Seth Godin, meditation, the enneagram, and what it means to pay attention

May 24, 2012   |   27 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites

Seth Godin, the marketing genius, writer, teacher, and all-around awesome person is one of my idols. I receive his blog posts every day and, although our topics are different, in many ways I model my work on his for its clarity, usefulness, and soulfulness.

His post today was about empathy as a most important component of strategic marketing. If we can’t see the world through our customer’s eyes, understand what motivates them to act, have insight into why they make the decisions they do, our efforts to connect with them may be clumsy and dense.

What he writes about easily applies to the world of relationships altogether, whether they take place on the sales floor or around your kitchen table.

In both cases, the ability to connect genuinely is paramount.

The way to connect genuinely is to let your preconceptions and judgments about a person go, open your mind and heart to them, and see them.

Meditation teaches us how to let go of concept and open again and again to the present moment.

It’s as if we are all walking around with a movie playing inside our heads–an endless repeating loop that runs the story of who we are and what life is like, what we expect and what we fear. Imagine a lens stuck right in the middle of your forehead and everywhere you turn, your movie is projected onto the environment. Whoever walks through your set is cast in a role. Some people are extras, some are supporting characters, others may take on leading roles. Occasionally we fire the director or hire a new screenwriter, but basically there is this sense of narrative, based on—what? Well, who knows. Probably some combination of personal history, cultural bias, soap operas and eons of karma.

People can tell when they’ve lost dimension in your eyes and are seen mainly as characters in your drama, no matter how beautifully cast. I tell you, they do not care for it. And we all know exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes—to be seen as a label or category. Awful.

It might even be said that this—the inability to open our eyes to see others without an overlay of concept—is not only at the heart of inelegant marketing but also of everything from bad first dates to failed peace negotiations. I am totally not exaggerating.

It is certainly at the heart of our difficulties in love. If we can only see our ideas about a person rather than the person himself, what do we mean when we say, “I love you?”

There are two tools that have helped me in a very profound way to open my eyes and heart to others.

The first, of course, is meditation. It’s amazing that this very, very simple technique of placing attention on breath, noticing thought, and letting it go has revolutionized my relationships.

When we practice letting thoughts go to return to breath, we are practicing letting go of concept to come back to the present moment. After all, our breath can only be in the present. There is no such thing as connecting with a breath in the past or future. This comes in so handy with other people, when we can let go of our ideas, hopes, and fears about them to instead place our attention on them. (People tend to love this, btw.)

The Zen priest and poet John Tarrant Roshi said, “Attention is the most basic form of love. Through it we bless and are blessed.” I try to work this into every conversation because it is just that meaningful and true. If attention is the basic form of love and meditation practice is working with attention, well, there you have it. When we practice meditation, we practice love.

The second tool is called the Enneagram. Anyone who has known me for longer than, say, 10 seconds, knows that after Tarrant Roshi’s quote on attention, this is the topic I am next most likely to work into conversation. It’s for your own good, people!! The Enneagram is called a system of personality typing, but saying so is like saying that John Coltrane was a sax player. It just goes way beyond that.

The Enneagram describes nine personality types and, yes, you are one of them. So am I. But it is not about ghettoizing people and being all, “oh you’re a two, you hate your own needs,” or “you’re an eight, you’re going to try to boss me around,” it’s about being able to see the world from another’s point of view.

The Enneagram describes 9 patterns of placement of attention. When the 9 types walk into a room, 9 different things will get their attention. In conversation, 9 different things will matter to them. This is very useful information to know. In fact, it is beyond useful because when you know your own type, you can see how you are different than others and stop faulting them (and yourself) for seeing the world in a different way. When you know another’s type, you can stop holding them to your particular standards.

So, for me, meditation practice is absolutely the foundation. Without it, I would have no idea how to pay attention to anything but my own internal chatter, which, though sometimes amusing, is often quite irrelevant. But the Enneagram has been my primary tool for taking the fruits of meditation—the ability to pay attention—out into my world of relationships, work, creative pursuits, and so on. I use the Enneagram every single day of my life and have for the 15 or so years I’ve studied it. I use it to communicate more clearly by improving my timing, choosing the right words, and then being able to let go of my expectations of what a proper response should look like and actually listen instead. People tend to love this, too. Plus it’s just way more efficacious and cuts out a lot of useless drama. (Which I tend to love.)

So we are going to meditate together today, which is awesome. And on June 20, I’m teaching a 90-minute webinar called “An Introduction to the Enneagram,” and will explain the system and its uses and misuses, and help you begin to figure out your own type. It costs $20 to everyone except it is free for those of you who have signed up for the (brand new) Practitioner level of the OHP.

The webinar will be recorded and sent to all those who sign up, so even if you can’t make the exact time, you’ll still receive the recording.

T0 learn meditation and receive ongoing support, please sign up for the Open Heart Project.


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  • Posted by:  Kathy Willard

    Joy, Joy and More Joy. I can barely contain myself from the excitement, like a little kid, or Elmo. Picture me as Elmo, giving you mega hugs. Gawd, how grateful I am to have found The Open Heart Project, for your dear heart is simply astonishing. Okay, it sounds like I’m over doing it. I’m not, I mean every word. I shall take time here to breath, to relax, to calm myself. Yet, some days we just gotta shout it out. Love Kathy

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Kathy, you have noooo idea how much I needed this hug today! Many thanks and I’m also very excited to be practicing together. Love, S

  • Posted by:  Kimberly

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this discussion! I really connected to your idea of having a projector playing and transferring all your stories onto the reality you are perceiving. I am stepping onto doing some Byron Katie work to untangle myself form these stories and was curious to know what your thoughts are on Byron Katie and The Work.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Kimberly, so glad this resonated! And it is wonderful you’re connecting with Byron Katie. I have the utmost respect for her and for The Work. I think she’s brilliant. xo S

  • Posted by:  Sandra / Always Well Within

    This really goes to the heart of the matter: “to open our eyes to see others without an overlay of concept”.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

  • Posted by:  Shawn

    Oooh, love love love that attention is the most basic form of love. Of course! our focus and energy is truly the most precious gift we can give! So beautiful.

    Thanks for this lovely slice of wisdom in the cyber world. XO

    • Posted by:  Susan


  • Posted by:  Tammy

    I’m sorry Susan, but I’m having a hard time getting past the beginning of this post. Isn’t marketing really a way of manipulating people to believe they value something enough to purchase it? Using empathy or any other spiritual principle with this intention isn’t an admirable quality to me. I’m sure there is more to this post, but I just can’t seem to get to it. I’m skipping this one and already looking forward to the next one.


    • Posted by:  Susan

      Hi Tammy. No, marketing is not necessarily a way of manipulating people, although that is the pejorative connotation its taken on. The word itself is value-free. Marketing simply means letting people know that something exists by communicating the story of it accurately.

      There are certainly people who use marketing to manipulate people and trick them by creating illusions and false promises. There are people who want to bilk others out of money by selling them something they do not actually need or want.

      I do not admire that.

      But there are ideas and works that are wonderful and deserve to be known. Is it wrong to tell the story of Doctors Without Borders in order to solicit donations? That is marketing. Is it manipulative to let John Coltrane fans know that a new boxed set of rare recordings has been issued? That is marketing. Is it inappropriate to tell the world of the Tibetan side of the Sino-Tibetan conflict? That is marketing.

      We live in a world of tremendous noise. A great percentage of it is just that–noise. But there are some things you and I want to hear about. Some things I would want to hear about are listed above. I am grateful when someone tells me of them.

      There is no corner of this world where empathy and spiritual principles do not belong, including marketing. We do not have to be afraid of words like marketing, packaging, or promotion unless we doubt our own discernment. I’m not saying you do, just saying that when I hear people say things like marketing isn’t spiritual, that is often the case. We can trust ourselves way more than this.

      I have thought about this topic a lot because I am a Buddhist teacher who wants to teach. I am a writer who wants to be read. I am a person sitting behind a desk in my house by myself and I want to connect with this world to offer the best of who I am in order to benefit beings. Thus, by definition, I am also a marketer. All of these things–teaching, writing, marketing–are my responsibility. Can I hold and honor each of these responsibilities without sacrificing one at the altar of another? Can I hold and honor the dual intention of being of great service while supporting myself, my life, my home, my family? Well, I don’t know. But I am in the midst of this challenge. And I tell you what, it is a fascinating one.

      Would love to hear your thoughts.

      Love, S

      PS I think I will write a blog post about all of this!! Thank you for an entry into this fascinating and important topic.

      • Posted by:  Tammy

        Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. I am still digesting it and will perhaps write more in a bit.
        ♡ TS

        • Posted by:  Susan

          I look forward to it! Thank you and love, Susan

          • Posted by:  Tammy

            Some random thoughts.

            Of course one needs to support oneself and make one’s business known to others. As a self-employed person, I wish to make myself and my business known to others with the hope that I will attract enough work/income to support myself. My intention is to give information, here I am and here’s what I do, with the hope of achieving a specific outcome.

            However, the reality is that the result is not up to me; it is up to the gods, the universe, the whatever-you-believe-in. My hope is that I get what I want: enough work to support myself. However, life is such that I don’t always get what I want.

            This is where it gets tricky. How hard do I try to achieve my hope, my goal, to get what I want? Is hoping for a specific outcome dharma-based? Is it egoless? How does one promote a passion, a business, a belief, while also being aimless?

            And so I end up viewing the process more as educational than marketing. I offer factual information: Here I am and here’s what I do, without the hope of achieving a very specific outcome.

            It all works well until I want something I can’t afford or I dip into savings to pay this month’s phone bill. I then feel like I’d better get some darn aim in my life!

            Really, though, it’s a delicate balance between staying in the flow and trying to make something work.

            Some random questions.

            Who’s to say that having big dreams and working hard for them are not spiritually motivated?

            When I think of my life, I think of the story of “Siddhartha” by Hermen Hess. All I need is my quiet little life by the river. But then I wonder if I limit myself to a small life when perhaps I could have big dreams? Do I limit myself out of fear and only tell myself it is dharma-based?

            What is the difference between educating and marketing? I think that education is for the benefit of the other while marketing is the benefit of self; however. (That’s not to say I’m right. It’s just how I think of it at the moment.)

  • Posted by:  kathleen

    ‘It might even be said that this—the inability to open our eyes to see others without an overlay of concept—is not only at the heart of inelegant marketing but also of everything from bad first dates to failed peace negotiations. I am totally not exaggerating.’
    LOVE THIS POST. LOVE YOUR WORK. LOVE YOU. I am totally not exaggerating.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Awesome, Kathleen!! I’m totally not exaggerating… xo S

  • Posted by:  Kathy Willard

    Dearest Susan: Me thinks when we have lived long enough, fought long enough, learned long enough, we can see thru the marketing that is a sham, and that which is so delightful. You are no sham, you are the real deal. We, your students benefit in huge ways, from your wisdom, your innate ability to part the wheat from the chaff. Every one of us has a bit of everything, love, humility, too much pride at times, lots of righteous anger and it is thru embracing all of it that we heal. I bow to you.


    • Posted by:  Susan

      Bowing back, Kathy.

  • Posted by:  Patty

    Thank you for your dharma talk. It helps a lot to have regular messages about what to be mindfull of, like attention is love, and also your references to others’ teachings, such as Seth Godin. The guided meditation is much appreciated.

  • Posted by:  Carondelet

    I am used to closing my eyes in meditation. I first learned from Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness community. So keeping the focused softly is… different, I feel tense, maybe because I’m rebelling against the change. I’ve just let myself close my eyes and am noticing the eyes are starting to want to open for just a bit and then close again. Being gentle with myself and enjoying this little bit of awareness. May we all be well!

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Sounds just right, Carondelet! xo S

  • Posted by:  Rachel Whalley

    Susan, I’m so excited about this post that I’m commenting even before I finish reading it. A friend gave me your book Wisdom of a Broken Heart as I was beginning my divorce process. I loved it, and have been recommending it personally and professionally since then.

    Now I’ve updated my website to include a link to a book of yours which I believe will be more universally helpful to my clientele: How Not To Be Afraid of Your Own Life. (It’s in good company —

    So I’m very excited to hear that you’re a big proponent of the Enneagram. I am as well, and I loved reading “It’s for your own good, people!” I, too, am one of those people who will introduce you to it within the first few days of knowing you. Hearing about your promotion of it has reenergized me. I really like knowing that you are out there getting people on board with truly understanding how different we are, motivationally and energetically, and talking about how that helps you foster compassion for other people.

    I used to have big stories about other people and I would take so many things personally. Having the Enneagram as a constant companion has really helped me own my own path and relax about how other people are behaving.

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this. I can’t wait to read more.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Hi Rachel. So glad my book has been useful and thrilled you’re into the Enneagram! It is so useful in just the way you describe–in helping us let go of our big stories and not taking things so personally. It is a constant companion–that is the perfect description.

      I’m offering a webinar on the Enneagram on June 20–a basic intro. Very excited about this!!

      Glad our paths have crossed! Susan

  • Posted by:  Vicky

    Geez, it’s taken me all this time to figure out that there is conversation happening here – even though you say so write on the page with the talk and meditation. I’m sure that MUST say something about my Enneargram type 😉
    Anyway, just want to say YES! to every kudo that has been put on this page for you Susan. And to say YES! to “trusting yourself is what is important to discern the difference between a product (which in this case ccould also be a person) that is deeply life enhancing and one that is not.
    AND, I also very much need to say I CAN’T WAIT FOR JUNE 1!!!!!
    AND, I also want to say – Man, what great company here on this page.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Welcome, Vicky!!!

      I am also so psyched for June 1 and deeply, deeply appreciative of the smart, deep, good-humored people who show up on this blog.

      Love, S

  • Posted by:  Kathy Willard

    I’m an elderly retired woman now, forever a student and beyond grateful for you, our spectacular real deal teacher. We have all been fed so many lies, to fit in, to be accepted, it’s all too much at times, so now I am embracing ALL of me, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and the ton of love that is enormous now!! Your posts Susan support me completely. I love you so much.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      So happy your path is unfolding in just this way! Glad to practice together. xo S

  • Posted by:  Karen

    Hi Susan
    I’m investigating the Enneagram (yet, the short quiz puts me, aptly at a “5”!): I’m wondering if you still have the audio of your webinar on it available to email out?
    Thanks for all your great work. I look forward to hearing more. x

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