We made our way through a peaceful countryside where we were always given the utmost courtesy and respect from the villagers. There were many days; however, when we didn’t run across any villages and were forced to fast (a John was very strict about not picking and eating fruits and coconuts, or eating anything that was not first offered to us). Instead of a hardship, however, this fasting actually turned out to be an interesting benefit. After a day or two without food, not only would my hunger disappear, but my inner work would become increasingly refined, to the point where I could remain in deep concentration for long periods of time. I filed this valuable lesson away for a day where it might come in handy.When we would stay in a location for a day or two, I noticed that a John would pace back and forth for hours under a tree. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied that he was practicing his inner work while walking, and mentioned that key seekers should practice their inner work at all times.”I want to learn to walk like you do,” I said. . “Can you teach me?”Only if you promise to do your inner work day and night!” He replied.Was I ready for this? The inner work was just something that I did on the side, not something that was going to take over my life!”OK, I’ll try,” I replied”Mark out a path about twenty paces long,” he began. “Then simply walk quietly back and forth at a slightly less than normal pace with your hands hanging relaxed and clasped in front. Keep your eyes down, focused two paces ahead with your shoulders relaxed. At the end of the path – stop, turn around and stand for a moment collecting your concentration before you begin walking again. Bring your concentration into your forehead between your eyes while you are walking. When you concentrate on this area and walk at the same time, it should feel as if you are looking out of a third eye in your forehead. There will only be the walking then with the king not involved.”I began practicing as he instructed and found that this walking exercise had a profound influence on my inner work. When I sat down and concentrated on the breath in my nose, it was much easier, and the combination of the two was taking me so deep that I began looking through my forehead all the time.About a month later, we came upon a huge iron gate surrounded by high walls. The area was thick with old, giant trees. Key seekers were gathering here from all over the countryside to spend the four months of the rainy season together, seeking the shelter of the community after wandering alone or in small groups throughout the forest during the dry months. We had arrived at the community of key seekers.A robed man, who obviously knew a John, greeted us. They smiled in recognition, and after bowing to each other with their palms clasped together in front of their chests, which was the custom of key seekers, he led us down a long path through the dense forest until we eventually came to a clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a large, peaked-roof wooden building, two stories high, with a fire pit and small bell platform alongside. Leading from the building were many paths going in all directions toward the numerous huts scattered about in the forest that sheltered the robed men. The small huts were built on high stilts to keep out snakes, ants and the occasional floods, and were tall enough for a man to stand under comfortably.We parted company with the key seeker that greeted us and walked toward the bell platform where a small crowd of villagers were assembling. Two of the men were pounding four stakes into the ground in a rectangular pattern while a group of women stood by watching, one of them holding the lifeless body of a small child. A handful of key seekers were assembled as well, silently observing with their hands clasped in front of their chests as the men placed enormous bundles of dry branches and twigs between the stakes. The woman with the lifeless child carefully laid the tiny body atop the sticks, and then stood back as a key seeker lit the wood on fire. In moments, the dry limbs blazed into flames. The child’s hair sizzled for a moment, before disappearing, followed by quickly blistering skin that peeled off the skull in the intense heat. Then the little body quickly turned black.The women were clustered around the apparent mother, who was softly crying, while the obvious father squatted on his heels with the other village men, surprisingly watching with little emotion. These villagers were strong people. A John had told me how they lose many of their children to the rampant diseases in the area and how they prefer to cremate them here in the company of these robed men whom they considered holy.We respectfully stood transfixed until the villagers melted back into the forest with only one key seeker remaining. He was apparently keeping a watchful eye on things and well he was, for what was left of the small body, a black tarry lump, rolled off the smoldering fire and onto the ground. The key seeker motioned me to help, handing me some banana leaves to protect my hands from the small, extremely hot torso that was falling apart. We had to be careful as we placed it back on the coals.I walked back to where a John was waiting. I couldn’t hide my feelings as he put his hand on my shoulder. We stood there for a while and then he began telling me how, after the fire cools down in a day or two, the relatives will collect the body ashes and put them in an urn that will be stored in the large hall. The villagers believed that the influence of the robed men and their inner work would help their children on their journeys to their next lifetimes. He added that villagers were afraid to come here after dark, fearing ghosts and the points of light that occasionally appear in the trees, and that only on full moon nights, when they enjoyed sitting up all night in the main hall with key seekers and listening to their talks, would they venture into the community in reassuring groups.We began walking again across the courtyard and I noticed a villager and a robed man working on something. It was lying on a table not far from the fire pit. I was curious and when I went over to look, I found the two men scraping flesh off the bones of a skeleton – and it was definitely human! I looked at Conqueror and Conqueror looked at me, both thinking that perhaps it was time to go off on our own again!My curiosity got the better of me however, and I politely asked them what they were doing. The villager was quite friendly, and as he continued scraping the bones, he explained that this was the body of his wife, and that she wanted her skeleton to be displayed in the hall.I was speechless, not knowing how to respond.”We were very happy,” he quietly continued. “We had a little boy and another child on the way and were so in love, you know, and looking forward to a simple life in our village, raising our children and growing old together.”He stopped scraping and searched my eyes, “We weren’t asking for too much, were we?”The question was not rhetorical. These villagers were far too straightforward and unsophisticated for cynicism. He really wanted to know if I, a key seeker, thought that he was expecting too much out of life.I couldn’t help but glance at the ground for a moment, for this villager respected me much more than I presently respected myself. The key seeker who was helping him continued scraping with his head down.”No, you were not asking for too much,” I said, almost inaudibly. The humility of these villagers overwhelmed me. It was a badge of honor not to have more than what their neighbors had, and if they did, they would share it.”After our daughter was born, my wife began to have pains in her stomach,” he began. Eventually the pain became worse where all she could do was lay curled up in bed all day. It finally got so bad that she could not stand it and one night she asked me to come into the room for a moment and hold her. She was crying, not only from the pain but also from what she was about to ask me to do. The pain was unbearable, she wanted to die, and yet how she could abandon our children and me? What would become of us? Her dreams were shattered.”She then asked me to do the most difficult thing a man can do, end the life of the mother of his children. I didn’t know what to do. I know it is wrong to take a life. I wanted to kill myself. But I could not refuse her request and did as she asked, putting the cobra in her bed. The large snake curled up near her arm with its hood dangerously expanded, as she looked at it, almost sadly. Then she hit at it with her hand. The cobra struck twice before sliding off the bed onto the floor. After I removed the snake, I brought our children into the room and we remained with her all night, and I held her until she stopped breathing.”The small, gentle villager with stooped shoulders now put his knife down and became silent. His lined face and weak smile revealed the pain of a poor villager’s life that had crumbled, and now he was doing the only thing left to do; fulfill a promise to the woman he loved for such a short time.She asked him to display her skeleton in the main hall for all key seekers to see every day, reminding them that death can come at any time, and that they must not tarry in their efforts to find the key.The words of Ariya and the blacksmith came back to me, “The key must be found for you to be really free, otherwise, everything eventually becomes unstable, uncertain; everything becomes stressful leaving one in a state of constant discontent.”A great teacher in the form of a simple villager had given me an insightful lesson, and I could see that my teachers were everywhere. All I had to do was take time to look.
WHAT?What is a powerful mission statement?Are they worth having? What should they look like? Ask 100 people, get 100 answers. But seriously, there is plenty of myth and mayhem surrounding mission statements. So, what is a powerful mission statement?A Powerful Mission Statement defines what a business stands for, why a customer should consider dealing with this business (as opposed to its hundreds of competitors) and how this business goes about delivering on that promise.WHY?Why have a mission statement?Your mission statement is there to be loved and lived – by you, your staff and your customers.There is no point in writing a mission statement for the MD, or director’s benefit. Nor in fact (contrary to popular opinion) is it just a clever few words to con a few customers into picking up the phone. As with most things in business, anything that shallow will be transparent and worthless.A mission statement has to define the business, how its staff act, how it treats its customers, how its customers will remember the business and how they will talk to others about you.And ultimately that’s the point – for a business to be successful, customers need to want to come back, time and again, ideally tell others about you…and they won’t do that for no reason…there has to be a VERY GOOD REASON INDEED for a customer to come back and bring others to your door. Think about your own personal buying habits – there are loads of purchases that you would be happy to make anywhere, but there are a few favourite restaurants, hotels, boutiques, cars, or whatever that you would go back to time and again.Now, here’s the rub – as a customer, you don’t return to a business time after time because you have read the mission statement and thought it was snappy, you go back because the staff in that business, from the MD to the receptionist have read, understood, digested, loved and lived the mission statement, each and every time you dealt with them.i.e. if the mission statement says “with a smile” and you are the sort of person that responds to a genuine smile – then you will become a fan of that business – not because it was written in the mission statement, but because it was written on the faces of each and every staff member you met.Or, for another example, if the mission statement says “fast and efficient” then you might be a fan of this business if you get your deliver before 9am the next day at no extra charge – you wouldn’t be fan if the mission statement promised fast and efficient but you still got your delivery no faster than you would from anywhere else.So that’s it – don’t write a mission statement unless you BELIEVE in it – really believe. Don’t write one unless you are prepared to stand up and make your staff believe it – hire staff on the basis of whether they fit it, and if necessary part company from those who can’t be convinced. Don’t write one to impress the customer. Do write a mission statement to bring your team together and align your whole business in one set of beliefs – that if delivered upon will make a certain set of customers into life-long fans.HOW?How to write a powerful mission statement.Okay, lets NOT get hung up right now on how to write a succinct mission statement – the words are not the key – the sentiment is. The first thing to do is to determine your belief – what do you believe you should be giving your customers? What do you believe will make customers into life-long fans? What, if you gave it to them, would make your customers tell others to come to you?Before I wrap up, here are a couple of final rules:1. Don’t fall into the trap of coming up with something bland – good service, best price, etc forget it unless you really, really mean it, and your customers will really, really want it.2. Make sure YOU believe it – to make a real success of your business, go to the top and become famous, someone is going to have to drive, cajole and lead every member of your team to deliver on that mission – and they (as well as your customers) will know if you are a phoney.3. Become a fanatic. If you aren’t prepared to be fanatical about the beliefs underlying your mission, then you can’t expect anyone else to believe in it – even a little bit.If there is one thing I want you to remember with developing a business, it’s this: Don’t be a phoney – stand for something you believe in, then make sure you become a fanatic.Oh yes, how to actually write and communicate a powerful mission statement? Well there is an easy way, but you will have to wait for Part II for that. You won’t have to wait long, I promise. In the meantime – search long and hard for what you believe in – you need to figure that out first anyway.