necessity at the time. Being that I hated it all, I was typically in a pretty sour mood in the mornings.

On one morning, while driving my minivan to the daycare and stewing about how I wanted to turn around and quit my job, I happened to be running especially behind. My stomach lurching in anxiety cramps, my heart heaving a steady low beat of stress, I pulled into the parking lot of daycare. As I opened the side door to reveal my two young children in their car seats, I noticed my son had pulled off his socks and shoes, and was smiling happily at me.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. But what I did then was just laugh. He didn’t know we were running late, he just wanted his shoes off. It was a moment of understanding for me. Sometimes we get so caught up in the regulations of our lives that we forget to just be.

“I’m an early bird and I’m a night owl. So I’m wise and I have worms.”

This one reminded me of a Zen koan. How can one be both a night owl and an early bird? As Alan Watts said, “Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.”

Being present is the main staple of Buddhism. It’s why we meditate. It’s what mindfulness is all about. In the present moment, we can’t truly cling because it is only what it is at that moment. It’s when we worry about the next moment or dwell in the last moment that we suffer. In reality, always being present is not an easy feat, which is why people spend hours upon hours meditating and studying and practicing. But as we work to be more mindful and present, we can see the beauty in statements such as these, the striking antithesis of being two things at once.

“Oh God, my mind is going a mile an hour.”

Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom. ~ Bodhidharma

One of my favorite things about Michael is his child-like ignorance. He wants to do the right thing, but often misses by a mile. In this, it’s easy to sit back and laugh at his terrible jokes, it’s easy to think he is the ultimate buffoon, but like I stated earlier, we can all relate to his character in some ways.

Looking at ignorance as a whole, how often do we go about life mistakenly assuming we know one thing, and then finding out later we are also off by a mile. How often do we find that the things we thought to be true no longer hold water. How often do we find ourselves in the position of being a buffoon?

Awareness of our ignorance, admitting that we don’t know, and being open to possibility is the beginning of understanding.

So it turns out maybe I did find a little bit of Dharma in everyday life. It just took an episode of The Office to remind me of that. And I see that maybe we have a little bit of Michael Scott in all of us.

That’s what she said. (Michael Scott)


Awareness of our ignorance, admitting that we don't know, and being open to possibility is the beginning of understanding. ~ Dana Gornall Click To Tweet


Michael Scott quotes found on Quote Catalog


Photo: Google Search

Editor: John Lee Pendall



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