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Archive for the “Mindfulness” Category

Hans3Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye, who invented the term “stress,” said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

I lost my wallet yesterday—the realization of one of my deepest business and life fears.

I was meeting a friend at The Film Forum downtown in NYC and I was late. Somehow, in fumbling my way out of my cab I left my wallet in the backseat. As the taxi took off I realized my mistake and ran frantically after it, screaming at the top of my lungs, cortisol coursing through my veins. Alas, the cab turned the corner and was gone from my life forever.

What a catastrophe.

After looking forward to a relaxed, thoughtful two hours seeing a film about Vladimir Horowitz, I found myself standing pathetically in the middle of Houston Street street with heart pounding—full of radical stress, fear, despair, anger, and helplessness. This was not the day I had planned.

However, for once I tried to be mindful rather than reactive. Not an easy thing for an ADHD afflicted entrepreneur like me.

Even though I was late, I managed to take a couple of minutes of deep breathing and actually think about how to make this distressing mishap positive. And what came to me (after canceling my credit cards) was a talk I heard last year, given by my friend Srikumar Rao, head of the Rao Institute in New York.

Srikumar has taught at such places as the London Business School, Columbia Business School, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, among numerous others. He is a TED speaker and a specialist in business creativity and personal mastery. I guess you would call him a guru of sorts. (I personally detest the very idea of gurus, but that is a topic for another day.)

Sri notes that his students and clients report many reasons for the stress they experience each day. Things like financial reverses, business and career setbacks, relationship problems, struggling children, etc. But, he says, “…in reality there is one, and only one reason, they feel stress. They would like the world to be a certain way, and the universe is not playing ball.”

wallet-367975_960_720To illustrate his point, he shared the following ancient didactic parable.

“A man and his teenage son lived in a beautiful valley. They were very happy, but they were also dirt poor, and the man got tired of living in poverty.

He decided to go entrepreneurial and become rich by breeding horses. He borrowed heavily from his neighbors and bought a stallion. He kept it in a paddock and the very day he bought it, the stallion kicked the top bar loose and vanished.

The neighbors flocked around to commiserate. “You were going to become a rich man,” They said. “But now your stallion has run away and you still owe us money. How sad.” And there may have been some schadenfreude in their sympathy.

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing…Who knows?”

The stallion fell in with a bunch of wild horses, and the man spied them in a valley close by. He was able to entice them into his paddock, which he had repaired. So he now had his stallion back, plus a dozen horses. That made him a rich man by the standards of that village.

The neighbors clustered around again, and there was a tinge of envy as they congratulated him. “We thought you were destitute but fortune has smiled on you.” they said. “You are already a rich man.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing…who knows?”

The man and his son started to break the horses so they could sell them, one of them threw the man’s son and stomped on his leg. It broke and healed crooked.

Again the neighbors came. “He was such a fine young lad,” they said. “Now he will never be able to find a girl to marry.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing…Who knows?

And that very summer, the king of the country declared war on a neighbor, and press gangs moved through the villages rounding up all the able-bodied young men. They spared the man’s son because he had a game leg.

There were tears in their eyes as the neighbors lamented, “We don’t know if we will ever see our sons again. You are so fortunate—you still have your son with you.”

Dr._Srikumar_RaoThe man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing…Who knows?”

Srikumar’s parable goes on like that forever.

So, I lost my wallet yesterday. As to my anxiety, well…”Good thing, bad thing…Who knows?” Life does not turn out the way we want it to. It also does not not turn out the way we want it to either. It turns out the way it is.

Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all my worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” Thank you, Winston.

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Susan_SontagThe American critic and essayist Susan Sontag once wrote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

I dislike traveling on business. Increasingly so since I reached the antediluvian age of 60. (Can I really be that old? Why do I still relate to myself as a teenager?)

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful rewards to travel that don’t come immediately to mind when thinking of the normative business day on the road. One of these is the opportunity to meet new and startling people who can broaden your outlook on life and educate you in unexpected ways. I have actually found this joy to be diminishing as people increasingly bury their heads in the virtual world of their omnipresent contraptions. (Note my Inc. column of last year, “The Zombiefication of Business Travelers”)

But I was reminded of the sweet illumination that is available to the quotidian, workaday business traveler (with just a little planning) when I was in Houston, Texas a couple of weeks ago. I had two hours between appointments and my last meeting was right off the campus of the University of St. Thomas in downtown Houston, where the Rothko Chapel is located. So I grabbed the opportunity to spend over an hour in this remarkable place–a unique artistic and religious haven I had long wanted to see.

For those who have never heard of the Rothko Chapel, it is the final major work of expressionist painter Mark Rothko (before his suicide in 1970) and consists of 14 huge black (with subtle color hues) paintings. These works are displayed in an octagon shaped brick building, also designed by Rothko, in collaboration with Phillip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry, to create a cohesive artistic and spiritual experience.

ottavoIt just knocked me out with its affect. It was enormously energizing and thought-provoking. Yet I probably would not have gone to the Rothko Chapel, despite my interest, save for the circumstance of a convenient client meeting nearby.

Folksinger Harry Chapin recorded a lovely song in 1972 titled “Greyhound.” It’s about a man ruminating on his life and on traveling and it concludes with this line: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.” So even with business travel.

I don’t know about you, but traveling sometimes can bring out an almost overpowering neediness in me. If you are like me on the road, you are often hungry, lonely, and tired. It’s so easy to want to fill an aching void with escapisms like excessive eating, alcohol, or thoughts of meaningless sex. At the end of a brutal, emotionally and physically draining day, a merciful oblivion may seem compelling. Yet such things also empty one of meaning and focus by proffering an ersatz grace, which in reality offers a vitiation of your true and soulful center. It’s just easy to say fuck it and fall into the arms of a seemingly blissful respite, which is in reality an existential dulling.

It can seem like just another chore to prioritize a renewing mindfulness into our travel day. But experiencing the multifaria of art, nature, music, theater, etc. in their many regional incarnations (like the Rothko Chapel) is a true grace that that can be a special gift to the traveling entrepreneur, at least with a little preliminary planning and a good GPS.

Healthy entrepreneurship is a vocation. At its best it is a pathway to a good and meaningful life in equal proportion to its ability to, hopefully, create a living in the world. It should be no less a noble spiritual vocation than the calling of a priest or social worker.

Henry_Miller_1940The geographical accidents and cultural opportunities of our sometimes peripatetic business process can facilitate growth and new thinking, if it is baked into our travel planning. Mindful travel locations are infinite, be they art museums, symphonies, historical battlefields, theaters, or even baseball parks. (I’ve always wanted to see Camden Yards in Baltimore and Wrigley Field in Chicago.) They can be the Grand Ole Opry or the St. Louis Zoo or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Each new landing-place has the possibility to be an oasis of growth, insight, knowledge, and new thinking.

Novelist Henry Miller once wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Thank you, Henry.

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