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Archive for the “Meditation” Category

Johnny Depp once said: “Trips to the dentist; I like to postpone that kind of thing.”

I was stuck in the dentist’s chair for two and a half hours last Tuesday. This was perfect for a rainy spring day in New York. I came in depressed and anxious about business and some personal issues. After hearing the dentist’s usual homily on my dental sins (poor brushing, insufficient flossing, erratic check-ups), I grimly settled in to endure my dental cleaning penance.

I like my dentist Marvin. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of American popular music which he plays while drilling away. I learn a lot from him. Also, I tremendously enjoy his excellent laughing gas. (Last week’s aroma was piña colada. Yahoo.)

For my appointment, Dr. Marv’s musical play list was from radio broadcasts of the 1930’s. Enlivening and enjoyable, as always. In my existentially saturnine mood I found myself listening to a song I’d never heard, called, “If You Want To Have The Rainbow, Then You Have To Have The Rain.” It was a lovely, light depression-era ditty about looking on the bright side of life. Nothing especially deep. Yet it got me thinking positively again and jolted me out of my stultifying, self-pitying funk. It restored me to gratitude and clarity.

I treasure those blessed moments of unexpected captive stillness that can sometimes quiet the frenetic, unreasoning pace of daily business life. They can be both a palliative and a meditative grace. Even five minutes stuck waiting on a line or 30 minutes on the train can imbue a renewed centeredness and insight. These moments are a gift and make me a clearer, freer, happier man–and, I am sure, a more sure-handed writer and a more prosperous entrepreneur. I am so grateful when these captive moments find me, pull me up short, and bring respite and perspective to the headlong rush that is the essence of most of my business days.

German poet Gottfried Benn (Statische Gedichte) says,

“To represent some part,
Busy-ness,
Traveling to, and from,
Is the distinguishing stamp of a world
Which does not see well.”

Thank you, Gottfried.

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gandhi1 - meditation and entrepreneurshipI’m not very good at meditating.  But I, nevertheless, believe in it.  And do it, inconsistently.

I tell you frankly that one reason I go to church regularly is that it forces me to to be still for an hour.  Or, when I was younger, I tried keeping up a Buddhist practice of chanting three times a day for over a year, mostly for the same reason.  Perhaps this is unsound theology, but it has a practical usefulness for me.

Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”  (My practical version of this is “When you are in a rush, slow down.”)

I believe that meditation is particularly important for us entrepreneurs.  Who among us is not constantly up to our ass in alligators?  I certainly am.  The impulse is to stay in frantic motion.  Even in writing this blog post, I want to move on to a myriad of impinging quotidian actions.  It’s like having a gerbil on a wheel inside me.  In this very moment my urge is to write with a glib celerity, to settle for an unseemly glibness so as to quickly get back to the pinging demands of answering 400 emails.

For this reason entrepreneurs particularly need to stop regularly.  Otherwise they increasingly see only the trees, not the forest itself.

So how in God’s name can I justify doing “nothing” for even a few minutes?

The benefits of meditation are that it keeps us in the now, allows our instinctive wisdom to emerge, and helps us cope with fear and sensory overload.  It calms our lizard brain, fight-or-flight reactiveness, and helps us resist distracting urges.  It buttresses and strengthens our willpower muscles.

I particularly appreciate the latter as a former addict.  While most entrepreneurs are not addicts, as I have been, the act of entrepreneurship itself is an addiction.  Few vocations carry the addictive high, the adventurous frisson, that comes with business risk-taking.

peter_bregman - Harvard Business ReviewOne of my favorite business blogs is written by Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review.  Here is how he describes a recent meditation.

“When I sat down to meditate this morning, relaxing a little more with each out-breath, I was successful in letting all my concerns drift away.  My mind was truly empty of everything that had concerned it before I sat.  Everything except the flow of my breath.  My body felt blissful and I was at peace.

For about four seconds.

Within a breath or two of emptying my mind, thoughts came flooding in—nature abhors a vacuum.  I felt an itch on my face and wanted to scratch it.  A great title for my next book popped into my head and wanted to write it  down before I forgot it.  I thought of at least four phone calls I wanted to make and one difficult conversation I was going to have later that day.  I became anxious, knowing I only had a few hours of writing time.  What was I doing just sitting here?  I wanted to open my eyes and l look at how much time was left on my countdown timer.”

The important point for Bregman is that he takes no action on his concatenation of ideas and urges during meditation.  He renews his self-control and self-awareness mechanism.

Thomas_Stearns_Eliot_by_Lady_Ottoline_Morrell_(1934)Here’s a beautiful passage on the meditative experience from T. S. Eliot.

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing: wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing: there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting.  Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:  So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Thank you, T. S. Eliot.

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Silence. It’s certainly not the first thing that pops into mind when you think of sales. However, I’ve got laryngitis this week and have to largely shut up, so the topic is on my mind.

My forced quietude, while frustrating, has had a positive effect on me personally and, strangely, a salutary outcome on my limited sales interactions. I find myself very focused on being succinct and making my words count. Also, I find myself sharply concentrated on listening. It’s quite centering. When I do speak I am to the point and responsive to the particularity of my clients and associates. I simply don’t have the voice for bullshit.

I admit to occasional prolixity. It’s hard for me not to throw in the whole kitchen sink when I’m talking about my wonderful company Corporate Rain International. I love my company. I’m passionate about it. Yet my health coerced stillness reminds me that silence is a necessary and efficacious value in sales, as in life.

Quite aside from my laryngitis this week, I’ve always found a judicious use of planned silence a help with everything. There are two things I personally try to do each week to create moments of stillness. Simple, but helpful to me. One is I go to church. That one hour of quiet thought and physical non-activity, sans cell phones, children, chatter, etc., is clarifying and revivifying (quite aside from deeper issues of truth and faith). Two is I try to take a half day every week to go to the movies by myself, where I can be alone in the anonymous dark. I try to pick undemanding “B” movies (think American Pie, Jennifer Aniston, Police Academy VI, etc). Sometimes I go right to sleep, but frequently new thoughts come when I let go with no agenda. (Of course, if you’re a better man than me, a formal discipline of meditation, yoga and prayer is lots better.)

Maybe that’s enough for today. But here’s an interesting thought about silence from the avant guard composer John Cage. In his 1961 book “Silence” he says, “There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

Thanks, John.

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