Bring Meaning to Work and Purpose to Spirituality

At our last dialogue on August 16, Doug and others compared ourselves as
cogs on the giant wheel of the social, economic and political machine that
dominates our time and lives and makes it extremely difficult for any of us
to feel that we could make a difference. And yet, we soldier on, often
alone. It reminds me of the very reason for which we came together for the
first time last December: to overcome the loneliness that we feel in our
individual struggles. The whole question can be turned on its head: the very
fact that we persevere despite huge challenges and lack of external rewards
is a testimony for the power of our collective purpose and destiny –
loneliness is simply nature's way of telling us that something vital is
missing in our lives.

It turns out that a bigger and more powerful wheel is at work in nature that
makes the popular and superficial one pale in vitality. That's THE ONE that
cogs like ourselves are most fascinated with and doing all we can learning
to ride. It's not an easy ride for sure. As we have experienced in the past
a few months, it takes more than just cognitive skills and requires the
commitments of the heart and the will to stay the course and enjoy the ride.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of "Flow, the Psychology of Optimal
Experience", calls this the path of liberation. He was quite unequivocal
based on his research findings that "while humankind collectively has
increased its material powers a thousand fold, it has not advanced very far
in terms of improving the content of experience." Moreover, lack of content
is not the primary problem. Instead the necessary order that will allow us
to experience it in an enjoyable and productive way is the missing link. He
calls this order of consciousness "flow". His research suggests that people
enjoy a higher quality and more productive life if and only if their life
styles expose them to such flow experiences. Sports, dance, music, poetry
and eroticism are some activities in which flow experiences are most
commonly reported. Most intriguing and relevant of all, the flow experience
is also found at work in so called "autotelic workers", ordinary people
engaged in routine jobs (e.g., a welder on an assembly line) who have found
their work experience as or more enjoyable than any type of leisure outside
work. I am sure that most "normal" folks would dismiss this as workaholic.
Mihaly thinks and I agree with him that most people confuse pleasure with
enjoyment. The former involves consumption while the latter creative flow.
In the end, the wheel of nature is creative vs. consumptive. That's why it's
so important that we learn the ways to experience the flow of nature, even
and particularly at work. Most of us spend at least 40 hours at work every
week. If we could find a way to increase the frequency and quality of flow
experiences even just by a few percentage points, we'll make a huge
difference to the quality of our own lives and others. To do so, we need
three essential components: (1) A community of committed individuals to
withstand the gravity of social conformity; (2) A transformational method to
improve our work experience qualitatively, not just more of the same; (3)
The focus on constant practice to complete the flow, not just talk about it
at meetings or gatherings.

How have we done so far within the MLC? (1) We now have a few committed
individuals meeting regularly despite numerous distractions and/or
necessities (e.g., work and family pressures, vacations, alternative
options/opportunities, etc.). It is a very natural and dynamic situation.
People naturally come from different backgrounds and face different
situations. It is unnatural to expect everyone to move at the same pace and
at the same time. Therefore, there is a need to create more structure to
accommodate such natural differences and optimize the flow experience for
everyone who would like to participate; (2) Theory U has so far been our
primary tool for transformation. It has served us extremely well. I
anticipate that we will need to introduce other and complimentary tools as
and when we need them. For now, it's good enough for most of us. Personally,
I find theory U an adequate guide for exposing or sensing the full
complexities of the flow experience, that is, the left-hand side of the U;
It is less adequate when one approaches the bottom of the U. That's why we
attempted introducing Spiral Dynamics, a theory of transformational flow
that is more robust and comprehensive for recognizing the deeper flow
patterns at field 4. From this angle, our life journeys consist of a series
of evolving, overlapping, connected and nested flows of energy.
Interestingly, this seems to fit with the observed flow patterns of the
universe itself: constantly expanding in complexity while conserving total
energy. Is this a coincidence? That seems a field 4 question and requires
field 4 experiences to answer! (3) Where theory U or any other theory (e.g.,
Spiral Dynamics) for that matter really falls short is on the right-hand
side of the U or in practice. It is rarely possible and almost never
sustainable to swing through all fields at a particular given time and
situation. Instead the U only indicates the direction in which solutions
might be sought to unblock a particular flow or problem. Too often, people
get stuck with the same approach and tactics that have created the problem
in the first place and get frustrated when they didn't work. Re-directing
such energy and flow takes a great deal of skill as well as commitments. It
requires an understanding of not only how things should be (however
inspiring and desirable) but also are (however pathological and painful) and
a carefully architected path for transition or change. That's just the
beginning. You then must pore all your energy of attention into it and
manage or even fight against all the distractions naturally occurring in the
environment in order to have a chance to succeed. It is not a matter of
theory. It is a work of art. Every experience is different and yet all arise
from and flow into the same source. That's why there is no book or recipe to
follow on the right-hand side of the U. Only the practitioners could
describe and share their experiences – not as an act of charity but as an
artistic expression and communion with nature and each other. As a group we
have so far stayed mostly on the left-hand side of the U. It's a natural
starting point. Madeline realized recently that she did not see the
right-hand side until she put some serious efforts into writing her personal
case of corrective behavior at work. Then she discovers that the flow
experience intensifies exponentially as she "swing" through the U – it's
almost like a switch was turned on. We all need to write more and deeper
cases in order to fully experience the flow or the U, which will in turn
solidify our resolve.

Primarily to help us and other professionals to experience such flows more
frequently and productively (consequently enhancing our quality of life and
effectiveness), I am proposing the formation of a new organization named One
Authentic Swing. MLC was and still is a very successful experiment for a
community of transformative practice, incorporating all three key components
discussed earlier. One Authentic Swing goes a step further and intends to
formalize the purpose and methodology of optimizing flow experiences at work
places and in life. People are welcomed to join if/when they are ready. For
those who decide to join now, there are two immediate focuses/tasks for the

1. First and foremost, develop more full swing case studies, at either a
personal or organizational level
2. Volunteer your time and services to help others initiated into
Discovery and transition them from Discovery into Development and Practice
(for a more detailed description of the Discovery, Development and Practice
phases, please refer to the draft proposal that I sent out on August 14 or
there about)

At our next gathering on September 20, we plan to dialogue and flash out
more details around One Authentic Swing: the purpose, approach, and methods
of riding the bigger wheel.

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