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Business in the Bardo

by Collin Pfaff

It’s time we sit down and finally talk about death.

Just kidding … kind of.

In early July, my family and I went to Evanston, IL to hear Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche talk about his experiences navigating the “bardo.” Mingyur Rinpoche is a world-renowned teacher of Tibetan Buddhism who has spent his entire life helping others discover the gifts of mindfulness and awareness.

In his early 30s, Mingyur Rinpoche embarked on a three-year wandering retreat where he renounced his title, wealth and the safety of his monastery.  In his book, “In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying,” he details the experience of living homeless and surviving a near-death experience from severe food poisoning. Mingyur Rinpoche embarked on this retreat so that he could become more familiar with the bardo.

So what is the bardo?

In Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo refers to a state of existence between death and rebirth. This bardo is often described as a “dream-like” state where we revisit our karmic attachments during our life.

When we say death and rebirth, this is not exclusive to death of the physical body and rebirth into a new physical being. There is a metaphysical aspect as well.  Death here can also mean a period of consciousness when you are not in the present, and rebirth can mean when your consciousness has returned to the present. Many of us have gone through this metaphysical bardo today, at work. We say we were “spacing out” or “day-dreaming.”

For our purposes, the bardo can be understood as an intermediate or transitory state of awareness. Imagine a circle, and everything inside the circle is the ego where all is understood and familiar. These are the habits you’ve built up throughout your life.  Anything outside the circle is the unknown or your new experiences. You can think of the bardo as a gap, or the experience you live between the known and the unknown.

All of us have experienced living in the bardo as it can come in many shapes and sizes. We embark on a lengthy bardo when we go to college, move to a new city, have children, or lose a loved one. Some bardos can be short-lived like riding a new bus route for the first time, or going on a first date, or trying to see who you’ll sit with at lunch the first day of school. As part of our brain’s robust self-protection programming, we often find ourselves feeling fear, discomfort or anxiety when we’re traveling through the bardo.

Businesses and organizations go through the bardo. One of the beautiful things about the philosophy of capitalism is its alignment with the natural world.  There is, if nothing else, constant change.

How do we navigate the bardo?

During his three-year wandering retreat, Mingyur Rinpoche used awareness as his tool to navigate the bardo. We bring awareness to our thoughts, feelings and emotions so that we can familiarize ourselves with the unknown. If we do not bring awareness to the bardo, then we can be lost in stories told by the brain.

When we talk about the stories, imagine a wall around the edge of our ego circle that is there to protect us from danger, or the unknown. These stories manifest as our thoughts: “You’re not good enough,” “They don’t like you,” “This presentation isn’t going to go well.”

Mindfulness and meditation are tools we can use to bring awareness to life. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and accessibility, and mind-numbingly difficult in its simplicity and accessibility. As we use awareness to break through the stories we’ve told ourselves, our perceptions alter and we begin to see the true nature of things.

How does Kenway help clients navigate the bardo?

Think of Kenway consultants as your “bardo buddies.”  Our core capabilities – Technology Solution Delivery, Enterprise Program Leadership, and Information Insight – all help businesses go from their current, familiar state to a new, unknown future state.  The activities that support these states, our secret sauce, are the activities that we perform to help you navigate the bardo.

One of Kenway’s Guiding Principles is the idea of “means over outcomes.” Spending time focused on outcomes can cause stress in the bardo because it engages that storytelling part of our brain that desperately wants to predict the future. At Kenway, we believe our brain’s capacity should be 100% utilized , or the present. By doing so, we take a leap of faith trusting that focusing on the present will guide us to success.

Kenway consultants are well disciplined in practicing means that bring awareness to our client’s problems. We apply awareness via documentation – whether it be process flows, risk and issue management; data mapping, solution architecture diagrams, project plans, and code; or client interviews, meeting notes, and lessons learned.  We present our documentation in a timely and consumable format throughout the journey to make sure our clients are with us every step of the way.

It may sound too simplistic, too banal, to say that is the key to our success. But it’s true. Navigating bardos, professional or personal, does not require super-human strength or breathtaking intelligence and innovation. It only requires applying awareness to a situation – a skill we all innately possess. If we can accurately see the lay of the land, the next step forward will simply reveal itself. As one of my yin-yoga teachers likes to say, “Do it easy.”

To learn more about how your bardo buddies at Kenway Consulting can help, visit kenwayconsulting.com or contact us at info@kenwayconsulting.com.

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