Though Zen has a rich historical and religious tradition it has a surprising and creative way of not taking itself too seriously.

Not only does Zen express a sense of humor but also a strong desire to negate itself. Zen doesn’t exist for the sake of Zen but as a tool to help people live more in reality and less in partial and false interpretations of reality.

It is a philosophy, and explanation, for what it means to be human, and a set of practices that can be seen as antidotes and aspirations. Antidotes for greed, hatred, and delusion (which have been popular for thousands of years). Aspirational (and practical) practices for living with greater wisdom and compassion – to live with a radical sense of aliveness, freedom, and connection.

If you are a business person, you most likely don’t see yourself as a Zen student. If you are a Zen student, you probably don’t see yourself as a business person. If you are either or neither, it can by useful to try on the possibility that you are both.

We are all Zen Students

I believe we are all Zen students, in that we all must contend with birth, old age, sickness, and death – that is if we are lucky. We have no idea where we come from or where we will go. How did we get here? What is consciousness? At the deepest level, I believe we all have the same aspirations — to love and be loved, to discover and express our unique gifts, and to find peace and equanimity in the midst of whatever life may bring us.

Zen is a practice and set of values to help us be aware, to awaken, to uncover our innate wisdom and authenticity. Though Zen is often perceived as enigmatic and difficult to understand, it is at its heart a system of simple practices that can be done anywhere — even, and especially in the middle of our busy work lives, and within all our relationships.

There is no separation between Zen practice and everyday, ordinary life.

We all have to deal with difficulty and crisis — taking care of dying parents, troubled friends, or growing children; meeting the changes that come suddenly or gradually; confronting pain and difficulty for ourselves and for those we love.

Meditation practice, the heart of Zen practice, can be seen as creating a controlled crisis — a time each day where we have nowhere to go and nothing to do; we’re depending on our own bodies and minds, completely alone, and completely connected. This practice can help us reveal ourselves, our pain and suffering, our bare feelings, the immensity of our lives. By sitting still, just by being present, we learn that we can fully accept our imperfect selves, just as we are. This process can be cleansing and transforming; it can influence every part of our lives. Zen practice is ultimately about finding real freedom and helping others.

We are all Leaders

And we are all business people. There is no avoiding having to deal with money, with the basic needs we all have for food and shelter and clothing, and for getting things done. All professions, even those not primarily focused on business, are embedded in the world of business. Doctors and therapists call their customers patients. Teachers and social workers cannot escape budgets and management structures. Nonprofit organizations and religious institutions need to attract employees, pay salaries, and perform within financial frameworks.

At the heart of all businesses, whether they are overtly within the business community or not, is a focus on meeting the needs of people. Businesses make things or provide services that people need. We sometimes forget that the starting point of business is much more than making money or creating wealth. During the dot-com bubble we witnessed firsthand what happens when businesses are started without a thoughtful plan for meeting the needs of people: they often disappear rather quickly.

The business world appears to be understanding and embracing this – that we are all Zen students and business people (without ever using the word Zen) – that bringing out the best in people and supporting real connection and collaboration are good for people and good for business.

Some key practices:

As a student of Zen, ask yourself: “What’s most important?”

Experiment with appreciating and being curious about everything, shifting from being right and knowing, to wondering; noticing how rich everything can be when we, like Zen, have a sense of humor about ourselves.

As a business person explore asking yourself: “What problem or need does my work address? How might I be of greater service?”