Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Q&A with Erica Brown

Erica Brown is the author of the new book Take Your Soul to Work: 365 Meditations on Every Day Leadership. Her many other books include Seder Talk and Happier Endings. She is an educator who currently is the community scholar for The Jewish Center in Manhattan. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?

A: In my experience teaching leadership from a spiritual perspective, I saw firsthand the power of ancient and modern texts to inspire people to be their best selves even in environments that were demanding, unfriendly or downright toxic.

Sometimes we need gentle reminders to put the values we already have to good use. Those values are not as important in a house of worship as they are in an office elevator because we know what we stand for when we can uphold our beliefs in places that challenge them, not only in places that support them.

Q: You describe Take Your Soul to Work as "essentially a prayer book for leaders." What role do you see religion playing in the book?

A: It's not so much religion, because although there are sayings from important religious leaders of all faiths in the book, there are also thoughts of artists and writers and politicians.

I scoured the world of literature and religion to find texts that could give a quick daily lift on topics ranging from compassion to confusion and offer a question for daily focus.

I'm interested in how religion helps people develop and strengthen a code of ethics and deepen a sense of mindfulness to others and themselves.

Q: How did you organize the 365 meditations you include in the book? Did you make changes in how they were ordered, or did they fall into place easily?

A: Take Your Soul to Work was not an easy book to write because I wanted each page to be unique and special and touch a spiritual nerve. I tried to put the meditations in places that I thought would provoke a wide range of thinking for each calendar week.  

Q: The book was written for leaders in the workplace, but could other people benefit from it too?

A: Of course. I think anyone benefits from a daily inner workout. I'm not a CEO, yet writing this and immersing myself in the wisdom of great masters was very moving for me.

Why leaders then? When I surveyed what's out there specifically for leaders, who often don't have time to read let alone meditate or pray daily, it dawned on me that this could provide a genuine service to people in positions of power who want to be more humane, more thoughtful and more generous of spirit in the place they spend the most hours every day: work.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I am working on a book provisionally called Today's the Day: A Spiritual Approach to Personal Transformation. I am very interested in the difficult challenges facing adults in an ever-changing world and how adults make major life transformations and what holds them back.

The guiding question throughout the book is "What are you waiting for?" And through the dozens of interviews I've already conducted, I marvel at how adults decide to leave a job, leave a relationship, move or change faiths, and feel the pain at those who want to but lack courage.

Often people who have the nurturing of supportive faith communities, have strong personal beliefs, or spend a lot of time in meditation and reflection are able to make these transformations with more ease and tenderness. They also find ways to ritualize transitions, which often helps cushion the pain of closing one chapter and opening another.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My favorite part of each essay is the guiding question at the bottom of the page - what I like to think of as "life homework." I don't want people to think about being more focused, more patient or less angry, I want them to live it. I think a good question is often the right provocation that moves people from reading to being.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Erica Brown will be participating in The Lessans Family Annual Book Festival at the JCC of Greater Washington, which runs from November 5-15, 2015.

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