The Outer Work

(image via Jens Herrndorff)

(image via Jens Herrndorff)

During this time of deep struggle and fear, I am struck by the sense of inner corruption magnified time and again on our 24-hour news shows. Politicians, CEO's, bankers, mortgage lenders...the list goes on and on. One wonders how did these leaders get so bad. Did they start this way or was there some form of "soul loss" that worked itself into their inner nature? This behavior would be literally unbelievable was it not happening to my 401K.

I can't believe that they started their careers to screw us, that their first day of work they awoke, looked in the mirrors and said, "My dream is to ruin lives." Even Bernie Madoff, couldn't have started his career as a Ponzi scheme. He must have somewhere been about something better.

There is nothing sadder than those who try to change the world but have never looked inward to change themselves first. It is an opportunity rife for some form of destruction. The worst to witness are the falls from grace of people who held our highest esteem. Religious leaders who became sexual predators, political leaders tainted by corruption, and spiritual leaders who ended up egomaniacs. This doesn't even mention those entrusted with our own personal dreams of homes and financial futures.

We know this intuitively because our greatest societal hero's are those who either through circumstance or hard work used their lives as a mirror to change that which was around them. Think Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jane Goodall or Mother Teresa. It is the best and only place to start, and so few people really ever go there.

I once asked a wise teacher the best advice she had for finding other wise teachers. "How do you really know" I wondered, "that someone's character is trustworthy?"

Her answer was quite profound.

"Always make sure this teacher is a "learner" at least once a season", she said. "It doesn't matter what they do, it can be anything, as long as it is out of their comfort zone. The key is they must be in a place that has them as a beginner. By being a beginner we stay humble. When we are humble we do not become over-attached to our role. It is when we become too heavily identified with what we do versus who we are that we are open to...mischief."

The theologian Meister Eckart said it another way, “The outer work will never be great if the inner work is small.” In this change of season are you doing anything that has you as a beginner? What new opportunities await that will smooth the rough edges off your ego, by putting you in a place of discomfort and newness? Remember, ultimately every loss of ego is a win for our integrity.

LeadershipDavid Baum