The Mindful Entrepreneur: Reinvention, Transcendent Leadership, Altered States, Compassion, Leadership Coaching, Transformation, Personal and Business Strategy, Disruptive Innovation, Performance and Growth.
I want to highlight an article in the NY Times about the Big Sur, California-based Esalen Institute reopening. Why this is so interesting is because its new mission is “to help technologists who discover that ‘inside they’re hurting”.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders, particularly from the technology industry are starting to get one of my key messages: “Technology without meaning is like work without fulfilment: purposeless noise.”
As Ben Tauber, the new Executive Director at Esalen, puts it:
There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognise that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place. The CEOs, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.
Another nearby centre, 1440 Multiversity, which lies nestled in the California redwoods near Santa Cruz, has a similar message in its goal: to recognise that the blazing success of the internet catalysed powerful connections, yet did not help people connect to themselves.
1440 was founded by Scott Kriens, Chairman and former CEO of Juniper Networks, with the rationale that there is “great power in immersion learning – setting aside daily urgencies and dedicating uninterrupted time and energy to focus on our more important, but often more elusive, priorities.”
One of the key questions technologists are starting to ask themselves is whether they are doing the right thing for humanity. It’s all very well building a highly addictive, behaviour changing piece of technology, but if it doesn’t progress humanity in some way then what is the point?
Before heading up Esalen, Ben Tauber had created a real-time celebrity geo-stalking service called JustSpotted and then joined Google as an acqui-hire. He then decided his work was causing harm. “I realized I was addicting people to their phones. It’s a crisis that everyone’s in the culture of killing it, and inside they’re dying.”
As former Google chef Bodhi Kalayjian, who now bakes bread at Esalen says, “Everybody’s got a soul. It’s about finding it.”
The article also quotes Gopi Kallayil, Google’s chief evangelist of brand marketing. He has been wondering about the impact of his work and said that many of the people who came to him had floundered this year.
Ultimately, it’s about finding meaning in your work and ensuring that what you invest your precious time into is something that you can feel proud of.
What if everything you’ve aspired towards as an actualized person turned out to be an incomplete life objective?
Everyone knows that Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of human needs, with self-acutalization at the apex. Right?
But here’s the thing. Later in life he began to refine his thinking and eventually placed self-transcendence as a motivational step on top of self-actualization.
Think about it! Your personal positioning is no longer the pinnacle of your life’s journey. This is tantamount to discovering the world is not flat!!!
It has far reaching consequences for the meaning of life, as well as how you view altruism and wisdom.
Let’s take a step back. Way back to 1943 when Maslow crystallised his initial motivational theory using the following logic:
“…man lives by bread alone – when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and higher) needs emerge and these…dominate the organism…human needs are organised into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.”
He set out five motivational levels and provided a description of a person at each level:
5 Self-actualization – seeks fulfilment of personal potential.
4 Esteem needs – seeks esteem through recognition or achievement.
3 Belongingness and love needs – seeks affiliation with a group.
2 Safety needs – seeks security through order and law.
1 Physiological (survival needs) – seeks to obtain the basic necessities of life.
In the late 60’s, Maslow added a sixth motivational level:
6 Self-transcendence – seeks to further a cause beyond the self and to experience a communion beyond the boundaries of the self through a peak experience.
By ‘beyond the self’ he meant service to others, devotion to an ideal or a cause. He also included a potential desire to be united with that is perceived as transcendent or divine. A ‘peak experience’ may involve mystical experiences and experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences or transpersonal experiences in which a person experiences a sense of identity that transcends or extends beyond the personal self.
He believed there was a special cognitive ability at work when transcendence was at play and he called this “Being-cognition”. He saw the “goal of identity (self-actualization) to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity.”
While Maslow crystallised a linear logical progression from one need to the next, he was aware that some people were able to jump from any level to self-transcendence.
Importantly for our modern day self-obsessed society, he noted that people who are struggling to gain higher levels and are striving more for self-transcendence than self-actualisation are better off than those who have arrived at self-actualisation and, seeing this as the pinnacle of motivational needs, are resting on their laurels:
“The ones who are struggling and reaching upward really have a better prognosis than the ones who rest perfectly content at the self-actualisation level.”
Victor Frankl, the psychotherapist, transcends Maslow’s hierarchy. Interred in a Nazi concentration camp Frankly experienced severe deprivation of every type imaginable except one: he maintained his quest for meaning. In doing so he jumped across the entire motivational hierarchy and found the bliss and joy of self-transcendence. His bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning is a must read.
Why is this important for you?
Firstly, beware of blindly following constructs and paths created by others. They may be incomplete, they may be censored (the American Psychology Association allegedly tried to muzzle Maslow’s theory on self-transcendence). Chart your own path, feel what works for you and resonates within you, not an an ego level, but deep within amongst the quiet soulful spaces of your being.
Secondly, find ways to transcend your selfish needs and wants and focus on finding meaning by rising above your self. Look for ways to be of service to others. Set self-transcendent goals that enhance and amplify your purpose in life.
If you want to delve more into Maslow’s self-transcendence theme and especially how this plays out in business I recommend Chip Conley’s Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow.
Mindfulness is at the forefront of the ‘science of the human mind and heart’: it has helped people deal with chronic pain; it has eased the anxiety of veterans dealing with post traumatic stress.
Mindful stress reduction programs are mushrooming in our classrooms and across our companies, but Jon Kabat-Zinn’s message is that it urgently needs to be harnessed in the most ambitious way yet: it needs to challenge the way the world is run and he wants to inject mindfulness into global politics.
Called the godfather of modern mindfulness in a recent piece in The Guardian, he says that: “People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to.”
His current message is that mindfulness could change the world. He “vibrates with an urgent belief that meditation is the ‘radical act of love and sanity’ we need in the age of” [pick your modern woe – political, environmental, health or disaster-related].
Mindfulness is not some wishy washy fad. It works. It is powerful. As the Guardian article points out, if you need proof just ask NBA basketball champions, the Golden State Warriors. Mindfulness is now one of the team’s core values.
Jon’s concerns today echo his words from 1969, “We are approaching a critical unique point in history. We are approaching an ego disaster of major proportions – overpopulation, pollution of every conceivable kind including mental.”
His aim is to help political leaders “maintain a degree of sanity and recognition of the fears and concerns of those who do not see the world the way we do. The temptation is to fall into camps where you dehumanise the other, and no matter what they do, they are wrong, and no matter what we do, we are right.”
“The human mind, when it doesn’t do the work of mindfulness, winds up becoming a prisoner of its myopic perspectives that puts ‘me’ above everything else,” he says. “We are so caught up in the dualistic perspectives of ‘us’ and ‘them’. But ultimately there is no ‘them’. That’s what we need to wake up to.”
We are at a “pivotal moment for our species to come to our senses … mobilising in the mainstream world … the power of mindfulness”.
This is a powerful message and one all leaders and aspiring leaders should take heed of. As I point out in my book, Fierce Reinvention:
The only way we can make a difference and start healing ourselves and our world is to take personal responsibility for our actions, and to live in the now by mindfully and purposefully focusing on the present moment as it unfolds, without dwelling on what we have done or dream of doing. It is up to each and every one of us to step up, take more responsibility and assume a higher level of leadership.
I grew up among sickness and death. My father was a veterinary surgeon, and I’d accompany him on farm visits and regularly visit his animal hospital.But I noticed that our relationship with death was different when it came to people. The adults didn’t talk much with us children about the passing of a family member. And when my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of six, we were shunned by many former friends in the community.
Death is taboo, an obsessive morbidity that can’t be healthy for us—or so our culture seems to say. It’s OK to bring it up briefly when someone we know has died, and we recognize grieving, but not for too long. For a few weeks after a loved one dies, we’re offered condolences. We respond with a polite “Thanks,” and then the topic of conversation quickly moves on.
Let’s make impermanence our friend
But death is all around us. By denying aging, death, impermanence and sickness, we set ourselves up for a life of fear and reactivity, and a meanness of spirit. When we do break through the death barrier, we find that we relax into our lives and our place in the universe. We pull back from the acquisitive, busy, controlling mentality that formerly held death and our fear of it at bay. We feel a wave of relief wash over us, and we shift into a more honest and real relationship with ourselves and the people around us. We become more present, more aware and more compassionate.
By denying aging, death, impermanence and sickness, we set ourselves up for a life of fear and reactivity, and a meanness of spirit.
In society, we often measure success by what we own and what we do. So, at a young age, we start to acquire assets: watches, cars, jewellery, property. We also allow our workplace to define us. And we struggle when all this stuff is taken away from us due to happenstance, ill health and ultimately, death. We grieve the loss, and rue how impermanent life is, but these feelings often come too late to give us much comfort.
We’d be far better off making impermanence our friend and death our mentor at a young age, by creating a daily practice of recognizing that nothing is forever. This daily practice could include the following three steps:
Reflect on your health and remind yourself that it’s in our nature to become sick.
Reflect on your life and remind yourself that it’s in our nature to die.
Reflect on what you have and remind yourself that everything will eventually become separated from you.
Instead of being shocked when something departs our world, it’s best that we instead recognize the loss as natural and wish that person, relationship or thing well on its journey.
My father’s gift to me
My father was always strongly independent. And yet, as his cancer spread, he became weaker and more reliant on others. Through his realization that he wasn’t in control—and perhaps never had been, in his life—he was giving me the gift of a stronger perception of impermanence while allowing me to connect with and care for him more intimately.
When my father was in the final few weeks of his battle with cancer, he turned to me one morning and asked, “What do other people do?”
“Do you mean other people in your situation?”
“Does it really matter what they do? You need to dance to your own tune and not worry about what is a socially acceptable way to die. It’s your time. There’s no right or wrong way.”
It was hard hearing myself say that. This was my father. This was the toughest man I’d ever met.
“All I ask is that you keep breathing. Relax into this part of your journey and breathe. Don’t let social pressure or fear control your behaviour.”
Life is a series of unknown moments
While it’s useful to create a practice to help us deal with our own death, this is no guarantee of how we’ll face it when the time comes, nor will being prepared necessarily reduce the anguish for those around us or lead us to dying in a serene state.
Life is a series of unknown moments that are strung together by our minds to create a narrative. What’s important to remember is that each and every moment is not only unknown, but unknowable. Our death is but one such moment. Contemplate that, explore the unknown, become comfortable with infinite unknowables, and your fear of death and dying well will diminish. Replace your anxious mind with a curious mind.
Building a strong practice of meditation is particularly helpful for creating a heightened level of comfort with the unknown. In meditation, we release our biases and preconceptions and let every moment arrive abundantly unknown.
Death can teach us so much about living life to its fullest—without delay, without fear and without masks—so do your best to let yourself embrace it.
You can learn so much about who you are by enquiring into your desires and dreams. You are what makes you happy.
If you don’t know what makes you happy, if you wrongly determine what your needs and wants are, you will be out of alignment and you will invoke suffering in your life.
This is what makes the practice of self-inquiry so important as the first step on the path to achieving true greatness. Once you truly know what you need and want at a soul level, you can start taking steps to attain these things.
Enlightened with this knowledge you will be emboldened to choose the path less travelled, take on more risk, embrace fear and uncertainty and unshackle yourself from unnecessary suffering.
This leads to a win win: once you are on the pathway to happiness and fulfilment you can do the same for others; by being positive for yourself, you become positive for others; knowing your purpose you become more aligned with others and reduce conflict in your life.
What is it that you really want at the deepest level? Fundamentally, in your soul of souls the answer is very, very simple: you want love (you want to be loved and you want to love).
But the challenge for so many of us is that we are fearful of what love could bring: we are fearful of what it has brought us before; we are fearful of what we have seen it bring to others (heartbreak, pain and rejection); love has wounded me.
There is hope though. First you need to accept that there is no difference between love for yourself and love for others: there is only love. And secondly, you need to realise that love is abundant, that love has no limitations in its giving or receiving.
Accepting these two precepts, you will lower the barriers to loving yourself and loving others unreservedly, unconditionally and with no restrictions.
Give it a try, you will be surprised at the results.
We all want to be successful and happy, we all want to enjoy doing a great job, yet for the vast majority of people these remain amongst our most elusive goals.
We flit between moments of illusory happiness and moments of dulling pain, glimpsing true joy in the eyes of others, yet very rarely in our own.
Overextension has become the norm: we are always on; always chasing deadlines; always checking in.
Even though happiness can feel ephemeral and elusive, there is a simple formula you can apply to increase the amount of time you are happy:
happiness is living in the now + being resilient
Existing in the now, we are more attentive, engaged and at our happiest.
What can you do to increase you now time?
What can you do to exist more in the now?
Firstly, you can minimise the potential for distractions: by keeping an uncluttered workspace; by placing your mobile phone on silent and, while you are wanting to focus, by removing any form of email or social notification and abstaining from accessing any form of social media.
Secondly you can create more focus time by allocating 90 minute calendar slots to progressing your priority projects and then sticking to them.
Give each task your full attention and notice when your mind wanders, acknowledge that intruding thought, and return your mind to the task at hand.
And thirdly you can build a now practice.
The more you practice being present, in the now, the better you will become at achieving a depth of focus.
As you build a regular practice of being in the now you will start to notice your compulsions to quickly check your email and your social media feed become weaker, you will start to notice that intruding thoughts won’t be as loud and they will arrive less often and with less fanfare, and you will more easily be able to shuffle them on and stay focused.
When you find yourself at this point you will know that you have strengthened your ‘now’ practice.