The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

I was catching up with a friend yesterday who has been worried about his job, his family, his spouse, and just the state of the world with everything happening right now. He is also a medical professional, so he has been seeing the CoVID crisis unfold in front of his eyes. He had the weekend off, but was not looking forward to taking the plunge again on Monday.

Perhaps you are in a similar boat.

We spent the next 1.5 hours talking and he started telling me about some of the things he’s trying to do to stay grounded.

Our conversation turned to philosophy and theology, and at the end of the conversation, he felt a lot better.

I wanted to share some of the ideas from it below. They come from The Bhagavat Gita, an ancient Vedic Hindu text that trickled across the world to become the basis of Stoicism. It inspired Emerson, Thoreau, and its ideas were incorporated into Buddhist teachings. It is the original text on Yoga as well.

The Gita is a conversation between Arjuna the warrior and Krishna his charioteer. The conversation is really a meditation that happens on a battlefield before the start of a war.

Arjuna asks to ride into the center of the battlefield to survey the land and the enemies. Krishna obliges. Upon looking at the enemies he has to face from afar, Arjuna loses heart. He feels he is incapable of fighting this war.

We too are warriors fighting our own daily struggles. In the face of all this, we too can lose heart.

He loses courage and wants to give up. But he asks his charioteer Krishna to tell him what to do. He gives up all of his ego in the face of the challenge in front of him and instead surrenders to the wise Krishna.

I believe this is the first part of any meditation (or prayer). Completely surrendering our mind so that we are open to receiving an answer, a response to the stress in our lives.

This means letting go of the ego that wants to control every thing. As smart, intelligent, driven & successful people, we are used to getting our way. We want to always be in control. It is hard to let go of control. But the process of real transformation happens when we surrender, let go, and trust so that a better answer can come to us. So that we can find a means of going on.

Sorry, there is no meditation app that can help you do this. And despite what people might think, sometimes they are more of a crutch (necessary at the beginning of your practice, but something you will eventually need to give up).

Read: Buddhism scholars: Meditation apps are fueling tech addiction, not easing stress

Ego will prevent us from learning and growing. Pride can prevent us from learning the right things. Arjuna surrendered unconditionally and opened himself up.

This letting go must come from a sense of knowing that we will be looked after, that our highest and best good is coming our way.

Krishna tells him to rise up and let’s Arjuna know that this “cowardice is unbecoming of him.”

Krishna tells him: “There has never been a time where you and I have not been. The body changes from young to old. In the same way, the life goes as well from birth to birth. You are not this. You are not these problems. But you are greater than all this. You are the spirit, the atma that brings consciousness to this body and mind.”

Modern science tells us that we are not just the body. We’ve gone up to “we are the mind” part.

“I think therefore I am.”

But there is a higher level still. Through all the changes when we had the identity of a baby, and the future identity we will have as we age, it has always been. This entity is the real you.

We are not the body, nor are we the mind. You and I still are even if we are asleep, when no conscious thoughts are in our mind. And we are certainly more than a physical machine with bio-chemical processes.

The body has changed. Identities have changed, but you have remained. This you is the real you. What we call in our culture, the atma.

What is this atma like​? It is not born. It does not die. Like a cloth is old, we throw it away, in the same way, we get rid of a body once its work is done. The atma moves on to another life. To know this is the mark of an intelligent person.

Otherwise, we see birth and death each day. If that truly is all that life is, then it is natural that we become overwhelmed when the slightest thing happens to our bodies, our minds. And when these things start happening to our loved ones. This type of excessive attachment is not love.

If we stay in that framework, than life will always shake us. Change will shock us. Aging will scare us. When we don’t get what we want, our minds will become unhappy, stressed. We end up fighting with the nature of life itself which is ever fluctuating and temporary. That is the root cause of unhappiness.

Contemplating about this is the real key. When we start thinking that our worries are not us, when our thoughts are not us, when our body is not us, when this identity that we inhabit of a doctor, entrepreneur, artist, writer, etc is not truly us, then our worries start to subside.

When we start thinking of our eternal natures, our stress and worries goes away. We feel freer to think and act in a way that helps us grow.

I believe more than at any other time, we need to meditate in this form.

First, we must surrender all ideas about who we are. Man or woman, our professions, our bank accounts, our employment status, our businesses, our intelligence, talents, and everything else.

Then we must contemplate on our own eternal natures that always is.

This goes beyond the meditation apps that makes you calm down in the moment, but leaves you ungrounded in the face of overwhelming life challenges. In the face of our own mortality.

And if we can introspect on this idea this Sunday afternoon, then we will be better ready for the week, and indeed our lives.

Further Reading

Over the last few weeks, I’ve written a few other articles that you might find interesting:

  1. Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times: For those feeling overwhelmed (hint: it’s all of us), the wrong thing to do is to impose our will on the world. The best thing to do is to find what’s certain in our lives.
  2. Love in the Time of Corona: In these times of great anxiety, we need something to ground ourselves, give us hope in our ability to get through this. Our relationships are the greatest source of resilience and strength.
  3. The President and the Monk: The remarkable story of two very different world leaders and how their experiences have the power to reshape the world. Powerful ideas if you are a leader in any capacity.

Corona Calmness: A free mini-program made by me

I made a resource: Corona Calmness. It’s a self-guided program that takes 15-30 minutes per session to help you deal with the anxiety of our present times.

I did it based on Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavior Therapy techniques. You can get it for free if you type in FULLOFF. If you find it useful, consider sharing it with others. I’ll keep it online for another week and if it isn’t used by anyone, I’ll take it down. It’s less philosophical, if you aren’t into that sort of thing.

Some Questions for you

Did the above make sense to you? Do you feel it is too extreme? Did I miss a subtlety that I should clarify?

What are you working on and where are you stuck? Personally or professionally. I’m here to help you.

Do share your answers!!

Finally, if you think there is anyone you think would enjoy this newsletter as well, please forward it to them, or share this link with them to get them to sign up.

The Secret Spirituality of Leaders

At the top of the tallest sky scrapper in the city, we were sitting in a cozy executive lounge. I was meeting with the CEO of a major national bank, a chance encounter where I was not his employee nor interviewing him for anything. I was not there to sell him anything either.

The conversation we had there was a conversation I saw repeated over and over again. Whether it be in homes of successful entrepreneurs or in late night conversations with powerful government officials in Switzerland. 

I was trying to grasp and understand what made them unique. Often coming from nothing, these incredible men and women have started large organizations: startups and corporate behemoths. They carry considerable influence and power. I have always been curious to know how do they handle life, the tough decisions they face daily.

Leading anyone, let alone yourself can be exhausting. Startup founders, entrepreneurs, and real change-makers face a lonely journey to the top. We see short-sighted thinking, we see mental breakdowns. We see politics and drama play out. 

But in many cases, we also see resilience. We see incredible strength of character. We see growth and progress, and real empathy to do the right thing, even in the face of ridicule. We see values and principles.

In speaking to me candidly about their ups and downs, they have confessed one thing that we barely ever talk about in any of the thousands of articles that are being churned out daily about success, productivity, entrepreneurship, pop-psychology.

It is this: Faith in a Higher Power is the ultimate source of strength.

They have all admitted to prayer as a source of strength as well. One CEO of a major global fashion brand said: “Everyday, I pray to God to give me the strength to do this work. Because I alone am not capable of doing this myself.”

This person is worth $200+ million dollar.

I’ve seen this played out so often. And yet, most success literature doesn’t talk about this at all.

It almost seems that we are hiding from this truth in trying to be secular. Mindfulness and meditation are safe placeholders for spirituality, but they are incomplete. They are aids in deepening your faith, but not an end in themselves.

The true lessons of spirituality are not tied to one particular religion either, they are universal. And these lessons can help us be better leaders. Either for our teams and organizations, or in our private lives as we lead our families and our lives.

That’s what this publication is about.

It is about embracing faith. This is not about proselytizing. For true spiritual principles are timeless and not bound to any particular religion.

The only thing required is faith to move forward and deepen a relationship with your true self and a higher power.

Everything else follows from that.

Has Faith Played a Role In How You Lead?

If so, share your thoughts below on how exactly faith and spirituality helps you lead yourself and others better.