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Archive for the “stillness” Category

Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie_VelpeauAlfred Montapert, in his book The Supreme Philosophy of Man, states, “Do not confuse motion and progress.  A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make progress.”

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.)

RilkeThe 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.)

Yet, my most seminal personal well of meaning, ideation, and renewal comes out of aloneness and quietude.  (German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said simply, “The only journey is the one within.”)  Furthermore, without frequent stops to renew our personal centers, it is so very easy to accede, lemming-like, to popular tropes and fads—to vitiate our own originality.

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.

picasso7Such 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.

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I watched President Obama’s Oval Office speech on June 15 concerning the eternally gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. And it reminded me of my long-held instinct about the importance of stillness to the salesman.

My feeling about this is a close corollary to my blogs on Silence (March 2, 2010) and Simplicity (November 24, 2009 & December 1, 2009). But the value of stillness is one more of drama than of essence.

President Obama’s speech, in addition to being vague and confusingly convoluted, was uncomfortably twitchy, physically frenetic. It was an uneasy and distracting thing for me to watch. How ’bout you?

In the Wall Street Journal of June 19, 2010 Peggy Noonan describes the speech thusly:

“Throughout the speech the president gestured showily, distractingly, with his hands. Politicians do this now because they’re told by media specialists that it helps them look natural. They don’t look natural, they look like Ann Bancroft gesticulating to Patty Duke in ‘The Miracle Worker.'”

When dealing with a catastrophe, people want assurance about the immediate crisis, not a hypothetically global analysis of the environment.  One way a good salesman–and Obama was a salesman for his administration last Wednesday evening–assures a client is by not over-doing it. A good salesman abjures excess fussiness and flummery. He gets to the point with cleanness and clarity. If you try to sell everything you sell nothing.

One technical example of this is Ms. Noonan’s apt description above of Obama’s excessive use of his hands. It seemed like every other word was emphasized with a hand chop. If every phrase is so emphasized, there is only a distracting mannerism with no meaning. It vitiates everything. More is not better.

Better is to say less and say the important things with a still simplicity, especially when trying to make your client feel secure. For the salesman it’s ideal to say what’s important and then be still.  Stillness does not mean a deenergized inertia. It means a focused, quiet, rooted presence. Effective stillness comes when you are secure. It is the ideal completion of the dramatic arc of the sale.

Mark Twain once said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Thanks, Mark.

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