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. But 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. And there is nothing in your life that exists outside of our basic framework for being so you don’t even need something from outside yourself to advance in that way. You are already complete, you simply don’t know it yet.
Our spiritual development is very much connected to our life development. If you want to know how spiritual you are simply ask yourself how contented you are? If you are content, kaizen is not continuous improvements of us, it is a continuous improvement of what we do. In a healthy mind there is no you, there is only an action (or inaction as action), and those actions add up to who you will have been.
Do not see yourself or the world as needing fixing or being broken or having anything wrong. 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. You 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 you wrong, instead you are simply in a constant state of kaizen, which means you are never actually judging yourself.
The meditations you’ve been doing over the last three months will have made a difference, but that difference will depend on how earnestly you undertake the tests to your awareness. It’s one thing to read about lifting weights, but until you move some you really can’t fully grasp the value in doing it. Same with our attention.
We can read that it’s not good to focus on your weaknesses but most of you still do. You don’t see improvements as opportunities, you see previously untaken opportunities as failures. It is important to understand Kaizen not as a rigid practice about moving you 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 you learned to walk.
Do not want to be better. Do not want to be different. Do not want to be like someone else. But you can improve. You can change. And you can observe and listen to others for guidance, but nevertheless you ultimately have no obligations. You could theoretically just surrender your way into a mental institution where people fed you and looked after the base of Maslow’s Pyramid for you. Why don’t you? Because you’re naturally creative, and you life is your ultimate work of art.
It is important to remember that the full value of your life’s work of art doesn’t even get considered until your funeral, so you won’t even be around to see if you won or not and none of the judges were present for much of your performance anyway. You’re here for the creation but not the competition. So don’t waste your life on meaningless doing as a way of achieving. Egos compete. Souls are complete. But it will take your life to make the journey through your abilities, so stop worrying about what others think of you and instead spend this week focusing on actions that grow you.
You’re not a herd dog keeping your own unruly flock in line, you are the herd and you’re naturally moving to where you naturally feel like being. That is your way. Now go.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.