This article originally appeared in Tattooed Buddha, find it here.
What does Buddhism and the corporate world have in common?
Oddly the secular’s 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. Six Sigma 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” 5 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 then 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:
Right View>Right Thinking>Right Mindfulness>Right Speech>Right Action>Right Diligence>Right Concentration>Right Livelihood
In this excerpt 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 you to shoot first, ask questions later. A miscommunication at work. 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 your view of the world. They are literally like a contact lens that sits over your eye. Your eyeball sees the raw unadulterated reality of any given situation. The contact lens sits over this reality only showing you 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, everyday. The condescending tone oftentimes 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 you get to the root cause allows you to quickly realize that rarely is the other person thinking about you. They are thinking only of themselves.
Everyone has their own soft spots they are trying to hide.
Internally (self centric)
This question is quite helpful with having a Right View about YOURSELF. As routinely discussed on this website, you don’t have to believe everything that goes on in your brain! A lot of it is horseshit, plain ole clutter, or downright lies.
For example, there was a lot of fear surrounding the creation of this website. I was terrified of being seen and exposing things about myself, especially my infertility. I am an intensely private person. I thought others would judge me. Or at the very least they’d “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 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. And I’ve even helped some. 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 5 times. Even if you’re sure you know the answer, just 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, you’re not God. You will not know with 100% certainty what the answer is. You don’t know without a doubt that your co-workers are talking about you. You also can’t say that infertility is your fault. Most of us have no idea what caused our infertility.
But we all feel like we’re to blame.
And if you’re not 100% sure after all this questioning, then maybe 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 you.
Welcome to not giving a shit. Or giving less of a shit. It’s wonderful.