Once in a Lifetime

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It has been said organizations exist to allow us to do things together we could never accomplish on our own. Yet many of our organizations are dysfunctional. They deprive us of the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships and to be present in ways that fully acknowledge who we are. Research shows we learn better, work better, and are more creative and resilient, when the workplace is a space where we can thrive.

Never Again

There is a Japanese saying – “Ichi-go, Ichi-e” – that captures the essence of Zen. It means “once in a lifetime, never again.”

We should treasure every fleeting moment, for it will never be repeated.

The saying originated in the Tea Ceremony as a reminder that every encounter with another person is a gift, whether we are meeting them for the first time or have met them many times before. Life is ephemeral. We do not know if we will ever have the opportunity to meet again.


By being mindful in the moment we celebrate the shared experience of being alive. American Zen master John Daido Loori described this as “two arrows meeting in mid-air.” When we live life like this it changes how we relate to each other, how we work together, and what we are able to do.

When we are alive in each moment we experience life differently. This makes a difference in the workplace too. Many organizations are putting mindfulness into practice, offering training to their employees. Google, Yahoo, Apple, Intel, Aetna, and General Mills all have programs. Google’s Search Inside Yourself program was launched by the company in 2007. It is now being offered through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute to communities and organizations around the world.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work” (June 27, 2016), Rich Fernandez, the Institute’s CEO, said stress and burnout are on the rise. “Currently, a quarter of all employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.” Mindfulness, he says, can make us more resilient.

By relating more deeply, we:

  • are more open to learning;
  • acknowledge the value of other perspectives and life experience;
  • celebrate the unique gifts of every person;
  • listen more attentively; and
  • offer our own thoughts without judging others.

By being more respectful, we:

  • are more appreciative of other people’s needs;
  • are more thoughtful;
  • handle conflict more skillfully;
  • avoid misusing power; and
  • build shared trust.

By being more sensitive to what can happen in each moment, we:

  • are less distracted;
  • are less invested in a particular outcome;
  • are open to new ideas;
  • are more creative; and
  • are more aware of possibilities.

When we are mindful we are healthier and our organizations are healthier too. The creator of the Google Search Inside Yourself program, former engineer Chade-Meng Tan, has written several books on the subject, including Search Inside Yourself (2014) and Joy on Demand (2016). “Thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere,” he says, “… and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it’s always there. Joy becomes something you can count on.”

Every moment is precious.

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress on collaboration and transformative change. It was first posted on February 27, 2018, on LinkedIn

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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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