Tapping Clarity, Wisdom and Authenticity Through Meditation

I’ve hesitated to write on the subject of meditation, suspecting that my clients, friends and family in the corporate and more conservative Christian circles would think I had gone over the edge. I worried that people would think I had crossed over to the frou-frou world of navel gazing.

Meditation helps executives focus and build leadership skills.

It turns out that’s what most of these people think about me anyway! So there’s no reason to delay covering the topic. Actually, many people have noticed that I no longer default to a linear, analytical and laser-like thinking mode as I did in years past. I can still access that mindset when I need to, but now it’s balanced by a grounded, contemplative awareness. I attribute the part Indiana Jones –part Gandhi balance (although admittedly skewing a bit on the Indiana Jones side) to my eight years of meditation practice.

This “Indiana Jones/Gandhi balance” is increasingly attractive and effective in terms of leadership styles for corporate leaders. It is also an effective higher-level leadership tool that serves leaders in roles of greater complexity. I believe that the rate and degree we advance in terms of maturity, perspective or level of leadership depends heavily on the consistent application of personal development processes and practices such as meditation. Reading, training, listening to lectures, and most management experiences may change behaviors and habits, but will not shift a leader at the core, the ultimate source of leadership development.

There is just too much stimulus and stress in business these days to think that meditation would not have value to most organizations – staff and managers alike. Fortune Magazine (July 23, 2007 issue) had this to say about the increasing use of meditation in the business world: “while the practice isn’t exactly mainstream in corporate America, more and more executives are open to anything that might help them thrive in – or temporarily disconnect from – today’s Blackberry-addled ADD business climate.”

Viewing meditation merely as a way to relax just barely scratches the surface of what this practice is about. For many, the first exposure to the experience of stillness and silence is anything but relaxing. Yet for those who are not looking for another quick escape and are willing to stick with it, the benefits are often profound.

Although meditation comes in many forms, the consistent theme is focusing the mind or, more specifically, the ego (the manufacturer of our thoughts, the source of our inner chatter and the creator of the filter through which we view the world). Our ego is very useful for getting things done. With mixed success, we spend the entire first half of our life investing in and strengthening our ego by defining ourselves by our roles and accomplishments. In the process, our ego becomes over-developed and thinks it runs the place. We forget who we really are and work in service to our ego instead of the other way around.

The practice of meditation focuses or directs the ego, which allows a person to move beyond the ego’s limitations. When the practitioner concentrates completely on his or her breath, a repeated word or phrase or visualization, it opens a gateway to the clarity that exists between our often chaotic and fabricated thoughts – it allows the clarity of deeper awareness of our authentic self or true nature to see through the confusion of our superficial ego’s perspective. This deeper connection to our true nature creates the peace and relaxation that people often associate with meditation. It allows leaders to stand in the eye of the hurricane without getting swept up by what may appear as all-consuming concerns.

As you continue your practice you will begin to notice you are developing a skill of observing your own thinking process without getting carried away by it. From this witness perspective you can observe your own emotions and thoughts with less and less frustration or painful attachment. You stop impulsively or unconsciously reacting to or attempting to control external stimuli.

Like a Samurai swordsman, you become more present to what is actually happening when it is happening. You gain access to a deeper intelligence – which you might call wisdom or insight. You’re thinking beyond the clutter and randomness that characterizes lower levels of consciousness.

Nature and life experiences are huge components in the make-up of powerful leaders, yet these are only contributing factors to tapping leadership potential. Intellectual, behavioral and psychological development allow leaders to tap into even greater levels of possibility. Meditation offers yet another way to access what can be considered natural or intangible attributes of powerful leadership such as clarity, awareness, presence, and wisdom.

How to start a practice? I encourage you to try different forms of meditation and see which one works for you. Most of my training has been in the Zen tradition. I have also benefited greatly over the years using Centering Prayer (a Christian approach to meditation) and yoga-inspired practices.

Following a powerful process that offers a taste of the meditative mind, here is the form I teach my clients. To make it easy to remember, I use Four S’s: Still, Straight, Slow and Silent.

Still – Find a place free of interruption and distraction. Sit on a firm chair or cushion such that your knees are lower than your hips. Once you get settled don’t move until you have finished your session.

Straight – Keep your spine straight. Allow the natural curve of your back to support you. Open your heart space. Align the crown of your head and the center of your hips. Your eyes can be open and gazing softly at a point three or four feet in front of you or closed softly.

Slow – Breathe slowly through your nose and into your abdomen. Stay concentrated on each inhale and exhale. Count each breath. When you notice a thought come into your mind or when you reach ten, start over at one. Make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale to help you relax.

Silent – As you become aware of the stream of thoughts, simply observe them without analysis or attachment. Instead find the silence and allow the thoughts to float away like a quick moving cloud in the sky.

Practice five days a week for five minutes. Meditate at a regular time that fits into your schedule naturally: after a workout, first thing when you get out of bed, in the car before heading into the office. After a week extend the time to ten minutes. When you find you are able to stay focused on your breath, add more time – up to twenty or thirty minutes and/or add another session in the day.

I challenge you to adopt a meditation practice for one week and notice what changes for you. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Who knows – you may even join me as an ex-closet meditator. Happy sitting!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I host group meditation sits twice monthly at my comfortable Littleton location. If you would like to participate, or for more information, please contact me at 303-707-1340.