Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I’m back in L.A. Back home. I started an article about the Buddhist concept of "home leaving" this morning. And maybe one of these days I’ll finish the bastard thing. But I stopped working on it so I could go to a meeting related to my “real job.” And after coming back, I feel like an article about that meeting might be more relevant, or at least more interesting to me to sit down and write. I don’t really like to write abstract stuff.

Anyway, this meeting. Jesus God in Heaven what a fucking nightmare! Whenever you try to explain the problems you have at work to someone outside your company or outside your specific industry they never make much sense. In fact they always seem incredibly trivial to anyone not directly involved. That’s because they are. And the problems we’re talking about are trivial beyond all bounds of trivia. Nobody fucking cares about the rights to pictures from monster movies. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Most of the stuff most of us face at work falls into this category, I think.

Anyway, my approach to the meeting was to try to keep things as friendly as possible and to have a reasonable discussion in order to arrive at a solution that satisfied everyone involved. Unfortunately I was facing a guy who wasn’t interested in talking like a reasonable human being. I spent about 15 minutes in the offices of the company who are complaining to our company about a bunch of monstrously trivial crap before it was utterly obvious that no discussion could possibly take place. I think they believe they threw me out. I guess maybe they did. They made a point of not showing me to the door, which I thought was just silly. But I was every bit as glad to be out of there as they were glad to have me gone.

The whole scene was beyond silly all the way to the realm of high comedy. And I felt bad for the guy I had to talk to, let’s call him Mr. Koksukka. Because he really seemed to be getting himself worked up into a lather over the whole thing. Of course it’s mostly an act. But it takes a lot of energy to sustain and it must be extraordinarily painful, a sad way to live and work. I suppose he gets paid well for it. But it’s got to be extremely damaging and I can't imagine it's really worth it. I could see the damage it had already done to him and it was hard not to want to try and help. But there wasn’t really anything I could do.

Mr. Koksukka kept trying to drive the discussion into very abstract areas that didn't really lead anywhere good, namely the past. There was a whole lot of "Why did you do XXXX six months ago? Why didn't you do YYYY at that time?" Is this a Japanese thing? Or does everyone do this? Because I always refuse to go there. There's no point. In point of fact in this case I did not make any of the past mistakes he wanted me to admit to. But even if I had there would be no real point in discussing them. And the people I'm talking to never seem to really get that. I want to fix the problem that exists now given the conditions that exist now. That seems to be one of the hardest areas to move these kinds of discussions into, though. In the past I've gotten drawn into that sort of trap and it never goes anywhere useful.

Anyway, as I sat there, trying to talk like a human being to someone who reacted to everything I said with (mostly fake) outrage and anger, I felt my own mouth start to dry up. I thought that was a bit odd because I didn’t feel much emotional involvement in the situation. But Mr. Koksukka’s demeanor was such that it produced a number of the kind of involuntary responses one feels when one is faced with actual danger. At one point I reached for my notebook and accidentally knocked over a remote control thingy that was sitting on the table. Again I thought, weird. I was actually losing a certain degree of coordination because of this. My field of vision also seemed to narrow in a way, as if my peripheral vision was somehow compromised. All of this with only the slightest degree of actual emotional involvement.

Now I’m not trying to tell you how enlightened and “Zen” I am. Just trying to describe the situation. I entered this coming out of two two-day Zen retreats in two weeks and about 25 years of daily practice, including 45 minutes just before I left for the meeting. Though it’s certainly not impossible to fluster me, it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be. Yet the situation was such that an entire array of involuntary responses came into play anyway.

As I walked out I started thinking that there are lots of people who must have to face this kind of nonsense day after day after day. It's soooo sad. To a large degree a lot of the problems that face humanity are caused by so many of us engaging in this kind of desperately silly behavior on a regular basis. I used to deal with a lot more of it than I do nowadays. I’ve tended to cut those things out of my life as much as possible.

But I’ve been lucky. I’ve developed certain abilities and skills that allow me to minimize my interaction with that world. Still, there’s no sphere of human activity that’s free of such stupidity. Sometimes you can find a place to be where people are aware of these things and make their efforts to minimize such behavior. Yet it seems to always surface to one degree or another in spite of our best efforts. It doesn't help that our society rewards people who act like Mr. Koksukka so richly.

Throughout my Zen career my teachers have encouraged, almost demanded, that I continue to work in the film business. I always wondered why because if there’s any business in the world that’s more prone to useless displays of emotionalism, well, I don’t want to go there! It seems like the movie business attracts drama queens like shit attracts flies. Why would my teachers want me to stay in such an environment?

I think it’s because I can make a difference here. And that’s important. And it may be just as important for those of you out there reading this who practice Zen and work real jobs to continue making little differences wherever you are. That’s why I’m not really sold on the idea of people running away from whatever it is they do for a living in the work-a-day world to go and, I dunno, help the starving children in Africa or whatever it is. As if helping the starving children in Africa is better than whatever it is they’re doing now. In most cases I have doubts.

I kind of feel like having one grounded person in an otherwise insane company acts a little like having a gyroscope in the bottom of a ship. The gyroscope is a tiny thing, but it steadies the whole ship somehow. As ineffective and ineffectual as I usually feel, I have faith that I make just a little tiny difference by remaining steady.

I wonder what effect I had today. It certainly wasn’t easy to see. I’m sure Mr. Koksukka has his own view of the meeting. I wonder if he has any clue what transpired. I wonder if I do. Although I'm arrogant enough to suspect I have a bit clearer of an idea than he does. Does it matter? Well, I’m writing this right now. So maybe the meeting had some meaning, rather than none at all.

I dunno. Whatever. This isn’t really one of my best elucidations on the nature of human interaction. But I wanted to post it while it was still fresh. Hope you enjoyed it.

I’m gonna go play in the sun for a while.



HezB said...

Ha! First comment! Ha! The Rapture is coming, have sex with an alien!!!


Mysterion said...
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Anonymous said...

"Mr. Koksukka"! Ha ha ha.

Anonymous said...

so so excellent this particular blog. I love it when you avoid the esoteric and keep it real

Rich said...

Welcome back to the real world. describing your situation with honesty is helpful. I'm sorry about your frustration. Maybe we can tweak the economic system somday to encourage more cooperative behaviors. We need to change the delusion of limited to unlimited resources.

Your last post 'Fuck Zen Institutions' produced some great comments. Buddha sat for 6 years with no support from teachers, organizations or institutions. The great thing about Zen is that it offers a concrete way to find your true self. Getting and giving support to teachers, orgs etc. can be a big help but buyer beware.

ellen said...

"I want to fix the problem that exists now given the conditions that exist now."

that sounds like a pretty workable way to approach reality.

it's def what I try to do in the book business every day. I dunno why -- maybe cuz the economic stakes are lower -- but the emotional temperature is usually a little lower in publishing. Maybe it's the print business vs. the image business - print is just less charged somehow.

but I have certainly run into Mr and Ms Koksukka and their ilk from time to time. It's so hard to move such sukkas away from their absolutely rigid ways and views - ways and views that aren't useful and don't resemble reality as it is at all. I mean, our ways and views never are reality, but some ways and views are more useful than others. and the Koksukkas of the world. . . um, not useful.

I do feel bad for them, but they do cause a lot of suffering. and that's bad for them too.

maybe we should just kill those sukkas ;)

David said...

I enjoyed reading this little story.

I'm not surprised you involuntarily reacted... it would be weird if you didn't.

energy is mysterious and simultaneously obvious stuff.

good luck, good dude.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you're always the good guy in your stories.... where are the flaws?

"All of this with only the slightest degree of actual emotional involvement."

That something to sit and contemplate about.

David said...

(with your job)

David said...

what's so bad about being the good guy if you are good?

we are the hero of our own lives...

Brad's at a point where he has a certain comfort level with himself that others who have not put great time and energy into do not have.

case in point - Mr. Koksukka... here's a guy who has a much smaller degree of comfort with himself.

Brad played it cool. Kudos!

(According to Buddha... he who when attacked does not retaliate wins the battle harder to win.)

David said...

i apologize for my grammar in the above post. it was atrocious.

i'll try to "make many fewer mistakes" next time.


Brion Emde said...

I love this article. We're always right out there on the edge and it's good to hear the report from someone who's cultivated some skill at riding the Big Wave.

Thanks again

Moon Face Buddha said...

It is possible that the frustration of Mr 'K' was due to Brad's failure to acknowledge the past dealings between Monster Inc and Mr 'K' Inc.

Zen does not create robots or Mr Spock type emotional retards. It does seem to allow one to develop less attachment to emotional states, and this was described very well in this latest Blog entry.

Anonymous said...

Earlier today, I was on the phone with a fellow human minion. I helped to expedite things, gave all the information, explained what would happen next and gave contact numbers and who to ask for if things seemed to be going caphlooey. Seems like he didn't believe I was doing my best. His supervisor called me and started to read me a riot act. I could feel my body reacting while I was on the phone (Brad,you did such a great job describing your responses in your hellish meeting) my brain and mouth seemed to slip out of sync. I started to sound incompetent. This is an odd thing because I am quite competent--in my work I'm skilled, seasoned. While I wasn't getting flustered, and I wasn't re-acting, I was still having a reaction to his manner and approach with me. He wanted my name so 'he would know who to blame.'
It was funny because he wanted me to handle something as quickly as possible which meant that the whole time I was on the phone with him, I couldn't be handling it, I had to still be handling him! All I could do was be aware of the badgering--and find my clear way through--have you ever seen a cat trying to make it to the next room through a crowd of strange people talking and laughing in the kitchen?
Yeah, it felt like that.

DB said...
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gniz said...

The interesting thing is, perhaps if Brad had apologized for the past, simply as a show of good faith, Mr Kokssukka would have calmed down a little.

Its very difficult to deal with someone who is always right and wants to deal with issues in their own idiosyncratic style.

Brad seems like a dude who might actually be so stubborn in his views that he'd be frustrating to deal with at work.

rih said...

AFAIK, Brad does not believe in progress in Zen like "enlightment stages".

Just to keep it short: There is development. And there is development beyond development.

Yes, you have "some skills", but you haven't finished the "Hawaii Iron Man".

Obviously, you have aggressive/abusive thoughts while talking to people. They are using ill communication.

Feeling bad for "inferior" people is very unhealthy if you just mask your anger with that. The only question is: Why do I feel bad?

The whole thought chain about motivation and other popularized "psychologic" interpretation is worth NOTHING.

The solution is in you. You don't know it? Try harder.

What you write here is not what people expect from a teacher - for a reason. Indeed, I agree: Their expectations are wrong and you don't give a fuck.

Blake said...

I didn't abandon my lawyerliness to become a monk. I used my Zenness to become a better lawyer.

I now teach law students and hopefully, can change the way lawyers do business.

Mysterion said...
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Danny said...

Please allow me add that, in my opinion alone, Zen Training is enhanced with practice, exercise, and weekly experience with one of these

excuse me,

Anonymous said...

I thought that the dry-mouth, tunnel-vision and other physiological changes are emotion; that when we don't add in our thoughts on top of the emotion, what is left is the emotion. It's not that you hadn't any emotional reaction, it's that you didn't add anything to that reaction (and therefore preserved your freedom to act appropriately in the moment). Doesn't sound emotionless to me.

Pupster said...

On one of my first project management meetings when I was a newbie, I was accompanied by my mentor. He had past dealings with the gentlemen we were going to see, and regaled me with stories of red-faced finger pointing tirades and table pounding shouting matches over this customers trivial issues. It was his management style when dealing with contractors.

When my mentor had me good and nervous, he looked me in the eye and said, "Always remember....no matter how pissed he gets, he can't eat you."

Mysterion said...
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sdf said...

Feeling <-> emotion is a very Buddhist POV.

I do agree, but many people do not differentiate it like that.

Mysterion said...
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muddy elephant said...

Brad says:

"I want to fix the problem that exists now given the conditions that exist now... To a large degree a lot of the problems that face humanity are caused by so many of us engaging in this kind of desperately silly behavior on a regular basis."

Well--what is this silly behavior? What are these conditions?

Rich said:

"The great thing about Zen is that it offers a concrete way to find your true self."

Perhaps. But it seems just as fair to say that it offers a concrete way to find your false self.

Or.. Zen and zen teachers are great at offering a concrete way to engage in a desperate silly behavior called practicing Zen.

I came across this the other day and it kind of threw me for a loop; Brad's post reminded me of it.

It is an interesting viewpoint to consider: the "fetish" of Buddhism.

OK, but where is the fetish which enables you to (pretend to) accept reality "the way it is"? "Western Buddhism" is such a fetish: it enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game, while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless this spectacle is - what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw.

HezB said...

Muddy Elephant,

Thank-you, that really is an interesting critique.



Anonymous said...

The dry mouth and narrowed visual field are manifestations of fight/flight response and those are hard wired into us. They cant be eliminated by an act of will.

Brad, thanks for this article. I say it is one of your best because you have described something that all of us go through at one time or another.

This is where it gets interesting to face how years of dedicated and sincere Zen practice can still leave fight/flight response intact.

Rich said...

muddy elephant said...
Or.. Zen and zen teachers are great at offering a concrete way to engage in a desperate silly behavior called practicing Zen.

It does seem silly. Maybe that's why when I'm sitting, just being, I sometimes smile and feel like laughing. It seems natural to me that there is nothing to understand about it. The ideas of Zen and Buddha are just as unreal as any ideas. Its like falling into a dream. Just be careful, don't do it when driving a car. Just drive, OK. Now, I'm not saying all thinking is bad, just be aware that you are thinking and planning and come back to the present. When I was in the technical problem solving business, i would go crazy thinking about a solution to a difficult problem. Usually the solution came when I wasn't thinking about it.

I just looked up fetish in the dictionary. For some people Zen is a fetish.

A-P said...

Thanks Brad,

You just described just what happened to me about year ago. I n a business culture where I work such kind of aggression isn't common - in fact it was the first time that someone has lost it the way that guy losti it in our meeting.

Everyone where silent and somehow out of touch. I was only one who tried to talk to that guy and get some reason in that "conversation". And I too felt those involuntarily effect in my body - flushing of my face, heart beat, minor shaking in my hands and body, little bit of shaking in my voice.. But on the other hand I accepted those reactions and didn't try to hide or suffocate them. If I would have, reactions would have just gone bigger.

Inside I was still quite calm and I was amazed that the body and my feelings were so different - as if I would have observed the phenomena "outside". And after that meeting I felt compassion for that guy because it must be very hard to live with that kind of temperament - or if it was an act, that kind of role.

Still, this didn't prevent me to become somewhat resentful towards him and in fact the next week I went to a week long sesshin where this accident haunted me several days with feelings of aggression etc.

Well, I've practised zen just a few years but I guess that no matter how many years of practise we have, it's not enough to change 50000 years of evolution in our genetics - or whatever.. We'll still be human beings.

Mysterion said...
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Jinzang said...

Zen and zen teachers are great at offering a concrete way to engage in a desperate silly behavior called practicing Zen.

Something can only be called silly if you have some contrasting concept of what is serious. What do you take seriously?

One thing I've noticed with intellectuals is they have sharp criticism of other peoples' beliefs, but they're very, very careful about hiding what is important to them, for fear of being criticized in the same way.

Matt said...

Re: Gniz:

I'm not so sure that apology would be the best course here--and not from a hippy-dippy philosophical "submitting to an opponent' or some such thing here. I was explicitly instructed during my fast food jobs NOT to apologize to a customer for anything beyond getting their order wrong (like if they tripped and fell or soemthing) because to apologize would be an admission of guilt and responsibility, and that blows the company's self-defense out of the water.

So just from a business perspective, this makes sense.

Mysterion said...
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Kevin from One Jack Move said...

Hey Brad I just picked up your second book. I really enjoyed the first one, you have some great ideas. Two questions:

When is the third one due?
Will it be about Jesus or sex, or maybe both? (I remember you mentioning these as the possible topics for the book)

salvador dali parton said...

zen at work

by les kaye

Mysterion said...
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パイパソ専門 said...

1 0 万 もらえたからいいものの、大事な息子はまだジンジンしてまふww(・w・)

Random Non Sequitur said...

There are people looking for problems and there are people looking for solutions.

I deal with people like that all the time. It mostly makes me want to move someplace with lots and lots of acreage around me. But when I'm on top of my game I can just laugh at them and forget about it.