Real Leaders

Real Meditation: Don’t Rise Above Your Thoughts and Emotions

Television reflects us in so many ways. The new series “Billions” starts off with a big, bad, reckless hedge-fund investor and his natural enemy, a ruthless US attorney, both meditating in their offices about how best to cheat each other. Nice use of meditation, right?

Yes sir! Meditation is here to stay. When two power-hungry TV characters, both of whom will probably cheat, lie, manipulate and even kill before the first season is over, sit silently waiting for their flashy phone alarms to go off, you gasp at how we’ve managed to corrupt yet another tool for leadership growth and illumination. Now it turns out we can use meditation to do evil unto our enemies too. Very nice indeed.

As a prospective client told me yesterday, “I know all the theory already, I just can’t get my mind to stop for a second!” The eldest of five talented brothers and founder of their rather impressive family business, he can’t rest for a second without a sibling challenging his lifelong leadership. Thus, he leads them like a tired father, too young to be so bored with parenting at only 45. Let’s call him Jerry.

In the meantime, I’m also exchanging insights on WhatsApp with the male leader of another important family office. I will call him Tom. He found meditation and spirituality a few years ago, boasting daily ritual and a very virtuous lifestyle. No alcohol, careful diet, strict discipline and lots of happiness. He tells me that, “when I feel a negative emotion I simply acknowledge it, let it go, and go back to being my very happy self without a second thought. I don’t let anger or pain hold on to me!”

Well, I beg to differ. I find something terribly amiss in this shared meditational philosophy about “rising above thoughts and emotions.” What for? Why do we need to pull ourselves up into heavenly bliss while we’re still walking our challenging lives down here in hellish civilization? Won’t we have plenty of time for delicious and obligated happiness when we die?

We seem to be stuck in this chronic inability to face, accept and actually feel our emotions. Some of us are so terrified of feeling anything that we are ready to work ourselves to our graves if it saves us from facing the demons inside our hearts. Others have invented magnificently complex intellectual beliefs to create a vertical, disdainful distance high above all that is fuzzy, wuzzy, icky and rooarrrrry inside our bodies. Meditation becomes a tool to avoid emotion rather than the vehicle to help us connect with it. And I, for one, believe it’s a huge mistake.

Tom and Jerry seem to live in the same endless world of chasing of each other, that we saw in cartoons when we were kids. Tom tries to catch Jerry and trap him inside an unwanted meditation seminar while Jerry thinks that Tom is too simple, making him run round the entire kitchen in circles. Their deeper animal selves witness this cerebral orchestration in resignation… instincts, impulses, feelings, sensations and emotions must keep silent or hide appropriately until the chase is over. But when it finally ends it will be too late, won’t it?

The road to Nirvana runs through the body, with all its stressful instincts and uncomfortable realities. Those who try to fly directly to an illumination without their bodies are fooling themselves. Proof is quite visible when you listen to Tom’s routines and logic: they’re simply too much hard work. Too strict, too self-judging, too elevated above those messy tears, greasy pizza or sex. It sounds like sad, old nuns and skinny monks renouncing their lives to hide away in a convent of ascetical self-denial. It amazes me how frequently this interpretation of spirituality is repeated around the world, in many cultures and religions – an idea that in order to find God you need to flee all pleasures in life, and rise above weakness or want in every form. Jerry can’t imagine how to achieve it. Tom spends too much energy justifying it.

If only they both stopped running, thinking, doing, or chasing long enough to let their own feelings come up into consciousness. This is, in fact, the true path to the spirit (or to God) or to deep leadership wisdom: doing nothing. Pursuing nothing. Trying nothing. Letting thoughts and emotions run around wild until you begin to see a pattern in them. And just as you identify this pattern it gently dissolves and disappears, releasing you to sink down into greater levels of simplicity, fluidity, intensity of feeling.

This is what transcending negative emotions is all about. Jerry can’t stop thinking because he is scared of feeling them. Tom can’t stop forcing ritual and discipline on himself because he too is scared of being drowned by them.

Yet when you’ve recognized and understood the patterns of emotion and sensation that tug at your body’s tissues and your mind’s neurons, you slide into a state of zero effort and total passion. Total presence in this moment is all about not having to ward off anything. No hiding away in the corner of your mind with some repetitive chant. It’s this effortless quiet that brings on deep insights about life, business, love and spirituality. The quiet that invites feelings to come as often as they need to, stay as long as they want to, grow as intense as they must.

Emotion, sensation and impulse are precisely the path to inner wisdom and total presence:  Pulsations, vibrations, tears, growls, kicks and screams that kidnap your entire body like an overpowering wave of energy. Like when you were a baby or a toddler without any notion of ridicule or judgment of yourself. Like any animal. Like everything that pushes life forward in the wild, willful overpowering passion that we call Nature.

This is meditation. All else is pure fiction. Embrace the Wild within you!

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