Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ongoing Struggles with my Psoas (Sore Ass)

I was lying on a massage table undergoing a deliciously vigorous assault on my glutes and lower back when it hit me.  You know that place you can go in the middle of a really intense massage, where your body is taking almost more than it can manage, your mind focused on a bright searing spot, and the only way to endure is to breathe through? That’s where I was.

For me, life is sometimes reduced to brute effort. I often pick the hardest way to do a thing, or the hardest thing to do.  Then, "GO!"  It works, I get stuff done.  I learn a lot about my limits by staying close to them,. I must get something from the strain, perhaps an ego stroke or I wouldn't do it this way.  But the effort exacts a price, which is why I am on a massage table for the second time in as many weeks and why I also recently procured a yoga mat upon which to sweat and strive.  All my effort, all my trying, takes a toll.

I've been reading "A Brilliant Novel in the Works", by Yuvi Zalkow.  "Oh," I felt viscerally from the very first vulnerable page, "Someone else who struggles."  So much anxiety, neurosis and fear in one engaging, smart, kindhearted package. There is also strength, for without strength there would be no struggle. Yuvi is clever. There are messages hidden in anagrams wrapped in the plot. One, especially poignant, "Save Me, Julia" is where Yuvi realizes his worst fear is something he made up himself. It still comes to pass, but  he perseveres.  I was sad to finish the book. I wanted to crawl inside the pages and hang out a while longer.  Honestly, it was a relief to meet someone even more anxious and neurotic than me, it gave me hope, or at least took away some of the shame I feel about my own angst. I am grateful, Yuvi.

Angst, struggle, effort and tension, all closely related etymologically, are apt descriptors for our postmodern life.  Yuvi and I aren’t  the only ones navigating a world making our muscles tight with uncertainty; Massage Envy's waiting rooms are rarely empty. While sitting in that bustling room before my massage, I read an article by Andrew Olendzki. It’s a favorite, and a link to it had been tweeted that morning. I clicked to re-visit. The text was on the screen of my Blackberry as I undressed and lay on the table.

Later, as the massage therapist worked, the phrase "all views -even correct views- are best held gently" repeated in my mind. When she dug in to that oh so very tender spot on my ass it hit me. "I'm holding all my tension, all my struggle, all my anxiety - about myself and the world - in my ass, and I'm not holding it gently!"  So basic an insight, it was almost pointless.  "Lighten up, and your ass won't hurt." 

This is easier said than done. Figuring out what it means to hold a view gently is something with which I've been struggling for years. See what I did there? I'm capable of turning a desire for gentle living into a struggle. "Save Me, Yuvi."  I'm not alone, of course. We grasp firmly to what it is we want - to think, to be, to have.  We push just as forcefully against that which we'd prefer not to encounter. Humanity is muscular.

I'm beginning to see growth from my Buddhist practice. What were once just comforting words are taking root in my sore muscles and weary mind and blossoming into more skillful habits that keep me present with less fear, and help me fear my fear even less.

My anxiety is often rooted in the multiplicity of what ifs and doubts ricocheting inside my head. Holding views gently means, in part, realizing how much I don't control in my life and letting it go. I can do only what I am capable of doing, and I’ve realized worrying accomplishes nothing but exhaustion.  Recognizing what I can change and what I can't helps me to work more skillfully with less friction and, when I am honest, less struggle. Even in the middle of a crazy situation pushing my limits, I can pause and make sure of my footing.  Happiness is available, even then. The choice to pause and the decision to be cheerfully present even in the most daunting moments makes all the difference. It doesn’t change the situation but it does change how I engage.

Holding views gently also means limiting my own rightness - especially when I'm in conflict. We all get angry. But I can notice the adrenaline rush that accompanies my anger and I can pause before I open my mouth, at least some of the time. This is a new habit and a helpful one. If I pause I am able to take a breath and consciously relax the tension in my body and in my mind. In that relaxed space I can attempt to see the other viewpoint through a sympathetic lens, instead of the lens of wrongness  that my own rightness creates. That space is refreshing and, just as often, humbling. I've noticed the moments when I am at my most angry and self-righteous are the times I especially need to pause and look sympathetically at the "other" side.

Holding one's views gently doesn't mean giving up and being passive. It doesn't mean not working hard, and it doesn’t mean we don’t notice things that bother. But the same work (perhaps more) gets done if one is relaxed while doing it and it usually happens with less angst. It is a less rigid way of being, less tense. And it is a conscious choice reaffirmed in the space of contentious moments. I'm not sure if the choice makes the space or if the space increases the chance of the choice.  The intention is necessary, as is the need to get to know one’s mind in order to recognize habitual tendencies.

I'm still figuring it out, of course.  I have far more questions than answers and probably always will. I still get scared and I still disagree with people and I still get angry and insulted when people do things I don't like.  But I'm beginning to have a more space in which to choose my reactions consciously, and I can see glimmers of a more relaxed, more gentle mindset. That feels like progress, both to my mind and my ass.

Additional reading-----

Rather, the key to harmony is learning to differ in  opinions without engaging the fatal move of saying, “Only this is true; everything else is wrong...In other words, all views—even correct views—are best held gently,  rather than grasped firmly."      Andrew Olendzki , Blinded by Views, Tricycle Magazine 

So this emptiness is not like the emptiness of an unfilled cup, a vacant room, or worse, an empty pocket. It’s not like that. When we have a genuine experience of  emptiness, it actually feels good…It’s as if…we’re suddenly freed from our bondage, we feel so good, so much more relaxed and happy. - Rebel Buddha, by Dzogen Ponlop  Rinpoche 

Appreciating sacredness begins very simply by taking an interest in all the details of your life. Interest is simply applying awareness to what goes on in your everyday life-awareness while you’re cooking, awareness while you’re driving, awareness while you’re changing diapers, even awareness while you’re arguing. Such awareness can help to free you from speed, chaos, neurosis, and resentment of all kinds. It can free you from the obstacles to nowness, so that you can cheer up on the spot, all the  time. - Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa

Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it. – Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hahn

STRUGGLE   intransitive verb  1: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Tiny Roadmap of Their Heart

Our language is important.  Our words matter.  I remind myself of the truth in those statements several times each day.  As a recruiter I find, qualify, and enthuse talented people on behalf of my client companies.  My tools are my words, both written and spoken.

I find many of my recruiter peers focus less on their words than I do. I am a bit of a pedant, it is true.  But the things I care about so much are the things that help me do my job in a way that leads to more success for all involved.  Better offers more often accepted. Happier companies, happier candidates, and yes, of course, my interests matter too.  When things go smoothly I am thrilled. I like to stack the deck of success in my favor – which also means in the favor of the candidates I represent and the clients I serve.

I think I fight the good fight. 

I ask you, my fellow recruiters, to banish a well-worn tool from your arsenal of words and phrases. Please stop talking about salary ranges. That phrase should never cross your lips again. It adds no meaning at all to our conversations, and in fact, can drive exactly the wrong behavior. Companies do not make offers of salary ranges, they offer a salary and a salary is a very specific number.  Dealing in ranges tends to point us toward the composite, and we make a living by staying, quite persuasively, in the particular.

I do a lot of split business.  In the past several weeks I have had to turn back several candidates to my partners in order to get concrete details on compensation. I don’t usually present a candidate who has not shared concrete details regarding their situation. What my partners had shared with me was this:    “Candidate X would consider making a move for a salary within the range of this position.”    Insanity!

I can imagine the conversation, though.  Be honest, so can you:    
Recruiter:  I have this really cool job.
Candidate: What is the pay range?
Recruiter: Oh, it could pay up to 95K if you are awesome.
Candidate: Sign me up, but I need to be near the top for it to be worth my while.
Recruiter:  Cool, send me your resume.

In both cases my partners admitted they led with the "salary range" of the position before they got the details of the candidate's situation. This is never a good move.

When I approach a candidate, I talk to them specifically about their current situation before we progress to discussing any of my current opportunities.  I want to know what it is they love, what is missing, what excites them, what drives them.  Part of that conversation is, of course, compensation, but people don’t really fall in love with salaries. Don’t get me wrong, money is important.  Hello, I am a sales girl at heart!  But it is the work, the people, the company itself and the opportunity to make a difference that gets people excited. Money is simply a part (albeit an important part) of that complicated calculation of value.
Our job is to find out all we can about their particular situation - including how important cash money is to them.  No one ever turned down a role because it paid too much, but varying levels of compensation will produce commensurate happiness.  Probing and understanding their perspective is essential to delivering opportunities calibrated to please.   I build rapport (this really is an art, but an art one can and must learn) by helping them understand every question I ask is essential to my goal of representing them in a way that will get them the very best offer possible if we are fortunate enough to get to that point.  I ask a lot of questions.  If I don't get answers we don't get to talk about the positions I have at my fingertips. 

I am respectful, firm, not rehearsed, and I am very good at helping them understand why it is in their best interest to fully disclose.  And I believe it myself. This is part of my right livelihood.  I believe that by getting the best offer possible I am truly serving both the candidate and the client because the candidate will stay at my client happier, longer.
This has become second nature to me.  I have a patter.  It doesn’t matter if I am talking to a contractor or an employee in any type of role. All the bases get covered because all of them matter. 

  • Talk to me about your compensation package, how is it structured?
  • What is your base/hourly rate?  Is there a flexible component? 
  • Talk to me about benefits? Is there a retirement plan contribution? Do you have tuition reimbursement? How much paid time off to you get? 
  • Is there anything that you especially like about your benefits? That you dislike? Is there anything that could stand in the way of you making a move now if you found the right position? 
Yes, this is my very first conversation and these are all important details to know early on.  Any one of them might be so significant to cause a painful train wreck if not probed and represented carefully. Sometimes other recruiters will call me up all excited about a candidate who is perfect for an opportunity.  When I ask about money they often say, “I have another call scheduled to discuss that.”   Huh?  How did that not come up already? That has to happen before we talk about any positions.  Often it is the way people answer (or do not) that tells us the most about working with them as a candidate. 

Our job is to set and guide expectations on both sides of the equation.  The details matter.  

After I have gotten the necessary information and have decided they seem interesting to me, the door opens to talk about my available opportunities.  I can now say with confidence, "I think that this opportunity could offer you a step forward in regards to both the work and the people as well as your financial considerations." When asked about the “salary range” I tell them this:   "What the client will pay depends on how well you interview and what you bring to the table. But I think we have room here, if you interview well, to certainly improve your position."  

This initial conversation is as important to our screening and qualifying as any skill set check.   In this conversation you will often get what you need to help guide the candidate through the entire process toward acceptance. This conversation provides a tiny road map of their heart - powerful stuff one must be sure to use for good, not evil.  I often use their language from this initial conversation when delivering offers, it helps the odds of acceptance. But that is a post for another time.

Only the candidate will know what it will take to happily make a move to new pastures.  At this early stage they don't have enough information to know what that will be.  So I stick to what we can know – the concrete details of their situation. 

When I craft presentations to my clients using this information, they are compelling and tell a story that spurs the interest of the reader. Interest leads, more often than not, to an interview. One more way I serve my candidates.

Avoiding the "salary range" discussion when talking to candidates helps me stay focused on what matters most - their particulars - which helps me do a better job for them and my clients. 

I can imagine one reaction to this post.  But Lisa, our clients speak that range language!  Yes they do, but we don't have to, and in fact - in order to maximize success - we can't afford to. When I encounter the dreaded range from a client company I take the same probing, questioning stance and asking questions in the particular – just like I did with my candidate.  Often their range is not a solid indicator of what they'll pay and by probing salary and skill set, goals, and success factors we get a much better picture of the position than we would have.  Sometimes they can and will go higher for the right person - which we need to know. While when recruiting I never shoot for the highest range a company will pay, having a good understanding of their real limits is useful.  Often my competitors don't know because they didn't ask.

In our business, the details matter. Only by asking good questions and listening to the particular answers on both sides of the equation can we find them.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

no guarantees

"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." — Pema Chödrön (The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times)

"Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape - all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain." — Pema Chödrön (When Things Fall Apart)

"I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us...It was all about letting go of everything." —Pema Chödrön (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

It is morning and Ginger and I are drinking coffee and hoping two homeless boys show up this morning. Ginger met them late one night. She had dropped her phone and they were nearby and she, as anyone would do when they notice another person coming up on them, had taken a slightly defensive stance. "Ma'am, we don't mean you any harm, but you dropped something," the older one said.

Ginger picks up strays. A few months ago she found a litter of kittens in our basement. We bought babycat food and formula and fed them for several days until the mother cat made an appearance. She was not pleased to find us there and hissed
as we backed out the door. We watched through a crack in the door as she grabbed a kitten by the neck and vamoosed out a tiny gap in the window. I chased her down our alley, stupidly shouting, "Hey, you, drop that kitten!" We had a moment to decide whether to board up the window and save the rest of the kittens, or let them mother cat take them. We left the window open. They were all gone the next morning. I still think about them and wonder if we did the right thing. It would be easier if life came with a rulebook.

Ginger asked the boys to show up the next morning at 8:30 and said she'd have some work for them if they wanted it. They said, "We don't have a clock as we are staying in the park but we'll go to the grocery store and find out the time. Don't hold it against us if we are early or late, okay?"

We were more than a little charmed when they showed up. I made a mad dash to get some snacks and cold bottled water for them since they'd be outside while we both were gone. I bought pop tarts, and chips and oranges. We were charmed, but still wary. Our spidey sense was up. They worked hard and we decided to let them stay in our tiny guest house. House rules: No drugs, no drinking, no visitors, no smoking inside. We bought them some food and shorts and socks and boxers. They, of their own volition, tidied up the house and yard. We found them work with some friends renovating a house. The younger brother turned out to be a very good painter.

There were signs. Some change intentionally left on a desk in the guest house disappeared. Some other things weren't quite adding up, especially to someone who was in recovery. Ginger sniffs out some dysfunction better than I do, but we were both concerned. We called an impromptu meeting when they got back from work one day. They confessed to taking the change and hung their heads. "Should we pack up our stuff and go back outside?" We again laid ground rules. We indicated we were there to help as long as they were honest with us and followed the rules. We asked for more information and hit the no drugs gong a little harder. We let them know that they had no expectation of privacy while they were staying with us. We'd knock before entering but we were monitoring their actions as the price for staying with us. They denied any drug involvement and continued to work hard. They were respectful, but we knew we weren't getting the whole story. But why would we?

We were gathering dirty clothes to wash and we found their stash. We were sad, but not at all surprised. We called the friends who had put them to work and shared the situation. They got it. We all started reaching out for information about treatment centers in case they wanted to get help.

We decided to pack up their stuff and return it while they were at lunch in a public place. Ginger went in to talk to them in the diner and laid the rig on the table. "What is this?" They barely breathed. Neither brother spoke. They said it was heroin. She indicated if they wanted help we would rally it. They both said they did. While Ginger talked to the guys another friend and I stood in the parking lot of the diner and dialed treatment centers, emergency rooms and clinics. I was amazed at how many people we could call and humbled by how many were willing to help. We found some places where they could detox and get into treatment, but nothing until the next morning, Monday, at 9AM. We all agreed that they couldn't stay at our tiny house any longer.

We offered them a ride back to our neighborhood, but they said they'd walk. They said, "We'll be there tomorrow morning." Ginger said, "I hope so, I really do."

They were looking out the window as we drove off but I am sure they didn’t see me. I pressed my hands and face to my car window and willed them to want our help. I willed them to be there the next day. Their 22 and 19 year old heads looked 10 years younger.

Ginger and I both cried a little on the way home. We each could see the sad places we have been ourselves in those young men, but we can't fix it for them. We figure they have to want help enough to show up the next morning. The drive back to our house had never felt so long. I looked at Ginger and said, "This hurts more than the kittens." She knew what I meant.

It took us a few hours for us to admit to ourselves that they weren’t coming.

On our way back from lunch I catch myself looking to see if they are waiting in the driveway. I say to Ginger, “It’ll be like this for awhile, won’t it?” I think about how hot it is, and how going to look for them would not be the right thing for us to do. I realize how glad I am to know that. There have been times I might not have been as comfortable. I remain amazed and humbled by the outpouring of hope and concern for those two guys. I’ll wager they have no idea so many people are rooting for them - addiction and homelessness both often have an isolating effect. I have a great network of compassionate and wise people in my life. I am grateful.

I keep thinking of the kittens, of how uncertain I felt that we were making the right choice. Of how I didn't know what the right choice was. We do what we can, when we can, knowing we don’t control the outcome. There is no magic rulebook, and there are no guarantees in life, even if we do everything we can to make life turn out the way we want. These events remind me how little we do control, how pointless it is to get attached to what we think should happen. Uncertainty, embrace it. Letting go of control means opening op to pain, to loss, to things not going the way we want. That is what I am practicing, and I am sure I will be practicing this lesson for the rest of my life. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me.

Something tells me that we aren't quite done with these guys yet - but we might be. Sometimes we sow seeds we don't get to see grow. Sometimes we expend effort and it has no impact. Sometimes little things we do without noticing make all the difference. I am glad that they got a couple pairs of shorts, t-shirts, clean socks and boxers out of the deal, and a few nights of safe cool slumber.

We'd still do the whole thing again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Possibilities are Emptiness!

"Emptiness is described as the basis that makes everything possible"
The Twelfth Tai Situpa Rinpoche, Awakening the Sleeping Buddha

“The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”
- Pema Chodron

Buddhism makes people uncomfortable when it talks of emptiness. Most Western minds immediately go to "nothingness" as the equivalent, which I am learning is not accurate. Mingur Rinpoche has a fantastic chapter on emptiness in The Joy of Living. In it he makes my language geek happy by explaining the Tibetan words for emptiness - "tongpa-nyi". He says Tongpa means empty, but only in the sense of something we can't capture with our senses. His substitution is inconceivable or unnameable. Nyi, he says, has no particular meaning but when added to a word conveys a sense of "possibility". Suddenly, instead of nihilism, we have an "unlimited potential for anything to change, appear, or disappear." That is cool stuff.

We, as human beings, simply can't conceive emptiness in that sense. Our minds are limited - they can only deal with so much - even with training. The assumptions we make and the perspectives we develop and yes, even the absolutes we live (and too often die) by, are simply our own constructions helping us navigate a reality that would otherwise overwhelm us. I'm not just talking about moral or ethical realms here, I also mean our physical reality. We are comforted by the thought that the chair we sit in and the floor we walk on are "solid" but science teaches us something else. The history of science itself demonstrates our understanding of the world is evolving. Quantum mechanics shows us things we didn't dream of 100 years ago. We keep learning new and better ways to grasp how the world works - our knowledge shifts constantly like sand in a desert storm.

Facing the possibility of everything being in flux frightens us, and so we create shields that offer protection, that make us comfortable. We then think we can know ourselves, the world, and those around us. We know what to expect, we know what to accept. We order our existence, and we feel safe. Often we don't know that we are creating a structure with which to experience the world. We are born into them as much as we seek them out, but the effects are the same.

Habits of knowing, like habits of behavior, are comfortable, like well-worn shoes or a tasty turkey pot pie. Fear of losing that comfort and the accompanying feeling of safety is why we, collectively, often lash out at anyone or anything that is different from us. In those situations our core concepts of who we are and how we live are at risk. But when our worldview is so rigid it prevents us from adapting to what is, our carefully constructed truths are no longer places of refuge, they more resemble prison cells.

Consider a man who has been laid off from his job as a machinist who can only see himself going into work at a factory, but all of the factories in his town have closed. His options for factory work in his town are nonexistent. If that is all he can see for himself his options are very bleak. But if he can open his mind and see another way to put his skills to use - not as an employee of a factory - he can devise a plan of action. I don't mean that he will transform himself into something different with brand new skills. But if he can let go of the rigidity of what work once meant to him, he has a better chance of finding ways to leverage what he currently has to offer.

The challenge is to hold lightly to everything I believe, and to see the lack of fixity as a source of possibility instead of a recipe for loss. As someone just getting started on this practice, I can say it feels much like standing and stretching luxuriously after being stuck in a painfully cramped space. One can learn to do a fine backstroke in the abyss, and abyss is more a fertile sea of possibility than terrifying vacuum. What a happy surprise.

Image: © Rozum |

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hungry Ghosts

Although I did begin to experience brief moments of calmness, dread and fear continued to haunt me like hungry ghosts...
- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living

I recently came out of an emotional bad spell - emerging from it felt a lot like hitting the surface after you've been underwater just a little too long. This spell of anxiety/fear/depression/whatever it was taught me more than usual because it happened smack dab after I had a really awesome year business wise. I was on a high. Things were so good I had to go buy a suit so I could go to Las Vegas and get an award for being so awesome. That is important to note not because getting an award is important (but it is kind of cool, right?) but because of what happened after the award.

Intellectually I knew that all the activity I had in the funnel would end, and I'd be back in building mode. I knew it and even tried to prepare myself for the letdown. My business is cyclical - I know that. And I like building mode. Building mode is how one gets to closing mode. I just had a run of especially good fortune and my building mode was a distant memory, which I knew was not such a great thing for me. In the midst of my crazy happy frenetic good luck mode, I tried to prepare for what would come after the constant activity of balancing all the stuff in the hopper died down. I know how I can be - I get nutty sometimes, so I tried to protect myself.

There is a saying: "Trying lets us fail with honor." I failed. I'm not sure I had any honor, either.

I woke up one morning and I was scared. Not just a little scared, either. I was in full-on panic mode. I remember thinking, "Dammit, Lisa, this is exactly what you worked to prevent." Yep it sure was. In my defense, I had a crazy end of September/October. We had family in from out of town (stressful), my Mom had spine surgery (surprisingly stressful), the foster greyhound we rescued need to be carried up and down our stairs in order to go outside (it takes both of us - constantly coordinating schedules is stressful), I bought a car (consumerism is, for me, fraught with drama, tension and guilt - stressful, but I sure like the car) and Ginger decided to feng shui our bedroom. Not only was I going through something hard, I had to do it with our bed facing a new and opposite wall. Things like that do bad things to me. I spent an entire sleepless night focused on whether the bed facing the other direction was symbolic of me never closing another deal. During that mental wrestling match I started doubting my employ-ability (I only have one suit!!) and by morning I had tearfully decided my only option was to make this thing work or I'd end up living in a paper box. I went to bed scared, I woke up panicked and I think Ginger wanted to throttle me (I wanted to throttle me).

The really bizarre thing is that during this period of maybe three weeks, I started to see the fruits of my labor begin to appear in my bank account. That didn't help me - nor did the knowledge that I now have a small cushion - something I haven't had since I started. Okay, it might be more of a thumb rest than a respectable cushion, but we are better off than we were a year ago. Logic and reason were clearly not helping me out of the funky miasma of my fear and dread.

Intellectually I knew this was just my mind playing tricks. I knew there was no reason for my surging adrenaline, sweaty palms and pounding heart. But still my fear and dread consumed me like hungry ghosts, and it was a drag. I was worried about losing my freshly attained success (perhaps I clung to it too strongly?), but not getting a handle of my anxiety was the one sure way to lose it.

During this period I threw myself back into my meditation practice, which had slipped. Eventually my perspective got a little more solid, and my palpable fear receded. I do credit my meditation practice with my respite from fear, which also motivated me to do more digging into the science of meditation, mind, depression and anxiety.

We own an old issue of the Buddhist magazine Shambhala Sun with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche on the cover. I like looking at his face; He has an incredible smile, and like his story too. We don't often hear about Buddhist monks who battle anxiety disorders. He is open about his history and I find his approach to Buddhism and science illuminating and refreshing.

"When you are trained as a Buddhist, you don't think of Buddhism as a religion. You think of it as a type of science, a method of exploring your own experience through techniques that enable you to examine your actions and reactions in a non-judgmental way, with the view toward recognizing, "Oh, this is how my mind works. This is what I need to do to experience happiness. This is what I should do to avoid unhappiness." Yongey Mingur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living

I enjoy his discussion about the brain and the mind. I love the interplay of scientific language like brain stem, limbic region, neocortex, neuron, synapse, and action potential with Buddhist phrases like suffering, impermanence, and mindfulness. The current studies on meditation and neuroplasticity are really exciting. The fact that we can physically change our brain by training our mind is fantastic, and offers incredible hope and relief for suffering people. It offers incredible hope for me.

This weekend I realized that I love Buddhist theory in the same way I first reacted to postmodern and feminist theory. That first exposure to critical theory turned my world upside down - it was a fresh lens of critique that shaped (and still does) how I see the world. I learned to fearlessly turn that critique upon itself - because that is always where the really juicy stuff happens. I especially loved Audre Lorde's critique of feminism (and everything else) because of her unique views on self, identity and power. She was able to deconstruct so much of what was held as sacred. It felt very true to me then, and still does.

"I am defined as other in every group I'm part of," she states. "The outsider, both strength and weakness. Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression". She described herself both as a part of a "continuum of women" and a "concert of voices" within herself. - Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals.

This weekend I realized that Buddhist theory might be the one of the most fundamental critiques there is, because it is offers a deconstruction of mind, perception and meaning at the most essential level. I am always dissatisfied by the limitations inherent in whatever flavor of critical theory I use. While feminist theory offers valuable insight, patriarchy is not the root of all evil, neither is racism, nor classism at the heart of every problem between people. All of these provide valuable analysis, of course, and I am not in any way denying their power. But I often feel that we face a crisis even deeper than the problems those analyses illuminate. We wish to find happiness and avoid suffering that seems a part f our existence, and so much of our problematic behavior is an attempt to do that.

Here is a great passage from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's book, The Joy of Living:

"The basic concern shared by all beings - humans, animals, and insect alike - is the desire to to be happy and to avoid suffering.Although each of us may have a different strategy, in the end we're all working for the same result. Even ants never stay still, even for a second. They're running around all the time and building or expanding their nests. Why do they go to so much trouble? To find some kind of happiness and avoid suffering.

The Buddha said that the desire to achieve lasting happiness and avoid unhappiness is the one unmistakable sign of the presence of natural mind. There are in fact many other indicators, but listing them all would probably require another book. So why did the Buddha assign so much importance to this one particular sign?

Because the true nature of all living creatures is already completely free from suffering and endowed with perfect happiness: In seeking happiness and avoiding unhappiness, regardless of how we go about it, we're all just expressing the essence of who we are.

The yearning most of us feel for lasting happiness is the "small still voice" of the natural mind, reminding us of what we are really capable of experiencing.The Buddha illustrated this longing through the example of the mother bird that has left her nest. No matter how beautiful the place she has flown to, no matter how many new and interesting things she sees there, something keeps pulling her to return to her nest.

In the same way, no matter how absorbing daily life might be - no matter how great it may temporarily feel to fall in love, receive praise, or get the "perfect job" - the yearning for a state of complete, uninterrupted happiness pulls at us.

In a sense, we're homesick for our true nature."

Seeing the world through this lens helps me stay focused on my practice, and to my periods of fear for what they are - products of my mind. It gives me great comfort to know that my mind can be trained, and I'll make sure to read this for a reminder if/when my ghosts get hungry again.

Image 1: © Solarseven | Image 2: © Stephconne... |

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"HEADHUNTER: Bounty Hunters for Talent"
Episode 1 - Causality

Most normal people don't know what recruiters do. Sadly, I have also encountered a disturbing number of recruiters that don't know what they themselves are doing, which is not helpful. However, it does provide grist for the storytelling mill.

Most hiring managers seem to think that we have lists of people with a variety of characteristics at our fingertips, ready to be packaged and shipped at a moments notice. Some candidates have a tendency to ring us up after an extended absence and say "What do you have for me today?" as if we have hot fresh positions baking in the oven. "Hi Frank, just let me grab my mitt, and I'll serve you up a plate of tasty jobs with a nice cold glass of milk."

This is not how our business works.

Sure, folks who have been in the business for a long time are extensively networked and have a lot of contacts. It can look easy from the outside, almost like magic. You, as my client, need only tell me what you need, and I will deliver a selection of people who are right on the money. You simply have to select the one you want.

What you won't see (if you are working with a good recruiter) are the people who aren't a match, or who look like they might be but who fall flat for any number of reasons. You won't see (unless you ask) the list of people I interview and reject - those who lie, who are rude, who have no discernible personality, or who seem to have a chip on their shoulder. You won't see the number of phone calls or emails that are dead ends, my efforts to get a real live person on the phone, or the folks who haven't learned that it isn't nice (or particularly smart) to be rude to recruiters. Miss Manners gently weeps. She will soon be publishing guidelines, I suspect.

This might be the most important thing: You, as client, are given targeted presentations showcasing the qualifications of each potential employee. My presentations rarely bear any resemblance to the first draft of the resume as furnished to me by the candidate, even when I ask them to target it toward the specific position. It takes surprising work to help even the best of candidates build that bridge. I suspect you might look right at many of those resumes and not see the perfect candidate hidden inside. My job is to help you see.

It isn't magic, and it isn't rocket science. It takes effort, skillful presentation, persistence, time, patience and a lot of luck. The fact that one can't just push a button to make a perfect candidate pop out of the Recruit-O-Matic 4000 is why we, as an industry, are valuable. We matter, we help create solutions to business challenges, we do the difficult. I am proud of helping my clients while working as a trusted partner. Nothing makes me more proud than to be a part of the team. Of course there are days when people who do not understand my business, and who do not value my contributions, rain on my parade. That is why I have taken to carrying an umbrella.

Once in a while, usually after I have presented a promising candidate, and often after an interview or two (or five), the hiring authority will say, "I am not going to pay a fee for a candidate that I already knew about." This is unfortunate for a myriad of reasons. It is insulting, it is unethical, and it demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of business and its legal underpinnings. It used to make me very angry, now it is more wearying but still a drag.

Please understand this, Ms. Client: It doesn't matter that you knew the person if you didn't know of them as a potential candidate for your position. If it took me, as recruiter, to bring the two of you together in this very special capacity, and you hire this person, then I am owed a fee. In this world of "social networking" and Linkedin-o-Rama many people might think that because they know a name they have a candidate. That just isn't the case.

I don't care if you are brother and sister, if the candidate is in your database from 5 years ago, or if the two of you had coffee six weeks ago. There is legal precedent for my stance. Please research "efficient procuring cause". If the person became a candidate for your position because of my efforts and you hired him or her, then I am owed a fee.

Of course there is no need to quote case law in situations where manners will suffice. It is bad form to go through several interviews with me as the agent and then at the eleventh hour make an announcement of this nature. I am open to hearing other perspectives, but am confident Miss Manners would frown on the way this was handled.

I do think most situations like this come from people not understanding the fundamentals of our business.Thus I think it is important to respectfully educate our both our clients and our candidates (and ourselves) about what we do, how it should be done, and expectations held by all parties. To that end, I recommend we develop a television series: "HEADHUNTER: Bounty Hunters for Talent!"

I'll bring my umbrella.

© Littlemacp... | Agency:


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!

I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away
- Paul Simon

Sometimes we love a moment so much that it hurts to think about it ending, so we cling to it. We long to capture our present and preserve it, keep it from changing – like taking a picture. Sometimes it isn’t love that makes us grasp at a moment, but the fear of what might come next. We crave fixity, when everything around us is in flux.

Maybe I am alone in that need, but I don’t think so.

Regardless of the reason, I think much suffering comes from clinging to what is known, what is familiar, to who we are at any given time. Life feels so much more manageable when we have planned out what will happen and prevented the unexpected - when we are safe.

It doesn’t work that way, of course.

Life is change. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is static. Stuff happens. We become who we are and who we will be through a process of beginnings and endings. Facing that reality can be so frightening, its no wonder we sometimes attempt to capture where we are under glass.

Yesterday I woke up to one of my cats in the midst of a terrible bout of ill. It was bad. I'll refrain from sharing the bloody details, but since that was not a figurative statement, we had an unplanned trip to the vet.

As we drove I couldn't help but remember another unplanned trip. I didn't realize Ginger was feeling the same thing until I looked over and saw a tear sliding down her cheek. I asked if she was scared for Marvel, and she said no, she too was remembering our last emergency trip. She had flashed back to our efforts to stay calm in the midst of our fear and pain. She pointed to a billboard and said, “I remember driving past that and reciting Thich Nhat Hanh.” I had done the same thing, and it has since become a mantra of mindfulness for both of us:

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
It is a wonderful moment.*

I remember driving, panicked, whispering that mantra almost prayerfully, trying to regain a semblance of calm. I remember driving as fast as I could listening to our terribly wounded, much loved, pet with Ginger trying to keep her calm. I remember my hopelessness, my fear, and just wanting everything to be back as it had been - back to our photograph of a happier moment.

But the world had moved on, and so had we.

Yesterday, as we continued on our way, I thought about how my practice of letting go is starting to take root. I am learning to resist the urge to cling and grasp at conceptions of how things need to be, or used to be or how I want them to be. I am learning to be with my now even when it is hard. I am learning to savor the wonderfulness of life, of who and what I love, even though I know that eventually I will lose it. The moment will end, because the essence of life is change.

Marvel is doing much better today. That makes me very happy. Knowing some day she will not be here makes her presence in my day even sweeter.

Learning to embrace the present in the midst of the unexpected can be freeing at the same time as it scares us. Mindfulness requires us to become comfortable with the dis-comfort of flux. But I think that paradox - comfort with dis-comfort - is essential to really living. When we grasp too tightly, when we seek control and safety and cling to even the wonderful moments, we are feeling the fear of change more than that which we love. Only by letting go do we get to really live.

Photographs don't do life justice, after all.

*One of my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness tools.