Mindfulness and Right Livelihood

“We rush too much with nervous hands and worried minds. We are impatient for results. What we need . . . is reinforcement of the soul by the invisible power waiting to be used.”

Henry Ford

Henry Ford is the ultimate icon of the twins genius and demon. His was a fabulous commercial success and he had a high level of concern for the welfare of his employees. Yet his factories polluted, he conspired to dominate his suppliers and crush his competition, and his people were dumped on the street if they could not adjust to Henry’s ideas of what was best.

Many of us face this same dilemma within the organizations we consult or work for. We frequently reflect on the dynamic tension between our desire to help our coworkers or clients and our concern about questionable organizational practices. We may question both the way companies do things and the very product or service they provide. We may wonder whether we are being ethical by helping such organizations. Or perhaps we are unsure of the validity and defensibility of some of our own professional practices. And sometimes, because we need the business, we may agree to contracts that we should not be taking.

The solution to this dilemma begins with self-reflection and personal mastery. Socrates’ instruction to “Know thyself” is the foundation upon which we build an understanding of the challenges our work offers and how to meet them. If we explore the concept of “right livelihood” and aspire to the practice of mindfulness using the tools of present moment awareness, critical self-reflection, and community building we can more easily engage in reflective dialogue about what “right livelihood” means to each of us and explore some of its many aspects, which might include.

  • The impact of our professional work on our clients and our lives

  • The ethics of helping companies with questionable practices, products, or services

  • The validity and defensibility of our own professional practices

  • Being true to our values while still paying the bills

  • Doing well by doing good

  • Reflecting on our relationship with money and the role it plays in our lives

  • Exploring the challenges of living right in a consumer society

  • Learning to apply economics as if people matter