Last week on Founder’s Journal I wrote about Attentional Hygiene. Whenever you talk about focusing your attention, the practice of mindfulness is just a short skip away, so this week we’ll tackle the bigger subject head on.
When you look at Google Trends, mentions of mindfulness have increased by a factor of around 8x over the last 13 years, so we are clearly talking about a significant cultural phenomenon.
Moreover, the press is awash with studies proving that meditation fights aging, increases compassion, and reduces anxiety, among other things. Organizations from schools to the Marine Corps have embraced meditation as a way of helping them achieve their organizational objectives. Among the most zealous devotees are technology entrepreneurs and workers in Silicon Valley.
When it comes to mindfulness, I am of the old school. I have been practicing Zen Buddhism for more than 8 years now. Meditation is definitely an important part of the practice, but it is not all of the practice. My training is also comprised of koan study (a sort of riddle that you puzzle over to increase your understanding,) walking meditation, chanting, the rituals of Zen, and well… everyday life. Ultimately, however, all of our practice is focused on increasing mindfulness. The spirit and aim of the tradition was described by its founder, Dogen, eight centuries ago:
To follow the way is to study the self
To study the self is to forget the self
To forget the self is to become one with the myriad things
The way we study the self is to look inward and see what is going on. This has some truly transformational effects on people, and it has for me. I hesitate to say this, and I will explain why soon, but to be true and forthcoming, I should say it: starting IdeaRocket and making it a successful company was probably dependent on my beginning and continuing my practice. I’m not sure I would have had the patience, evenness, and focus to make the company work without it.
Why am I hesitant to say this? Because a business result is not the reason I practice, and it shouldn’t be. When we sit in Zen, we “just sit.” It is not for a gaining purpose. Indeed, it would be impossible to be in the Now while thinking about how being in Now will help you in the Future. The practice is to minimize those preconceptions and expectations, not to feed them. So we “just sit.” And it is “nothing special.” (Quite a different world than the one where we constantly demand ROI and sprinkle superlatives everywhere!)
Usually I arrive at work a half-hour before the rest of the staff does. I have a Zafu and Zabuton (cushion and mat) in the closet, and before the day begins I lay them out on the floor, facing the wall as we do in Zen, and I set the timer in my smartphone to 30 minutes. I let thoughts and sensations come, and I let them go without clinging to them. When the distractions come (and of course, they always do) I note them, and let them go. I find my mind is more prepared for meditation after my morning commute than before, so practicing at work is best for me.
If you would like to start a meditation practice, I would suggest starting with a teacher. It’s not because meditating is complicated; it’s mainly because it is useful to have the positive reinforcement that you’re not doing it all wrong. Also, meditating with other people is subtly but importantly different than meditating alone; practicing with others provides you with support and discipline.
You will have a choice of many different flavors of mindfulness. You might find that the more secular varieties are also more fee-based. At my Zendo, sitting is free in exchange for a what-you-can-pay donation; I have heard of people paying four figures for a course. On the other hand, some people might be put off by the trappings of a practice that is based on a Japanese monastic tradition, as Zen is. Sample around and see what feels right.
I believe business is about service — serving my clients, serving my employees, and serving the viewers of our videos. Nothing helps me do that more than staring at a wall for half an hour a day.