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Dissolving Boundaries in the Workplace: Exercising Our Inclusion Muscle

The mind sees differences.

The heart sees sameness.

The mind makes distinctions and separates.

The heart makes wholeness and connections real.

The mind is the tool we use for differentiation, discrimination, discernment, distinguishing, classifying, ranking, rating, comparing, and organizing.

This muscle is over-developed in the majority of us. At school, at work, in social experiences— we’re constantly measuring, sorting and making distinctions. Our brain has had a life-time workout in this department!

The heart, in general, is not nurtured by school, by work (usually), or even sometimes in social experiences. Yet, like the Down syndrome child, it continues to see sameness. We have to nurture and exercise the heart equal to the mind.

We must choose to develop this part of our potential, certainly in family and personal relationships, yes. But today, most people (adults, that is) spend only a small fraction of their time engaged in real heart connection. This is a challenge. We must learn to make the heart connection as strong, if not stronger, than the power of the brain. If we want to live in a world where diversity, equality, and happy workers are … doing their best work!

The heart perceives what we have in common. It feels love, care, and concern for others. It binds and nurtures. The heart is what keeps sweethearts married and beloved in age, and it makes families and even friends who go separate ways stay bound to one another. The heart is what connects people who work (or play) together as a team. It is this quality of experience in life that keeps us happy and feeling fulfilled.

So much can be written! The heart unifies. It binds people together. Love is that glue. Love is the experience of, “Wow! I am connected.” “Ooh! I am somehow the same as that person!” The deeper the experience of “connection,” the more sticky the glue, and the more steadfast the relationship, the more sustainable over time and space.

The experience of true connection, of oneness, is what we all long for, hunger for, and seek continuously— consciously or unconsciously. It’s in the tasting of oneness that we behold life’s most precious moments.

In the work place, the experience of connection is what motivates people to work towards a common goal, to do good work together, and to enjoy the experience of their work, which, of course, brings out the best in them.

For an organization to build a culture that is sustainable and thriving, its people must have a sense of belonging, which is built on experiences of being seen, heard, appreciated, acknowledged, cared for, respected, and honored.

These experiences are the hallmarks of love and connection, both of which are primarily functions of the heart.

Because we have all had a life-time of education on how to discern and dissect, compare and criticize, this little book will now turn its attention towards providing some information and tools for building the capacity of the heart to strengthen and come to the forefront, to do what it does best– guide us, connect us, unify us, and to heal the pains of past prejudice, harassment, biases, judgement, exclusion, and separation. Embracing diversity is about developing our full potential, recognizing the diversity within as well as without. It challenges us to enjoy the dance of diversity, and to delight in the wonderment of commonalty and connection. It calls on us to reconcile differing opinions, needs, desires and points of view. It calls on us to open our heart and let the heart work its magic

Layers Of The Heart

This model, “Layers of the Heart,” which I absorbed amidst a Sufi community several years ago, can help us understand the process that we might experience as we mature and evolve into our fullest potential. In this model, there are four layers of the heart. The first is on the surface, the most superficial. The fourth is the deepest, most internal level.

You can visualize these four layers like an archery target. The first layer is the outermost circle on the board. Layer two is the circle just inside the outermost circle; layer three is within that circle, and layer four is the bull’s-eye.

The first layer of the heart is represented by the psychological structure called the ego. It is our sense of self-autonomy, feeling separate and unique. This layer experiences the “self” as a personality who moves about in the world: working, playing, interacting, getting needs met. Its main concern is one’s self.

The second layer of the heart comes when we have an experience of love, of deep connection with another human being. Most infants experience this first with their mother, and then with their parents as a unit, and siblings as a family. This second layer of the heart also allows us to enjoy romantic love after we have matured.

This layer of the heart allows us to know that we are not completely separate, that even if we are aware that yes, the edges of my skin create a distinct body that is separate from other bodies, we are still part of the group, the human race. We belong, we are connected. This sense of belonging is usually experienced as a result of being seen, appreciated, valued by others. Or we might just call it– being in the presence of someone with a loving heart.

The third layer of the heart develops when we start to experience that love exists throughout the whole of creation. We experience love expanding and extending to the people outside of our immediate circle of relations, friends, and associates. When the third layer of the heart is functioning, we get a sense that somehow, mysteriously we are connected to all of life. Yes, there is the appearance that everyone is separate. But in truth, we are not separate. We are, in essence, connected to everyone and everything.

The fourth layer of the heart develops with the culmination of higher consciousness, with the completion of our full self-actualization. I call it the “real maturity”- when one experiences that they are not just experiencing love, they are that love. There is no separation between themselves and that which is life or love itself.

These last two layers of the heart might sound a bit too esoteric for a book about diversity in the workplace. But it is precisely these lofty types of experiences that are not widely discussed in the “popular” realm, the world of three-dimensional reality. This lack of discussion is part of the problem. Experiences of “unity” and the greater capacities of the heart are not part of the pop world. Sadly.

Let’s put our attention, however, on the practical part here – which is transitioning from layer one of the heart to layer two.

This transition can be made by doing pretty much everything we have discussed thus far.

And it can be also enhanced by these two practices:

1. Listening to our heart.

2. Allowing our heart to guide us, and taking its advice.

Listening to the Heart

Many people say that real fulfillment in life comes when we follow our heart. Well, here’s a technique where you can do just that. Like anything we want to strengthen, to exercise our functioning from the heart, we must practice and put our attention on it. I learned this beautiful meditation from my brilliant friend, Robert Holden, a British author who writes about Happiness and Loveability.

Like any meditation, you can begin sitting comfortably in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. It works best if you sit upright with a straight spine. Begin by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths from the lower belly. As you continue taking deep breaths, gently allow yourself to become aware of your body in the chair, or wherever you’re sitting. When you’re feeling settled, relaxed, open, and calm, then softly place your right hand on your heart. Really, either hand will work.

As your hand rests there, notice your chest moving up and down with your breath as it moves in and out. Then, let your attention move from your palm into the flesh in the center of your chest. Take a few more slow deep breaths there, just sensing that area.

You can now do a slight inquiry, asking yourself, “What does it feel like in my heart?” Or, you could ask your heart directly, “How are you feeling now?” Then, notice … what you notice. Notice what your heart feels like. Is it warm or cool? Hard or soft? Open or closed? In fear or at peace? Just notice what’s going on there with your full awareness and non-judgment.

This questioning and listening will establish the beginning of a relationship, a deeper connection between you and your heart. It doesn’t matter if you relate to your physical heart, your emotional heart, or your spiritual heart. They all overlap and intermingle, so no need to try to sort it out.

There are two roads you can follow at this point. One is to simply be. Just be there, awake, aware, and notice what happens in your heart. Notice anything or nothing and enjoy.

The other path is to begin an inquiry. If there’s something that you want to know, if you need direction or guidance with something or about someone, if you need help making a decision about this or that, you can ask your heart, as you’d ask any wise person, counselor, or trusted friend. Then, just sit, quietly, patiently, and listen for an answer. This is one way we glean the wisdom of our heart.

A life that is directed from the heart is a life that has deep meaning and purpose. Having a sense of meaning and purpose in one’s life fulfills some of the higher needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. These are needs addressing the development of self-actualization. Once we begin the individual process, the collective process is not far behind.

Allowing the Heart To Guide Us

The next step is probably the most difficult: taking the advice and putting it to use. This is where the “rubber meets the road” – when we actually follow the guidance we get from our heart.

Many Eastern teachings identify three centers of wisdom in humans. The head, the heart, and the belly. Each of these centers provides us with its own flavor of knowledge and guidance.

From the head we get information for reasoning and deducing. From the heart we get wisdom about what is most meaningful and important to us. From the belly, we get instinctual information. (We’ve all heard the phrase, “I knew it in my gut.” In recent years, neuroscience confirms that the gut has its own “brain” and its own sensory processing structures.)

Each of these three centers provides us with its own valuable wisdom. Our full potential is enhanced when we are able to draw information from all three of these centers. But remember, most of our cultural and social training has limited collective use of these centers in favor of focusing primarily on our mental processes.

This concept of three centers of wisdom might seem “far out” for those of you who are sincerely accustomed to relying solely on “brain power.” But if you have read this far, I’m sure your own heart is opening and I recommend trying this meditation, listening to your heart and following its guidance. It may take you right to the center of your heart’s desire, or help you fulfill your deepest dream. And if nothing more, it will support your ease and graceful navigation through the world of “differences among people.”

From “Me” to “We”

As you make the transition from layer one of the heart to layer two, you might notice that your attention subtly goes from “me” to “we.” You might also notice that you are more attuned to others, more empathetic to their needs, and more in service to support them getting those needs met. Maybe you will notice that your involvement in groups is more team-oriented, and you are less concerned with your own individual advancement. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to advance, but how much nicer is life when we get to support and experience those around us advance as well.