In 2011, Google invited Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, to Silicone Valley to speak with its employees. The management team believed that an afternoon with the Zen master and his mindfulness teachings would halt rising employee disengagement; however, Hanh turned the occasion into one reminiscent of a routine day in Plum Village, including a silent meal.  Hanh very diplomatically explained, as is his way, something to the effect that an 8-hour satsang with a Buddhist monk would not alleviate the need for what only a radical shift in consciousness could accomplish.

Figure 1 People have a hard time of letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. ~Thich Nhat Han

Understandably Google was desperately seeking for a quick solution to what was then a 41%, now 34%, employee engagement rate. How to solve the sobering reality that nearly three quarters of U.S. employees are disengaged, at a cost of nearly $550 billion/yr. in lost productivity, frustrates the U.S.’s business community.  

Facing a shrinking bottom line, America’s CEO’s are attempting to resuscitate the old workplace narrative of high production rates and steady rising profits.  They’re doling out bonuses and raises and even seeking advice from some unlikely people, like Hanh, and from some unlikely places like APA (American Psychological Association). Their advice was that employers should focus on their employees’ inner work life, that managers should encourage and respect their employees. 

Some businesses have sought out the expertise of interior designers, who redesign the atmospheres of workplace cafeterias and employee lounges. In desperation, some gravitated to the art world because accordingly, “Employees thrive in a positive and optimistic environment, and research suggests that having art in the workplace increases creativity, efficiency and even productivity.  

There is no surface solution for what is ailing the American and global workplace. Extended vacations, remodeled employee lounges nor higher wages can eradicate our expanding awareness of the degenerative and unsustainable consequences of our belief in working and earning.  Maybe APA came close to identifying the cause of shrinking engagement rates. Sure, examining employees’ honest feelings about their work life would have yielded some insights, but the suggestion highlighted how uninformed APA is about what constitutes the interior life. Naturally we cannot fault them for not being Thomas Merton.

Fig. 2 “12 Harmonics” by Keith Tyson in the Deutsche Bank London reception.

What we are observing is the dissolution of one of our most cherished ways of life, working and earning. We are at a crossroad where only the old narrative, with its foundation in the belief in separation, could have led us: the end of an experience that includes being spoon-fed “quick fixes.” We can no longer spring back and cope with surface solutions that consider and treat symptoms but lack any analysis and insight of primary cause. The old way of getting along in the world is characterized by this cycle of problem production and the illusion of quick problem solving. Now frustrated business leaders, researchers and those of us who cling to this system for our daily sustenance are disoriented by our growing indifference about the jobs we do. What’s worse is that we cannot imagine a different reality, and this lack of vision is of vital concern.

Afterall, what would the 130.6 million full-time workers in America do if not wake up 5 days a week and make the commute to work?  Could or should we begin by an examination of who we are, our relationship with each other, the planet and non-human communities? Can anyone really wrap their thought around creating for the well-being of the planet, human and non-human communities, in lieu of working for the bottom line and retirement benefits? Nah. Best to get dressed, go to work and disengage. That’s reasonable and far easier than to contemplate a shift from working and earning to creating and gifting.  

What Hanh implicated in his response to Google is that the “crisis” in the American and global workplace signifies the call to transformation. Even in their snug confidence that they can halt the waning bottom line and recapture earlier production rates, businesses realize that there are an insufficient number of engaged employees to sustain the old narrative that had, at one time, commanded engagement rates of 80%-90%.  While disengaged employees sit through employee training lunches with Buddhist Monks or head off to a weekend retreat that’s guaranteed to radically change their relationship with their jobs, the portal is opening for the creation of the New Narrative.

Embarking on the creation of the New and unprecedented of anything, not simply a shift in how we apply our energy five days a week, requires an excavation of the beliefs that are the cornerstones   

of the obsolete story from our interior world, first. While the deconstruction of the script that we’ve blindly followed for generations seems like a formidable task, with daunting and seemingly insurmountable challenges, it is not impossible.  

But it will require more than a 40-hour work week. It will require full engagement. 


~Akilah, March 2020     


Note 3/19/2020 Here’s a timely article about jobs and the current coronavirus epidemic. As with all crisis that human beings have experienced, there is always an underlying sentiment that this will make us a kinder, more considerate species. I have yet to live through any event that has shifted consciousness on a global level, and this is not to say that the coronavirus is not a catalyst for that shift. I do not know.  But knowing what I do about change and consciousness, those radical, life changing shifts originate from within, not from external circumstances that are almost always manipulated to foment fear and reinforce an already widespread sentiment of hopelessness. Maybe with a loss of jobs and a corresponding loss of money in our pockets, we’ll use the corresponding increase of time for inner reflection, but I highly doubt it.

Although this article is dated 2018, the issues that it discusses about our belief in jobs, working and earning remain applicable