Through the company I founded, Giva, we provide HIPAA compliant solutions to large and complex hospitals and healthcare organizations to help people in very high-pressure, stressful jobs: IT help desks and customer service.
It’s not just the constant demands for problem-solving that make up the bulk of most days, but the added pressure of serving in healthcare-related environments where failure can be costly, particularly in hospital emergency rooms.
Meditation and mindfulness can help to reduce that work-related stress, and I use them as a technology entrepreneur.
At the end of 2010, I participated in my first seven-day silent retreat and lived the life of a Buddhist monk.
Participants were asked not to speak, write, read, email or listen to music. This experience changed many aspects of my life, not least of which was my approach to leadership.
Since then, I’ve participated in an annual 10-day silent retreat and more importantly cultivated a daily meditation practice.
I have discovered that all leaders can benefit from meditation and mindfulness. Here are five ways you can bring the benefits of meditation into your own daily routine.
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1. Stop Living With a Coarse Mind
A coarse mind is focused on the “top of the ocean.” Most of the world lives in this place, experiencing life primarily through the emotions that are caused by events in their lives.
This is leading a life of reaction to events and labeling the events as “good” and “bad”. For example, birth and new beginnings bring great joy, but death and endings bring profound sorrow and pain.
When you live primarily through your emotions, you just live life on the tumultuous surface of the ocean and you miss the calm that always lies very deep within the ocean and you.
2. Throw Away Your False Self
Understand the role that your “false self” (FS) plays in all suffering. The FS is what your mind thinks you are.
It’s all the ideas that you have about yourself, or that others may have about you that you think and believe define who you are. Focusing on this part of yourself makes it difficult to discover your true self.
3. You Are Not Your Feelings, Thoughts, Fear or Desires
Not only are we not the FS, but also we are not the feelings, thoughts, fears or desires (FTFD) that cycle through our mind all day long.
In reality, FTFD are just “dust in space;” external stimulus stirs up the dust in the room. If a person cuts you off when driving, then you get angry. You see chocolate cake and you become hungry with desire for chocolate.
Your mind creates these responses based upon conditioning from experiences in the past. This is the hallmark of a coarse mind, and most of the world lives this way.
An important Zen teaching suggests that we see FTFD as they are: as fleeting things. So we try to watch our mind as FTFD arise and eventually pass and we can actually train our mind to ignore them.
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4. Find Yourself in Nothing
There is a big shift when you begin to realize that your FTFD are simply reactions to stimuli and not really you. Let’s discuss how fear can get a grip on us and cause suffering.
One approach to try is when fear arises, ask yourself, “At this exact moment, what do I have to be fearful about?” Meditation helps you understand that fear is an illusion.
Fear is always about something that has not yet happened (future) or could have happened (past). Anger, fear and other emotions walk us just like we walk our dogs. When these emotions take over, we become slaves and not masters to our emotions.
5. Cultivate Your Inner Emptiness
Meditation helps you see the vast emptiness inside of you. More specifically, we begin to see that the only thing we have is conscious awareness, the sense that you are aware of what is going on around you without any thoughts, opinions or judgments.
It is quite liberating to realize this, since it means we are free to change and to become better leaders and humans in the process. The good news is that we do not have to become monks to gain these insights; each of us can be the guru to ourselves that we need.
This process can start with some basic mindfulness training and then be cultivated sitting in a chair or on the floor.
Done consistently, with a 15 minute daily practice, you will feel different and with 30 minutes others will notice a difference.
People often tell me they cannot meditate because they cannot stop all the thoughts. Nobody can stop their minds from generating thoughts.
Meditation is just the process of watching or observing our thoughts and it is also when the comedy begins and it will crack you up.
It will be better than your favorite Seinfeld rerun.
Leadership coaches and mentors are excellent career resources and I recommend that every leader should cultivate a network of these people in your life.
However, the best coach and mentor we all have is the one within. It’s late in the evening now so it’s time for my evening meditation. I will make sure to ignore all the dust, stare down the void of emptiness while surely being thoroughly entertained by it all.