Focus completely. Don’t think while doing each of these steps. If your mind wanders and you start thinking about something, just return to the object of focus. Do not think about anything at work, your personal life, or anything else. Just focus completely, first on your breathing, then on a nice, small physical object or image, and finally on your heart.
With all that’s going on in our country, in our economy, in the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. We know that chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. For many of us, our work, our livelihood, is a particular cause of stress. Of course, a bit of stress is just fine, but what are stress management strategies that leaders use to become “Stress-Proof” at work? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help to reduce or even eliminate stress from work? As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lawrence Borok.
Lawrence Borok is the now-retired CEO of a company which had quite an unusual birth. He was a student of Dr. Frederick Lenz, an American-born Buddhist teacher, in the 1980s and 90s, and ran his medical software company, Vantage Point Healthcare Information Systems Inc., which successfully developed and brought to market two very technologically innovative healthcare IT systems. Mr. Borok recently published Rama Speaks: The Teachings of Rama-Dr. Frederick Lenz.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
Growing up, I always wanted to have a career where I’d be more independent, more of a self-starter. My father had his own accounting practice, and on more than one occasion recommended to be in business for yourself rather than work for someone else.
When I was an undergrad at UCLA, they had a program where you could design your own major if you couldn’t find one that worked for you. I was interested in architecture and UCLA did not have such a major, and so created my own “environmental design” major. I found a tenured professor willing to sponsor it and it worked out very well.
During that time I read some lovely books of Zen stories and became interested in Buddhism. It just made so much sense to me. After graduate school in Architecture at UCLA and then working for some planning and design firms, in 1982 I met Dr. Frederick Lenz, a Buddhist meditation master, and became a student of his. He ran a very real world program, not anything like becoming a monk. He taught that you could make greater spiritual progress living in the world than in a monastery, and also that computer science was an excellent way to combine mental development with economic security.
I was pretty disillusioned with architecture by then, the boom-and-bust construction cycle creating chronic layoff pressure, and tried computer science. It worked out wonderfully. After several years as a programmer, Dr. Lenz suggested starting a software development business. I ended up developing a medical software system for a large physician group, and took it to market. This led to a great deal of support from and partnership with Dr. Lenz. We developed a second product, which was one of the first data analytics software systems in healthcare. After Dr. Lenz passed away in 1998, I continued as CEO of the company until retiring in 2015, when it was acquired by an Indian health systems corporation.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
Perhaps most of all, to not take things so personally. To understand that the bumps and bruises in the business world are more a matter of people seeking power and control, regardless of who they are interacting with.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
As you may expect, it would be Dr. Frederick Lenz. His constant help and support throughout my career was priceless. The lessons he taught about applying the meditation and mindfulness in Buddhism to daily life in the business world made all the difference. He was a very powerful teacher, and he met with and meditated with his students monthly. You could feel a great deal of energy when meditating with him. Those meditations always left me feeling refreshed and very clear at the same time. That made a huge difference in running a business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
My latest project was writing a book, Rama Speaks, which organizes and presents what he taught us in a systematic way (he used this spiritual name with his students). He recorded over 120 instructional tapes for his students over a 12 year period. I wanted to take a set of traditional and not-so-traditional Buddhist topics and then group excerpts from those talks on those topics. The book has nearly 200 excerpts, many of which are quite extended. I’m now completing the audiobook version, which I’m excited about since I’ve been allowed by the Lenz Foundation to splice in the actual original recordings for these excerpts.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is essentially getting stuck in specific states of mind which don’t have much energy and which are confused. Being in a state of mind that is a combination of insufficient energy and confusion creates stress. Stress is not an external force, it is our mental reaction to certain persistent situations.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
More than ever, people today live with pressures that are both unrelenting and that they do not perceive very clearly. It’s like you are underwater trying to see what’s hundreds of feet away. That poor visibility is a fact of life because nothing in our family upbringing, educational or social experiences addresses it. So we react to the pressures of daily life, from fears at work to regularly being stuck in traffic, by tensing up. It is our inadequate reaction to situations that we don’t perceive well. Stress is entirely mental.
What generates stress are the states of mind we reside in before stress sets in. You don’t feel stressed out if you are in, and can sustain, a positive state of mind. But this is not some kind of childish wishful thinking. It requires internal power to move your mind into a positive state that is actually more of who you really are. How do you do that?
People in the West don’t believe that they can change their state of mind at will. They largely believe that their state of mind is always dependent upon external circumstances. The underlying premise of meditation and mindfulness, stripped of all religious trappings, is the exact opposite. You can change your state of mind at any moment, but it requires a clearer perception and a greater level of internal energy to move it into a happier, less stressful state. So the real problem is not that you are stressed, it is that you don’t have the internal energy and awareness to enable your mind to be independent of external pressures.
You can move your mind into more positive states, but that isn’t taught in our society. That’s exactly what the core of meditation accomplishes. If you actually perceive that your state of mind can be independent of external circumstances, then you are seeing clearly. Your mind is no longer underwater. That’s how to eliminate stress.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
The body of course processes stress in a variety of illnesses or conditions, from skin rashes to heart attacks. High blood pressure is a common example. We know that the mind definitely affects the body. The basic mental condition behind stress is confusion, and confusion manifests in different ways. Anxiety, a key indicator of stress, is largely the result of a confused mental state. Over time that can become depression, which millions suffer from today. So the first step is to be in less confused states of mind.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
The only thing stress is good for is as an early warning signal to change your state of mind.
Is there a difference between being in a short term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?
I wouldn’t really consider any short term stressful situation as “stress.” That’s more a question of how a person deals with an immediate, largely unexpected challenge. For example, physical danger is not stress, and it demands immediate attention. The states of mind behind martial arts are an example of how to handle all manner of short term dangerous situations. Stress is more of a constant pressure we gradually become aware of and habituated to. The long term ramification of stress is the development of a debilitating chronic disease. Your body simply cannot handle it, and some part of it breaks down.
Is it even possible to eliminate stress?
Yes, absolutely, and it’s not that difficult to do. I’ve offered a 5-step method a little later in this interview that, from my own personal experience, really works. But it does take time and consistency, though even after a few weeks you’ll notice a difference.
In your opinion, is this something that we should be raising more awareness about, or is it a relatively small issue? Please explain what you mean.
This is something that we should be raising more awareness about. It is not a relatively small issue. The difficulty is that the solution requires mindfulness in tandem with meditation, and these are topics which are not a part of our general Western culture. There is considerable misunderstanding about them as exotic aspects of “Eastern religion,” which puts off many people. The growing interest in mindfulness among millions of Western people, as well as growing interest in meditation, has increased considerably in recent years. There have been many university research studies confirming their benefits. These hold great promise in reducing stress. However, there are also a variety of concepts and practices promoted as mindfulness and meditation that in fact are misleading if not simply false.
Let’s talk about stress at work. Numerous studies show that job stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. For you personally, if you are feeling that overall, work is going well, do you feel calm and peaceful, or is there always an underlying feeling of stress? Can you explain what you mean?
To make a long story short, if you do not know how to monitor your mind while at work, and then be able to keep it centered and balanced, there will always be an underlying feeling of stress. It doesn’t matter that overall, work is going well. When I was running a company for many years there was constant pressure, even when things were going well, if only to anticipate what might be around the corner.
It is important to understand that thinking about your stress, trying to figure it out, is insufficient. That won’t make it go away. If anything, you become more mired in it. Unless you have the clarity of vision and the internal energy to cut through it, recognize that it’s your mind’s creation, nothing will change. You must develop a solid foundation of inner stillness and energy that is independent of external circumstances. That is the only permanent solution to stress in our modern world. This means doing some extra “work,” i.e. meditation, and being mindful throughout the day. There are a few simple, basic meditation methods that can make you stress-free.
Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that busy leaders can use to become “Stress-Proof” at Work?” Please share a story or example for each.
Here’s a 5-step, 15 minute meditation technique to become “stress-proof” at work. Do this twice a day, before you go to work and when you get home at night:
- Sit in a chair with the back straight, or on a pillow on the floor with the back straight.
- Begin by doing a basic 4–4–4 breathing exercise for 5 minutes: Breath in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, and then exhale for a count of 4.
- Focus with the eyes open on something nice, such as a flower, a small rock, a marble, or a graphical image that has a central point you can focus on, for 5 minutes.
- Focus with the eyes closed on your heart for 5 minutes.
- Focus completely. Don’t think while doing each of these steps. If your mind wanders and you start thinking about something, just return to the object of focus. Do not think about anything at work, your personal life, or anything else. Just focus completely, first on your breathing, then on a nice, small physical object or image, and finally on your heart.
The result of this will be an increase in your mental clarity and your energy level, guaranteed. You have moved your mind into a stronger and happier state. Then you apply this clearer, stronger mind to what happens at work. That’s mindfulness. That eliminates the stress. When you get home and do it again, you’ll feel very refreshed after the long day. Stress becomes just a distant memory to be forgotten. After a while you might feel like lengthening the length of time for each step.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
The teachings of Dr. Lenz, which are quite extensive as I mentioned earlier. Three students of his were professional musicians and recorded a number of albums. They have long since disbanded, but the guitarist, Joaquin Lievano, has come out with a few albums, in particular “Ecologie,” which always makes me feel good.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Meditation, starting with the above simple 5-step method, and then progressing with a few more steps. The big step, of course, is applying the increased energy and clarity of mind to the rest of your day.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Take a look at Rama Speaks: The Teachings of Dr. Frederick Lenz, up on Amazon. That has everything in it I wanted to do.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.