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The EGO-FREE POWER at work; source of strength and wisdom for complex and uncertain times... Why don’t we start using it?

The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle (author of the Nr. 1 New York Times Bestseller “The Power of Now”) in his book “A New Earth. Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” presents a section by the title “Work - with and without ego”. Tolle articulates beautifully key dynamics we all have experienced or we experience within our workplaces; his perspective is spiritual and humanistic and fully relates to practical down-to-earth events, opportunities and obstacles we all face in our daily work, it frames them within a new meaning we can all learn from:

“Most people have moments when they are free of ego. Those who are exceptionally good at what they do may be completely or largely free of ego of ego while performing their work. They may not know it, but their work has become a spiritual practice. Most of them are present while they do their work and fall back into relative unconsciousness in their private lives. This means their state of Presence is for the time being confined to one are of their life. I have met teachers, artists, nurses, doctors, scientists, social workers, waiters, hairdressers, business owner, and salespeple who perform their work admirably without any self-seeking, fully responding to whatever the moment requires of them. They are one with what they do, one with the Now, one with the people or the task they serve. The influence such people have upon others goes far beyond the function they perform. They bring about a lessening of the ego in everyone who comes into contact with them. Even people with heavy egos sometimes begin to relax, let down their guard, and stop playing their roles when they interact with them. It comes as no surprise that those people who work without ego are extraordinarily successful at what they do. (...) I have also met many others who may be technically good at what they do but whose ego constantly sabotages their work. Only part of their attention is on the work they perform; the other part is on themselves. Their ego demands personal recognition and wastes energy in resentment if it doesn’t get enough (...). Or their main focus of attention is profit and power, and their work is no more than a means to that end. When work is no more than a means to and end, it cannot be of high quality. When obstacles or difficulties arise in their work, when things don’t go according to expectation, when other people or circumstances are not helpful or cooperative, instead of becoming one with the new situation and responding to the requirements of the present moment, they react against the situation and so separate themselves from it. There is a ‘me’ that feels personally offended or resentful, and a huge amount of energy is burned up in useless protest or anger, energy that could be used for solving the situation if it were not being misused by the ego. What is more, this ‘anti’-energy creates new obstacles, new opposition. Many people are truly their own worst enemy. (...) Cooperation is alien to the ego, except when there is a secondary motive. The ego doesn’t know that the more your include others, the more smoothly things flow and the more easily things come to you. When you give little or no help to others or put obstacles in their path, the universe - in the form of people and circumstances - gives little or no help to you because you have cut yourself from the whole."

The strength of ego-free

When we learn to keep in control our ego we have a chance to express the best of our talents and skills and a chance to truly develop mutually beneficial cooperation with or colleagues; no matter what is our work, no matter what is our role. This may sound naive and counterintuitive to many of us: we are used to experience workplaces dominated by egos and we feel compelled to boost our own ego or, at the very least, protect it in order to play the career-game, the power-game or, quite often, even the survival-game. Tolle gets to the core of these ‘games’ we play and his message is ever important during our complex and uncertain times. More and more management gurus talk about the need of teamwork, of cooperation, of creativity, of innovation, of unleashing the ‘people’s inner potential’ in order to help organizations keep the pace of the ever competitive and integrated global market place.

Beyond empty words

Regrettably, we all know rarely this translates into actual consistent and dependable behaviors (including our very own); according to Tolle this is caused by egos that keep getting in the way. Until we fully become aware of this, and start acting upon it by changing our behaviors, the career-power-survival games are going to be played over and over and we all are going to be negatively affected by them (even the egos that apparently seem to be benefiting the most). We need to start seriously thinking about this and put to test Tolle’s observations. We might not agree with them or we might not believe that this is the way to reaching our inner strengths, yet we can just try to give this perspective a chance. Many people are already doing it and experiencing results: better relationships at work and in private lives and improved expression of the own talents and skills. In fact, through ego-less behaviors we naturally foster our ability to focus on the moment, on the situation at hand and this focus helps us to truly tap into our inner resources finding suitable solutions for the situations we face. ‘Quality work’, as Tolle calls it, comes from this.

Flow and the ‘psychology of optimal experience’

Also from a psychological perspective the ego-less approach makes sense: in 1990 psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published what became a ground braking classic “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”. This is how the book was presented: “It happens when an artist loses himself entirely in his work, or when basketball player enters that zone where it seems everything she throws up will drop in. This is Flow—the freedom of total absorption in an activity, the almost euphoric state of concentration and involvement. Esteemed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals why flow i one of the most rewarding states of being life has to offer. And he demonstrates how listeners can achieve this state at will. The widely acclaimed Flow has already helped thousands of people turn their everyday experiences into opportunities for joy and fulfillment. New listeners will learn to redirect energy, overcome anxiety, and harmonize all of life's elements”. Wikipedia features a simple and meaningful definition of Flow: “the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”. It is interesting to point out a key component of Flow identified by Csikszentmihalyi’s research: “A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness”. I find a marked link between this psychological state and the ego-less one Tolle refers to.

Ego-free, Flow, quality work, optimal experience; ideas and observations that make sense stimulating us to test them. As individuals and organizations we would highly benefit from fostering organizational contexts in which we can use them. The current and future need for creativity, innovation and constant adaptation to change in any workplace represent a key opportunity to do it. There is plenty of actual scientific research on the topic and implementation tools can be developed and customized in order to make organizations tap for real into the ‘inner potential of the people’. As individuals and organizations this represents a challenge for smart, evolutionary change; do you care to join it?

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