Kaizen is a modern Japanese concept that was co-opted in the 80’s and 90’s into a term to describe the way small and continuous improvements create differences between Japanese and Western company structures and the successes of, particularly, their assembly lines.
These ‘improvements’ always only involve efficiency or things that directly impact efficiency, which means we shouldn’t take the concept into our lives without examination.
We certainly don’t want our life to feel like an assembly line so please don’t see spiritual growth as a demand. Wanting spiritual development is just as painful as any other wanting.
There is nothing in our lives that exists outside of our basic framework for being, so we don’t even need something from outside ourselves to advance in that way. We are already complete, we simply don’t know it sometimes.
Our spiritual development is very much connected to our life development. If we want to know how spiritual we are, we only need to ask ourselves how contented we are? If we are content, kaizen is not the continuous improvements of us, it is a continuous improvement of what we do.
In a healthy mind there is no me, there is only an action (or inaction as action), and those actions add up to who we will have been in retrospect. But life is lived in the present.
We need not see ourselves or the world as needing fixing or being broken or having anything wrong with it. I know it’s incredibly compelling to see it that way because all the egos agree that there are some terrible things going on, and to ignore them places us in peril. But we have the choice of focusing our energies on the peril, or on creating solutions.
For essentially every single problem on Earth there are lot of people working on solutions. That’s impressive and it’s why the world has changed so much. Yes, we got a bunch of stuff that only half-worked, but that’s how learning goes.
We try something, see if it succeeds or fails and then build off what you’ve learned. There doesn’t have to be failure or improvement in that. It can simply by an action: attempt, observe, adjust, attempt, observe, adjust.
At no point are we wrong, instead we are simply in a constant state of kaizen, which means we are never actually judging ourselves.
The meditations we’ve been doing over the last while will have made a difference, but that difference will depend on how earnestly we undertake the tests to our awareness. It’s one thing to read about lifting weights, but until we move some actual weight, we really can’t fully grasp the value in doing it. The same is true with our attention.
We can read that it’s not good to focus on your weaknesses but most of us still do. We don’t tend to see improvements as opportunities, we see previously untaken opportunities as failures.
It is important to understand kaizen not as a rigid practice about moving us up some invisible ladder. It instead is a very aware state of mind in which new, quality ideas can naturally emerge.
We don’t invent good ideas out of pressure as much as we focus on our work and improvements simply occur to us. It’s intentional in a completely different way. It’s how we all learned to walk.
Do not want to be better. Do not want to be different. Do not want to be like someone else. But we can improve. We can change. And we can observe and listen to others for guidance, but nevertheless we ultimately have no obligations.
We could theoretically just surrender our way into a mental institution where people fed us and looked after the base of Maslow’s Pyramid for us. Why don’t we? Because we’re naturally creative, and our lives are our ultimate work of art.
It is important to remember that the full value of our life’s work of art doesn’t even get considered until our funeral. So we won’t even be around to see if we ‘won’ or not. And none of the judges were present for much of our performance anyway, so how good can the judging even be?
We’re here for the creation but not the competition. We don’t need to waste our lives on meaningless doing as a way of achieving. Egos compete. Souls are complete. But it will take our lifetime to make the journey through our abilities.
That being the case, we can stop worrying about what others think of us, and we can instead spend this week focusing on actions that lead us to grow.
We’re not a herd dog keeping our own unruly flock in line, we are the herd and we’re naturally moving to where we naturally feel like being. That is our way. Let us go.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.