I am a huge believer in stillness and it’s close cousin solitude, both as a writer and as an entrepreneur. It is a huge danger for the creative entrepreneur to short herself on this resource. After all, the very word “business” incorporates the word “busy.” Hardly the soul of simplicity and solitude.
Writing in the NY Times January 15, 2012, Susan Cain, author of the best-seller Quiet, wrote the following:
“Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all….Collaboration is in. But there’s a problem with this view. Research strangely suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”
So how does the conscious entrepreneur create this space? The first thing that comes to mind for me is a disciplined daily course of meditation and prayer. I certainly try to do both when I awake each morning. But I find it is not enough amidst the frenetic and overwhelming celerity of my business and personal life.
Mohandas Ghandi is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do today that I must meditate two hours instead of one.” Well, bully for Mohandas. That may be possible for a secular saint like Gandhi. Not so much for an ordinary businessman like me. It’s really hard just to stop and be still when your hair is on fire and you’re up to your ass in alligators like most of us are most of our days. Where is the time for esoterics and spirituality when you have to meet payroll, huh? (Not to mention dealing with children and ex-wives.)
The impulse is to stay in frantic motion, to rapidly respond to a myriad of crises, not to mention the demands of simple, quotidian entrepreneurial process. (Even in writing this column for Making Rain, I want to speed it up. It’s like there is a gerbil on a wheel inside me. My impulse, even as I write this is to cut things short with unseemly glibness, so as to get back to the feverish pinging demands of my 400 emails.)
For example, Susan Cain rails against what she calls “the collaborative tyranny of the New Groupthink.” She notes the work of Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns, who recently has found that when we take an original stance or a position different from the group’s, we activate something called the amygdala, which is a tiny organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Dr. Berns calls this “the pain of independence.” In other words, business creativity and original thinking also necessitates a frequent and disciplined being with ourselves.
So, what to do with this conundrum? Well, there are often opportunities for palliative and meditative grace in our daily lives. I try to see and grab them. For example, I was stuck in my dentist’s chair for two hours last Tuesday. After hearing Dr. Marv’s usual homily on my dental sins (poor brushing, insufficient flossing, erratic checkups, etc.), I was able to accept my captive stillness as a blessing of solitude and personal revery. Likewise, a train ride to work can be an invaluable opportunity for meditation, particularly when there is an unexpected problem or stoppage. Lots better than teeth-grinding, silent cussing. Or, for more serious opportunity with stillness, look no further than the dreaded two weeks of jury duty. (“No cellphones allowed here, Sir!”) Though I only had to serve two days recently, I made it a refreshing respite of quietude and reflection.
Such moments, and many more like them, are gifts, if properly embraced by the “hair on fire” entrepreneur. (Or anyone else for that matter.) By looking for these obvious moments we can create extra time for self-centering and restorative personal grace.
Indeed, Pablo Picasso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” Or, to quote Rilke again, “Love your solitude and bear with sweet lamentation the suffering it causes you….Rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind.” (Letters to a Young Poet, 1908)
Thank you Pablo and Rainer Maria.