Marc Lesser
Go Within Zen

Through the integration of Zen meditation and mindfulness into leadership and personal growth, you can cultivate self-awareness, manage stress, and improve communication in your professional and personal life.

Marc Lesser
Listen Now
Show Notes

Marc Lesser is a speaker, facilitator, workshop leader, and executive coach known for his engaging, experiential presentations that integrate mindfulness and emotional intelligence practices and training. He is the author of five books, including “Finding Clarity: How Compassionate Accountability Builds Vibrant Relationships, Thriving Workplaces, and Meaningful Lives.” As the CEO of ZBA Associates, an executive development and leadership consulting company, he brings a unique blend of Zen practice and business acumen to his work.

Marc’s journey into mindfulness and leadership began in college, where he discovered Zen meditation and later spent a decade at the San Francisco Zen Center, engaging deeply with Zen practices and serving in leadership roles. This period of immersive Zen training profoundly influenced his approach to leadership and personal development. Marc then earned an MBA from New York University, further integrating his spiritual practice with business leadership.

He played a pivotal role in developing the “Search Inside Yourself” program at Google, which has gained acclaim for enhancing employee well-being and productivity through mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training. Marc’s work emphasizes the transformative power of mindfulness in reshaping organizational cultures and leadership styles, extending to various sectors, including the military and public service.

Marc Lesser continues to contribute to the field through his books, consulting work, and speaking engagements, as well as his podcast, “Zen Bones: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times.” His approach combines personal experience with professional expertise, offering practical, compassionate solutions to modern leadership and organizational challenges. Through his work, Marc advocates for the integration of mindfulness and emotional intelligence in creating meaningful and sustainable change in workplaces and society.

“When we meditate, we are sincerely going into this state of not doing, of just being.”

 – Marc Lesser

Key Takeaways:

  • The Power of Zen for Leadership and Personal Growth: Zen practice and meditation offer valuable tools for developing concentration, mindfulness, and compassion, which are essential for effective leadership and personal growth.
  • Mindfulness-Based EQ: Integrating mindfulness-based emotional intelligence with meditation practices can enhance communication, trust, and alignment within organizations.
  • Shedding Mental Barriers: Recognizing and letting go of resistance and unhelpful mental models is crucial for personal and professional growth.
  • Balancing Compassion and Accountability: Compassionate accountability, which balances performance and results with trust and empathy, is a key concept for creating effective and harmonious workplaces.
  • Nurturing Inner Growth: Cultivating self-awareness, curiosity, and the willingness to face difficulties head-on is essential for personal and professional development.

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[00:00:00] Mark Divine: Marc, thanks so much for joining me on the Mark Divine show. Super stoked to have you here today.

[00:00:03] Marc Lesser: A pleasure to be here with you, Mark.

[00:00:05] Mark Divine: Yeah, so it’s always a great thrill of mine to speak to Zen practitioners because, as my listeners know, that’s where it all started with me. What set me on my path was actually Zen meditation, studying under a martial arts grandmaster named Nakamura. And as a 21-year-old kid, blowing my brain wide open. Pretty awesome. Can we start this thing just by giving us a sense of like who you are, what was your origin story? Where’d you grow up? What was that like with your parents and kind of early formative years?

[00:00:42] Marc Lesser: I grew up in a small town in Central New Jersey.


[00:00:46] Mark Divine: No kidding. Okay. Which exit?

[00:00:50] Marc Lesser: Exit 135. I brag that, from my house as a child, I could hear the parkway and smell the turnpike.

[00:00:57] Mark Divine: Oh my goodness. I know exactly what you’re talking about. 

[00:01:02] Marc Lesser: it’s actually a sweet, small, just small, quiet suburban town. my father was an electrician. My mother, I was a secretary, I feel like I grew up, in bowling alleys and golf courses. I love, it was really I loved sports I played a lot of baseball and football on the streets in that little town and then, threw myself into wrestling in high school. I was a captain of my high school wrestling team.


[00:01:27] Marc Lesser: physical activities were always really important to me. It was at Rutgers that I discovered a whole new group of human beings broadening my world being a college. I had a professor who had been a colleague of Timothy Leary’s at Harvard and introduced me to LSD as a spiritual practice. That definitely expanded my world.

[00:01:54] Marc Lesser: And also I discovered a love of reading and learning while in college. One of my favorite classes was French, German, and Italian literature in translations where I discovered Sartre and Camus and Kafka and discovered meditation and Zen while in college and at some point decided I wanted to do it and not really read about it. And I took a one-year leave of absence from Rutgers, walked into the San Francisco Zen Center, and stayed 10 years 

[00:02:29] Marc Lesser: Quite literally. 

[00:02:30] Mark Divine: That’s really cool. So you learned about Zen. Do you remember? Was it a book or was it a friend or a professor?

[00:02:36] Marc Lesser: It was the way of Zen by Alan Watts

[00:02:39] Mark Divine: Yeah. Okay. 

[00:02:40] Marc Lesser: As well as, I think, Paul Rep’s book and a few others, but yeah, there weren’t a lot at the time, but…

[00:02:47] Mark Divine: No. That’s fascinating. So you went back to finish your records. I also noticed you have your MBA from one of my album writers, NYU. Thank you.

[00:02:56] Marc Lesser: I did. One of the things that was a big surprise for me was that during my years at the Zen center, I kept getting asked to take on leadership roles. So I found myself running things and leading people I guess I was maybe a little before my time in that way. I wondered why isn’t everyone integrating the practices and skills from Zen practice with work and leadership.

They just, Seem like they went together really well. And I had this crazy idea, I think, that’s what I’m going to do with my life. I said but I don’t really know anything about business. I think I need to learn something. So I went back and finished my undergraduate degree at Rutgers and went right into New York University Business School.

[00:03:42] Mark Divine: That’s terrific. I was at NYU Stern School of Business in 1985 when I discovered Zen.

[00:03:50] Marc Lesser: I was there then.

[00:03:51] Mark Divine: Is that right? Fascinating. Wow.

[00:03:54] Marc Lesser: I was there, ‘84 to ‘86.

[00:03:57] Mark Divine: Yeah, I was ‘85 to ‘89. Took me a little longer. I got a master’s in accounting and then I switched over to the MBA program and went to the night. I was in the night program. So you did this after you left the San Francisco Zen Center. 

[00:04:04] Marc Lesser: Dido  Okay, so let me go back to that. By the way, I want to make a comment. I want to come back to like, why aren’t more CEOs integrating?

[00:04:10] Mark Divine: I don’t, I think generally at least for our era, if you were inclined towards Zen, then you were generally oriented away from business. So it’s a rare person like you or even me to bring stuff like this in the business world. But it’s becoming much more common so let me just frame it up this way. I’ve been to one monastery, four times, but I never stayed long. These are like four-day karate meditation retreats at the Zen Mountain Monastery. In Woodstock, New York. And the head monk was a guy named I know that’s not the title, but they You can tell me what the title is. But Renshi or I don’t really follow the Zen hierarchy much, but His name was Daito.

[00:05:04] Marc Lesser: Daito

[00:05:04] Mark Divine: Do you remember that? Yes, Daito.

And he Did you? He was an incredibly cool, interesting cat. He was a former merchant marine covered in tattoos, chain-smoked cigarettes

[00:05:15] Marc Lesser: And an artist

and a Zen teacher and an artist. Yeah.

[00:05:18] Mark Divine: And extremely insightful. And I found the looking forward to leaving after four days, each time I went.

Sounds like that monastic life wouldn’t have suited me. I was much, too adventurous and even though I love my Zen practice, I didn’t want it to be like the centerpost of everything at that point in my life. So how did you find that? What drew you to it and what were the challenges?

This is, I went through Navy SEAL training and I think that Zen training has some similarities for the mind anyway.

[00:05:52] Marc Lesser: Yeah. For the mind and the body too. I think it’s a physical body practice. I loved it, and a few years ago, I went back and did a three-month practice period. 

[00:06:02] Mark Divine: Oh, wow.

[00:06:03] Marc Lesser: And I have to say, the first morning with the 3: 40 am wake-up bell, to the meditation hall in the dark, What was thinking? This is gonna be a long three months, you’re thinking, right?

[00:06:15] Marc Lesser: But I have to say, partly, it’s training in, noticing our resistance and letting it go.

And yeah, after my, what the hell was I doing? I just completely enjoyed the, what a beautiful privilege thing to be able to do just to do a lot of meditation, and also there’s an incredible, intimacy. Of living in community that way. Especially like this was in Tassajara, which is a remote area, in the mountain valley. So also, spectacularly beautiful living in nature in that way surrounded by mountains and the simplicity of it and the ritual aspect. Every meal is a ritual. And just being able to throw myself into that practice. I feel like I’m quite healthy and fit and didn’t struggle as much with a lot of people with the physical part of it. I enjoy sitting a lot.

[00:07:10] Mark Divine: And people don’t really appreciate how hard sitting, especially on the Zazen bench, with an upright posture, alert. It’s challenging. And there, there were times where you’re breaking a sweat going, holy cow. What I called a concentration camp when I first did it.

[00:07:28] Marc Lesser: Yeah.

[00:07:30] Mark Divine: It was challenging.

Tell us about the daily ritual. Like most people aren’t familiar with what a day in the life of a Zen monk looks like. Let’s walk it through it. 

[00:07:39] Marc Lesser: For whatever reason, they like to start early, start the day with maybe, three half-hour periods of meditation with walking, a little bit walking in between each period, maybe 20 or 30 minutes of some, chanting. Chanting and reading from Zen texts and then a very formal in the meditation hall breakfast. People take turns serving each other but breakfast is very much a ritual.

[00:08:03] Mark Divine: Those weren’t silent periods, were they the meals?

[00:08:06] Marc Lesser: So there’s silence, up until noon. There’s breakfast and then there’s like an hour of study, studying together in a room, silent study. Often there’d be a lecture in the morning someone would give a talk, there’d be maybe a little bit more meditation in the morning. Lunch and then usually all afternoon was working all afternoon. 

[00:08:28] Mark Divine: At the monastery?

[00:08:29] Marc Lesser: Yeah, working. Yeah. You’re working in the kitchen or garden, shop, taking care of things.

[00:08:35] Mark Divine: Wax on, wax off.

[00:08:36] Marc Lesser: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And then bath and exercise time in the afternoon, dinner. Some kind of social time every evening after dinner was people would quiet, hanging out and talking with people and a period or two of meditation at night and to bed early. And that was pretty much it. The rhythm was five days on and then one day off.

[00:08:58] Mark Divine: And the off day you get to go into town?

[00:09:02] Marc Lesser: No, you don’t leave this for 90 days. But when you were there for 10 years, did you do these 90 day cycles and then take a break or? Yeah. 90 day cycles. Summertime was a guest season where people, opened up and people would come in, leave at various times. But yeah, I think I did. 10 years for me at the Zen center. Half of that time was monastic. Other times I spent three years living at the Zen center farm in Marin County.

[00:09:35] Mark Divine: Oh, cool.

[00:09:36] Marc Lesser: Where I was assigned to figure out how to farm with horses. Yeah, that was an amazing three year experience. I also like boot camp. I didn’t know anything about horses or farming, so it was quite, quite an experience.


[00:09:54] Mark Divine: So you had, some leadership skills and obviously problem-solving skills, like learning how to farm with a, with horses and whatnot. But all this time, from what I experience and what I know about Zen practice, your mind is getting, it’s clarified, purified, strengthened, concentration strengthened, and you’re broadening your kind of awareness or contextual awareness.

You’ll be able to perceive more. I want to talk about two things. One is the distinction between the concentration of Zen and the mindfulness because they’re two distinct practices and what they do to you or how they show up in terms of And then I would love to look at how these skills helped you as a leader and an entrepreneur and how they might help other leaders.

And there’s a lot there, but let’s start out with the concentration of mindfulness and also compassion, because we have, There’s really three different training, paths there. And ideally we bring them all together. And it sounds like that’s what you’ve been able to do.

[00:10:59] Marc Lesser: Zen practice in some way really emphasizes just quiet sitting, but I’d say sitting as a place to, become more and more comfortable with one’s own discomfort. getting to know fear and discomfort really well. there’s a core teaching from one of the early Zen teachers, this fellow named Dogen from the 13th century, and he says, to study, The way is to study the self and to study the self is to go beyond the self. Concentration is a piece of it in terms of being able to work with and quiet the mind some so that we’re not always that, the monkey mind isn’t taking over all the time.

So that’s, simple training the mind to be a bit more quiet. I think of mindfulness practice and Zen practice, in a way it’s a world of non duality, right? Not being so convinced that we think we know what this world actually is practices I’d say selflessness and timelessness effortlessness, seeing how, the experience of the mystery and miraculousness of being alive, being here as a, of our consciousness, being a human being for a short time on this planet.

being able to live that, that live that sense of, sacredness and appreciation. And what I love to me, these are all core leadership skills. There may be other things that leaders need to do as well. the best leaders that I see are ones that can bring this sense of, focus, vision, self awareness and appreciation as practices are just, I think, core leadership practices and human practices in all our relationships.

[00:12:46] Mark Divine: And you’re seeing more and more recognition of that, post COVID and as we accelerate into this VUCA world. And so people are recognizing, the, younger generation, especially it’s just, we’re going to refuse to work for leaders who don’t lead with that open hand, open heart and compassionate authenticity.

[00:13:11] Marc Lesser: I might have been ahead of my time, but now I feel like the world has caught up. There’s now there’s a lot of interest from, many, again, whether it’s even in the military,

[00:13:23] Mark Divine: Yeah, when I went through SEAL training, the military, yoga, I would have been laughed at. They didn’t teach really any of these skills. And now I started teaching SEAL trainees back in 2006, teaching ’em core breathing practices and mindfulness and visualization skills and pos, internal dialogue, controlling your internal dialogue, concentration type practices, and they had extraordinary success with that.

So of the SEALS trainees that I worked with, 90 percent would get through the SEAL training, which was compared to an 85 percent fail rate for the average, and we’re not talking about average people, but the average SEAL candidate. And so now the SEALs are started, have taken on and are training these.

kind of Eastern practices at SEAL training and yoga is very common, right? They brought yoga into the SEALs. So it’s really powerful to see that even in the military, because it will make for a more mindful warrior. That’s what I think we need in our world today, obviously, across the board.

Tell us a little bit about it. I want to come back a little later to the Zen training again and link it more to leadership. But tell us about the Google program. I think they called it a Search Inside Yourself or SIY.

[00:14:37] Marc Lesser: yes

[00:14:37] Mark Divine: You helped develop that

[00:14:39] Marc Lesser: I did.

[00:14:40] Mark Divine: They were early pioneers too, then it seems like in this

[00:14:45] Marc Lesser: Yeah, this was a vision of a Google of an early Google engineer who was a serious meditator. He thought, how can I scale meditation in the world? And let’s start here at Google.

And I got brought in as well as a neuroscientist and we really created a program that introduced meditation. We actually called it mindfulness based emotional intelligence.

So we recognize that, one, that emotional intelligence was something that leaders and companies seem to really get and understand how important emotional intelligence is leadership

 And that lots of research, right? Lots of research. And then there was lots of research. around meditation mindfulness meditation practice and that a powerful model of integrating those two practices as a form of lead, leadership training.

[00:15:37] Mark Divine: Mhm.

[00:15:38] Marc Lesser: yeah, so we, over several years experimented and designed, a program that became the Search Inside Yourself program originally we were doing it in short periods over a seven week period, and then it morphed into a second program. Two and a half day program. it became crazy popular inside of Google. Yeah. Yeah. I think, one of the languages that, people just Google engineers described it as a place where they could take their game faces off. So we, I think that’s one of the things we did really is we created a safe environment where they’re outside of the competition and the measurement and.

And where people could just be themselves. We taught things like listening skills. We taught things like difficult emotions, how to have difficult conversations. A combination of using the emotional intelligence model of self-awareness, self-management motivation.

Empathy and social skills and then weaving in meditation practices and listening practices especially. It used to blow my mind, when we would introduce things like, one person speaking and one person listening for three minutes for then Google employees to experience how rarely they actually listened. Or how rarely anyone listened to them. they were not paying people to listen. They were not measuring, nobody was measuring, how’s your listening, it’s but. 

[00:17:09] Mark Divine: As you say that, I think all listeners are thinking, wow, that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but three minutes of just being present to listen without processing and judging and default mode networking all over the other person. It’s hard work.

[00:17:25] Marc Lesser: But I think experiencing the value of it that not only do you realize that you’re not listening. you realize that you’re not actually seeing this other human being there. and then you’re being seen and there’s a, there’s an intimacy that comes with three minutes of listening. It was life-changing

[00:17:47] Mark Divine: That’s amazing. 

[00:17:48] Marc Lesser: And then I think, to layer in, okay, once you’ve experienced what comes with listening, how do you then bring that into your management and leadership? How do you bring that into your life and at the end of day one of these two-day trainings? I would say as an experiment tonight when you go home if your partner comes to you with a problem, instead of just immediately getting in there and problem-solving, experiment by saying, would you like me just to listen? Or would you like to problem-solve? And people would come back, especially men, of course, would come back on the morning of day two and say my wife wondered if I’d been abducted by aliens.

[00:18:36] Mark Divine: Yeah, that’s terrific. I’m curious, my experience is that you can only convey so much in a seminar or workshop type setting and these skills really, just the monastery, they need to be practiced. And so within an organization, Have you seen communities of practice develop that, that take these skills into a, Hey, we’re going to work on these search inside yourself skills together as a team.

[00:19:04] Marc Lesser: Yeah Google created this whole community built, got built around mindfulness practices. And there was a while they were also, starting to build meditation rooms all throughout the campus.

[00:19:18] Mark Divine: They’re started, but it doesn’t sound like it continued 

[00:19:21] Marc Lesser: they’re still doing some Search Inside Yourself programs there. I’m not as close to it as I was. One of the things that really helped was identifying what I think of as internal champions, as the people who were really, passionate about this and then training them.

[00:19:38] Marc Lesser: So that was the programs got highly scaled inside of that organization and in other organizations as well through, through that teacher training model.

[00:19:48] Mark Divine: back to the Zen practice, you mentioned that, and I agree with it, sitting in silence essentially you have to face your resistance. I’ve one of my favorite quotes is the ego is resistance to what is or resistance to life and life is what is. So the ego is resistance to life. So when you’re sitting there and you’re going to have physiological resistance because of the discomfort, you’re going to have emotional resistance come up, which will be likes and dislikes and desires and fears.

So is that the practice just constantly facing what resistance is in front of you? Or are there various practices? Like when I started Zen, I was like, like Nakamura had us actually do a concentration practice. He said, okay, you need, we need to stabilize your minds in order to go to this is the crawl before you go into the walk phase.

And so he had us inhale, exhale, count one, inhale, exhale, count two. And the goal was to get to 10, which we can never do. It’s virtually impossible for a beginner. 

[00:21:00] Marc Lesser: So I do a lot of meditation teaching in, in various contexts. In fact, I once heard a Zen teacher say, if you don’t teach people about counting the breath, you’re not really giving adequate meditation instructions. So that is a core practice, is breath counting.

being able to notice your exhales, as a way of knowing when you’re distracted, you count one, and your mind is, you would come, keep, you could keep coming back to one. that is one really very basic tool, using the breath as an anchor.

I think there’s still, so much research that is going to be done still about meditation practice, and something about To me, the practice of sitting with others and I’d be a hard study to do, but I hope someday someone can study the difference that happens in the brain when you’re sitting with others versus when you’re sitting alone.

[00:21:55] Mark Divine: I think it is significant. We’ve experienced that, right? When I meditate alone, it’s a different experience. I meditate with others and also when I lead a meditation, I have the most profound experiences when I lead meditations because you’re holding that space and there’s that Shaktipat kind of transfer of energy. It’s really fascinating.

[00:22:15] Marc Lesser: So Marc, I think, I sometimes one of the comparisons I make is that, we know that at night when we sleep amazing changes are happening. The brain is being rewired. Changes in all of our cells and our bodily systems happen when we sleep. I think something similarly is going on when we meditate. So when we meditate, we’re not sleeping, but we’re not doing. So we are sincerely going into this state of not doing, of just being. And I think we now see through some of these studies that there literally is some rewiring happening of our synapses and cells and, the gray matter in our brain. But then there’s whatever we’re experiencing in that state of Quieting the mind, that state of again and again, letting go of our comparisons about, am I doing it right or wrong? Am I a successor? 

So all of that, loosening that ego stuff, and then very consciously bringing that, how am I now as I get, when I get up from my meditation cushion, out of my meditation chair, how am I bringing that into my relationships, into my leadership, into everything that I’m doing.

One of the things I loved about my time living in the monastery was there the meditation hall and the kitchen were literally connected and somehow I kept getting assigned to work in the kitchen, and for years I was on the kitchen crew and then I was the assistant to the head cook and then I was the head cook for each a year it was so profound for me that.

Getting up from meditation, changing my clothes, and walking right into the kitchen to work every day.

[00:24:13] Mark Divine: Yeah.

[00:24:14] Marc Lesser: That work practice became really not much different than meditation practice. But I was chopping vegetables, and making soups, putting salads together, and working with people.

And then back to the meditation hall. I think this is a great opportunity which people are beginning to get of work as a practice.

And that if you have a meditation practice, and then make work your practice, the opportunity to integrate those two things and how much I can learn in my meditation practice about, the things that just bothered me at work, or why did I say that, or why did I, why did she do that?

And to let all that stew in my sitting practice in a healthy, nonjudgmental way, but in a way of understanding. And then again, so This is the beauty, I think, of these two different modes of practice.

[00:25:14] Mark Divine: No, I love that. There’s so much to unpack there. The Western mind is obviously biased toward doing, toward action. Training, the conditioning we have. And when we’re not doing, we’re not being productive, we, we feel like something’s wrong it’s going to catch up to us.

And I agree with a hundred percent with what you say, that the beauty of meditation practice is it teaches you that being is just as valuable as doing. and just the Yin Yang symbol they’re hand in glove and the Yin Yang symbol has a little white dot in the black space and a little black dot in the white space.

And that represents Wei Wu Wei, what you’re talking about, bringing that beingness, that quiet, witnessing into your work, into the Yang. And then simultaneously being actively alert in your meditation, right? Not being dull and not being checked out. But if there’s an alertness, there’s a watching for what’s next, until you get closer and closer to that just precise moment of presence.

These are extraordinarily valuable skills for leaders, I think. Just like you do, because, without that, most leaders are just barreling toward burnout these days, they just think they just have to add more and more to their to do list and accomplishment list and degree list and certificate list and, get things done list. Without taking time to restore and reflect and tap into that deep pool of wisdom.

[00:26:48] Marc Lesser: I was just reading about a study that was done, I think fairly recently, of kindergartners, where, emphasized cognitive skills, reading, and math another group emphasized, attitude. showing initiative listening and emotional skills. And then they wanted to see what happened five years later. It turns out that the emotional skills, and the attitude skills were so much more valuable than the cognitive skills.

And I think again, we’re now treating our leaders as we should, like kindergartners. And because most people just never had any training. And our society doesn’t train people in, things like self-awareness or things like compassion or even again, coming back to listening Imagine if all of our education there was this emphasis on awareness and listening.

[00:27:46] Mark Divine: Imagine that. Yeah. And we really are at the kindergarten level, but it’s a good place to start. 

[00:27:52] Marc Lesser: It’s a good place to start.

[00:27:54] Mark Divine: I’m curious Do you think meditation apps have any value, like the guided meditations and mind space or not.  

[00:28:02] Marc Lesser: I do. I do. I think for a lot of people, in fact, I somehow I’ve been joking that, meditation apps are the gateway drug to, deeper meditation practice. and I think, for a lot of people, they make it accessible. They introduce it to people. I think of them as I call them the gateway drug because I think that there is something powerful about the practice of just sitting. Without any needed ongoing guidance there’s something really profound as we’ve touched on about sitting with others. I used to hear how people are struggling about not being able to sustain a meditation practice and it was almost always people sitting by themselves. And my suggestion was to find a group to sit with, even if it’s sitting online, cause you’re still, even though I’m online I’m still a real 

[00:28:55] Mark Divine: A satsang will work online for sure. I think it can be equally as powerful, just like they’re finding like therapy. I’ve done EMBR online. It works just as well as in person. It’s amazing actually. We’re not separate, right? Just because we have a camera in front of us doesn’t, we’re still not separate.

[00:29:13] Marc Lesser: Yeah, my executive coaching practice is now almost all online and I don’t find any problem at all with it that.  

[00:29:20] Mark Divine: Right? 

[00:29:23] Mark Divine: Yeah, I like what you said about the apps. I agree with you. I think, an app, I liken it to a wearable device, like an aura ring or a, or Apple iWatch. I don’t use them, but I found them useful for about, 90 days until I recognized that, I had the intuition and I could, I could actually sense just as well or better than the app, how my sleep was or what my heart rate was.

And maybe that’s because I’ve been meditating for so long so that wearable wasn’t, it was interesting, but it wasn’t as useful. But my point is that for people who are new to meditation, and need guidance or just need something to hook their mind to sit down and listen to a guided meditation or guided visualization.

It really begins to channel their mental energy. It does some of the concentration work for you. It blocks out some of the chatter, but eventually I think it can be a hindrance. Just think of a wearable. Eventually will be a hindrance. You want to be able to develop the sensitivity to know that stuff yourself.

[00:30:26] Marc Lesser: Yeah I’ve actually, I’ve done quite a few and recorded quite a few guided meditations and minor. I think of them almost as mini Dharma talks. They’re useful in that they are providing a way to get people to stop. Also they’re an introduction to the basic mindset, The basic approach of what meditation is. I think of it as training wheels are hugely important to learn, but then to be able to step out of that and just be with your mind.

[00:30:54] Mark Divine: Talk to us about the difference between effort and surrender when it comes to, your practice and, meditation in general.

[00:31:02] Marc Lesser: Yeah. I love the practice of effort and effortlessness.

[00:31:08] Mark Divine: Yeah. 

[00:31:08] Marc Lesser: It’s a beautiful field to play in, it’s a little counterintuitive, right? The effort of effort, it takes some effort. 

[00:31:14] Mark Divine: To get to the effortlessness, 

[00:31:16] Marc Lesser: To the effortlessness, but it’s well, worth it, right? And it’s especially, I think, the practice of noticing anything that is extra effort, right? Noticing extra effort

[00:31:27] Mark Divine: Cause that’s where the resistance is, yeah. 

[00:31:29] Marc Lesser: Yeah. Noticing the resistance, I think of people who feel a sense of powerlessness in their work, it’s a terrible place. I don’t like my work. What’s your role in that? What do you mean? You don’t like, are you a victim here or now there are really difficult, toxic workplaces, but they’re relatively rare. It’s mostly, noticing our attitudes, noticing our resistance, what would it take to enjoy your work? What would it take to love your work? And again, it’s playing, I think, with that. what effort are you making in your work that is not useful? That’s going the, it’s like, how much of it is just plain old resistance? How much of it is plain old some habit of, powerlessness? So these are interesting.

[00:32:19] Mark Divine: Yeah, it helps the practice of shedding, right? The conceptual, models or mental models, what you’re talking about, like the things you’re hanging on to, the stories you’re telling, the biases. when you sit, you begin to see them as Just the conceptualizations, or the particularizations, as Dr. David Hawkins would call it. And those are all constructed. Those are the ego’s attempt to try to make meaning, usually through a long period of traumatizing childhood events and, a very confusing world. And we bring those into our workplaces and our relationships, and they become our projections.

And so everything is going to shape that. Form itself to those shapes that you have because we create the world that we live in and that’s what you’re talking about. So it takes effort to begin to see push against the resistance of breaking down those. mental models to allow something else to emerge. so that’s the work. When those models those conceptualizations begin to fall off, which can only happen through stillness and through deep investigation, that self-inquiry, then what emerges is more truth and more wisdom and more love.

[00:33:33] Marc Lesser: Mark, this is the perfect segue to at least at least mention my book. Is that okay? The book is called Finding Clarity, and one of the chapters is called Drop the Story. 

[00:33:43] Mark Divine: I love it. Yeah.

[00:33:45] Marc Lesser: But again, it’s easy to say, the previous chapters are Be Curious, Not Furious, and the practice of listening deeply, so I think that, that curiosity and that listening are necessary practices for being able to be aware of, again, the story, the truths that we tell ourselves about. Who we are and what we’re capable of, what we’re not capable of, our attitudes. So it’s a profoundly different approach. And the book is really wrapped around what I call compassionate accountability.

[00:34:22] Mark Divine: Yeah I read that in your bio, but what does that mean to you?

[00:34:26] Marc Lesser: Yeah. So this is the, I think one of the core, tensions in the business of bringing these practices into the business world is that in the world of work. You got to get stuff done, performance matters. Results matter in the business world. They might not matter as much, on the sitting cushion.

But in that workplace results matter. At the same time, compassion matters being able to, work with heart and developing a workplace that has trust instead of cynicism

Is essential for workplaces to be effective. So this, I think, is one of the ongoing. tensions between how do we bring in both of these in the workplace?

How do we create a culture and environment that is very effective and accountable and aligned and at the same time build a culture of trust and even a culture of love?

This is hard. It takes real, commitment and practice and skill in both of these fields of mindfulness and awareness as well as in leadership and the skill of, that are involved in the work environment.

[00:35:46] Mark Divine: It’s interesting, and surprising to me, but as you were describing that, I back to my Navy SEAL team days when I was on a platoon ran a platoon and we had that intimate working relationship with 14 other 13 or 14 other, individuals who are deeply passionately committed to their craft as well as to mastering themselves.

And we had those qualities, right? We had intense accountability. Both through our personal work of, making sure that we show up our best every day and do the, do the training, but also to the mission and the team skills and our ability to get shit done. But also that was combined with deep compassion and love for each other to the extent that we’re willing to live down for each other.

So it’s an incredible model. You don’t, most people wouldn’t think of a military special ops unit to have compassionate accountability, but they definitely do.

[00:36:42] Marc Lesser: Yeah, no, totally. My wife has done a lot of work with veterans. I’m getting ready to do a a retreat for a group of wildland firefighters.

[00:36:52] Mark Divine: Oh, good for you.

[00:36:53] Marc Lesser: So I think those environments like, seals, military fire, like where there is that life and death environment. Whatever idea I might have had about military people has been completely blown apart by having these really lovely former Marines at my dinner table.

[00:37:09] Mark Divine: Yeah. At the same time, these, meditation and mindfulness and these types of practices are so valuable For those who didn’t have that as a practice, while they were in service, because they do take on all that intense guilt and stress from combat the combat stress triggers.

Pre-existing trauma-based stress and so that’s why the vets are having such a struggle.

[00:37:30] Marc Lesser: Yeah.

[00:37:31] Mark Divine: That’s good for you. We have a foundation that works with veterans called the Courage Foundation and we offer a year-long program we call the VIP program, Veteran Integration Program, where we take them through a three-day retreat where we teach them, the skills that we call Unbeatable Mind, but they’re similar, right? Breath practices, mindfulness. 

[00:37:48] Marc Lesser: Great, work.

[00:37:49] Mark Divine: Movement, right? And put them into a small team. So they have that team accountability. Each team has a certified coach and that whole, they have a year-long process of reintegration. It’s very effective as you can imagine. 

[00:38:02] Marc Lesser: Bet. I bet. That’s great.

[00:38:04] Mark Divine: What other big takeaways from your book, Finding Clarity, would you like listeners to take home with them?

[00:38:09] Marc Lesser: Yeah. I think to face directly Do the work and aspire to, be really good at creating a workplace and organization that, is good at measuring people’s performance. I like the word alignment has become. In fact, if I were to do it again, I might change accountability to, accountability has a ring, a little bit of harshness to it. Holding, it’s more like alignment. there’s a subchapter called the four most important words. And it’s how are we doing?

[00:38:46] Mark Divine: Or if you’re in upstate New York, it’s three words, how are we doing?

[00:38:51] Marc Lesser: That’ll work.

But it’s about asking, checking in. And this is I tell the story of my grown daughter, of how, there was some misunderstanding and some tension that we were working through and to be able to go on a walk and say, how are we doing? What’s, how are you feeling about things?

And this is essential in our working relationships. And it’s easy to say and hard to do, right? Because you, you have to be able to ask that question with a body and a mind that is trustworthy, right? Because it could be dangerous to 

[00:39:28] Mark Divine: And if you’re not trustworthy, you won’t get an answer.

[00:39:30] Marc Lesser: You won’t get a real answer, right?

But so the, how are we doing practice is how can we create a relationship? How can we create an environment where we could actually have that conversation, where you could tell me about things that you’re unhappy about, or things that are bothering you, or things I’m doing that bug you. I used to ask that question regularly to people who worked for me. Tell me how I bug you. Come on. Let’s do it. 

[00:39:56] Mark Divine: That’s a good one. How am I bugging you? 

[00:39:58] Marc Lesser: and I’ll tell you how, and I’ll tell you how you bug me, 

[00:40:01] Mark Divine: That’s great. No, I think that’s a power. It’s a powerful practice. I try to do that. I actually, in reminding me, I should, we should all do that more often just to check in with our team and see how we doing, how things land. How am I showing up for you?

[00:40:13] Marc Lesser: the Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests in marriages that we ask the question, how can I love you better?

[00:40:20] Mark Divine: I love that. That’s a great place to transition. So the book Finding Clarity, is it primarily for business leaders or is it a broader audience you’re attending?

[00:40:31] Marc Lesser: It’s really for a broader audience, it’s in a way it was written for business leaders, but in some way we all work. We all work. We are all either leading or on teams or working with leaders

and. essentially it’s about the human practice of not avoiding difficulty and getting better at working with difficult situations.

[00:40:50] Mark Divine: Did you read the audio book 

[00:40:52] Marc Lesser: I didn’t, but it was read really well.

[00:40:56] Mark Divine: Okay. Yeah. Good. Outstanding. Marc, this has been It’s an amazing conversation really enjoyable. I know everyone’s going to really appreciate it. Very insightful. So thank you so much for your time and for the work that you do.

[00:41:10] Marc Lesser: Thank you. Thank you for the work you do, Mark.

[00:41:12] Mark Divine: Appreciate that. ​


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