Detroit IBC Reflection for May 2020

As the pandemic began to take on its larger, phantasmagorical character, I felt the need to be intentional and thoughtful about my how I reacted. I sensed a clear and profound desire to be mindful, in the present moment, and very intentional about not getting caught-up in – as Eckhart Tolle puts it – “I thoughts”.

Now that we’re nearly two months into self-isolation, and Zoom meetings have become as ubiquitous as Golden Arches, I am grateful for my approach to the pandemic. The mindfulness practice, combined with a renewed emphasis on prayer and spiritual reading, has led to a number of insights, and to a deepened relationship with Christ. Many of us, however, have not been so privileged.

My wife is a health care professional, and during the height of the case load, this woman I’ve known for more than thirty years, to be as strong as a bag of rocks, was rattled – to say the least. And there are others who have suffered grievously during this moment.

Like a veil lifted to reveal a most hideous work of art, the pandemic has exposed this system’s inequities. And while many of us may delude ourselves about the powers of markets, there can be no rationalization for why the poor have been made to bear the brunt of the pandemic’s suffering. While we can rationalize the suffering away, we cannot avoid its origins: a broken and outdated system of economics and national leadership that’s certainly not magnanimous, and best characterized as grotesquely narcisst. We can do better.  

The effects of the pandemic on our sense of community and all the rest will not be known for some time. What lies ahead is anything but clear; however, we would do well to give careful consideration to our obligations, first as disciples of Christ and second, as citizens of the United States, and the direction to which these obligations point.

Background Article and Discussion

For this month’s reflection, I chose a Harvard Business Review article titled, “Make Peace with Your Unlived Life.” The article relates what many of us go through, especially in this culture.

Within a system largely predicated on serving “the world” and “not the master”, we generally overlook the importance – at a young age – of finding our life’s purpose. While many of us survive the teenage years and manage to find a sense of vocation in our work, just as many simply buy-into the exhortation to “go to college so you can get a good paying job”. Answering the question, “what is my purpose?”, is, or so it seems, all too often overlooked.

The points made in the article are purely psychological and not at all reflective of the spiritual perspective. Although the article references the term true self, this is a term many will likely associate with Thomas Merton, who speaks of understanding the difference between the “true self” and “false self”.

Eckart Tolle refers to coming to grips with ego, or “I thoughts” versus “I am”, which is another way of seeing what Merton is describing as the false and true self, respectively. In the Eastern traditions, the focus on mind-body, versus what lies beyond the mind-body, is important here. In a Christian context, Jesus says, the disciple “…must deny himself and take up his cross daily.” If we consider the implications here, we ought to ask how we have the capacity to “deny ourselves”?  Who, exactly is it, we are to deny? It is the ego, the thing that clings to life. It is in getting to know being, and the difference between it, and the ego, that we develop the capacity to deny ourselves.

The point is to recognize that our thoughts are not who we are. Our thoughts must be understood within the context of the whole: the community, our relationship with God, and what we know about the cosmos. Building this capacity takes living in the present moment and doing away with our tendencies – as Fr. Bernard Lonergan puts it – to “overlook” and let our biases take over. Biases, in Lonergan’s sense, are the “I thoughts” that emerge from egos and the desire for preservation of self. As Tolle puts it, our tendencies to let ego, and its unyielding desire for attention and affirmation, take over gets in the way of our true self, the thing to which we are being called “to become”.

What does this have to do with living out our vocations as business leaders? I believe it calls us to do “interior work” (i.e., through prayer and entering more deeply into the interior life) on recognizing the difference between the mind-body and our beingness – the I am. When we do this, we trust that Christ will open-up to us the path to who we are to become.

In this age of consumerist culture, with its overemphasis on serving “wants, needs and desires”, it’s easy to become caught-up in ego and I thoughts. With our misdirected economy, and what everyone else is telling us “ought to be”, it’s no wonder so many of us have existential crises. Even for those strong in faith, it’s difficult not to be affected by the Matrix in which we live.

As business leaders, we have chosen a vocation, a work reflective of our discipleship in Christ, which means we serve Him, not mammon. In the middle of an intense moment of high-stress, having the ability to see clearly the difference between our ego – our I thoughts – and the voice of Christ, is a critical capacity that takes practice to develop, but is something certainly worthy of our time and effort.

As the story in the article goes, by being vulnerable and revisiting the true self, Tina was able to discern a path to greater meaning, one leading to who Christ intends her “to be”. Many of us, will – as Thoreau says – “live lives of quiet desperation”. We are not meant for this. Our purpose, in the created order, is to develop a sound and healthy relationship with Christ who will teach us “all things”. As business leaders, this means trusting in the “I am” of the interior, and letting go of the “I thought” of ego.

Scripture for Reflection

Luke 9:23-27 The Conditions for Discipleship

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Be Attentive: Sometimes, especially after the fact, it’s clear when our egos have gotten the better of us. We may realize we may have said things we did not mean. Consider those times when you may have felt threatened or vulnerable, describe what you recall about the experience. To what extent did you recognize the difference between your ego, and “I am” – the person you are to become in Christ? Describe the difference between the “I thoughts” – the ego driven thoughts of pride, self-preservation and so forth – and that “still, small voice within” calling you to be who you are meant to be.
  2. Be Intelligent: In the article, Tina senses a lack of enthusiasm for her work. Through a process of opening-up and a willingness to confront the “repressed self”, Tina is able to make progress toward her true-self. Consider any moments of desolation you have had – those feelings of indifference or lack of enthusiasm – and in prayer, consider what may be under the surface and calling you to a deeper sense of the “true self”. Consider journaling your thoughts and following through on where they may lead.
  3. Be Reasonable: What sorts of things could you do, during the course of your daily routine, to practice drawing into a deeper understanding of the difference between the false and true self? 
  4. Be Responsible: Sometimes, as we confront the space between the true and the false self, a clear, yet daunting path may open up. As challenging as this may be, we are disciples of a loving God who holds us in the palm of his loving hands. In Christ, what steps coud you take to better discern what it is you are being called to do?

Closing Prayer: Suscipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola

Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all I have and call my own.

You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

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