This month, ten years ago, there were terrible bushfires in Victoria.
At that time, I was working with the ABC, the nation’s emergency broadcaster, and it was all hands on deck as we ran around gathering alerts, delivering warnings, and scrambling as systems failed. We spoke to people who were trapped and dying, who couldn’t get through to triple zero, crying because they didn’t think they’d ever see their families again. We were on high alert for days before, and weeks after Black Saturday.
At that time, I was already a yoga and meditation teacher. I’d become interested in mindful practices as a way to cope with my high stress job, but it turns out, knowing a lot about meditation and mindfulness wasn’t enough in a crisis. It was that week ten years ago that the seeds for Mindful Under Fire were sown.
I don’t know about you, but I can meditate exceptionally well in a yoga studio. You do your big sweaty practice and flop on your mat at the end for savasana. Lovely music plays, you have a silk eye mask and a cushion under your knees. Om shanti…
I didn’t become a better meditator until things were really, really hard.
When I had to learn to breathe when there was no time or space to breathe. When it was an emergency. When we were literally under fire.
I’ve spent the past ten years trying to figure out how you can prepare for those moments when there’s no space to breathe or think. I lived on ashrams, sat with nuns and monks in monasteries, did the Eat Pray Love thing in Bali and India. When I started to learn what worked, what really worked, I began to run retreats to help other people learn those practices. I didn’t want other people to go through what I went through.
When companies started approaching me to send their teams to the retreats, I realised how much more widely we could be applying these practices. That the answer might not look like escaping to spend a week in the wilderness, but in integrating these practices within our daily lives, amongst the noise, traffic, drama and trials of the everyday.
“You go to nature for an experience of the sacred…to re-establish your contact with the core of things, where it’s really at, in order to enable you to come back to the world of people and operate more effectively.”
– Willi Unsoeld, American mountaineer
I moved to San Francisco to build a tech product based on all this mindfulness, to help people apply it, and connect more deeply because of it.
Suddenly I was in a city that worships fast, and hacking, and optimisation — whether that’s an app, or your body, or how your mind works. And after all these years of working with humans on their minds, and products designed to help humans work on their minds, I’m here to tell you: you can’t hack mindfulness.
The work of meditation is plain and simple. It doesn’t need any bells or whistles, and while many of the things that have been created may help you have a practice, ultimately, the buck stops with you.
So let’s take a look at some of the myths that might be stopping you, so you can get right down to the benefits of paying sweet, sweet attention.
Myth: Meditation is hard
One of the biggest myths about meditation is that you just “turn your mind off like a tap”. I hear meditation teachers say it all the time: “Just stop your thoughts!” Any neurologist will tell you that even years of meditation won’t stop your thoughts.
Meditation might shift the speed of your thoughts, or your relationship with them, but it won’t stop your brain’s electrical activity.
However, the practice part, and the regular discipline of being with your thoughts? That can be hard. Reacting to your thoughts? That’s called being human. You sit, you close your eyes, your entire history rushes in.
Your only job during meditation is to watch all of that come up. Not to stop it or control it, or force it down. Notice it. Keep breathing. Notice it. Keep breathing.
Myth: I don’t have time to meditate
As soon as someone finds out I teach mindful practices, they often tell me “I know I’m supposed to meditate, but my mind is so busy. I don’t have time. My brain is really fast, I can’t slow down. I can’t sit still.”
Most of you feel like you should meditate, and you let all of that get in the way.
One of the best side effects of meditation is realising you have more time.
More time to think, react, breathe, prioritise. Less time flapping about, freaking out, watching Netflix to try and relax — more time being effective.
Myth: Meditation doesn’t make a difference
I’ve worked with prison inmates and parolees, teaching them meditation, yoga, and mindful communication. If people on death row can handle watching their thoughts, so can crazily busy politicians, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and yes, even you, startup founders.
In the US, I was often working with successful people who were very unhappy. They’d had an exit, or were at the helm of a successful company – but it had cost them so much: their livelihood, their relationships, how close they were to their family. These were people who were often running at a goal so hard, they couldn’t see what was happening to the rest of their lives.
After year one of the Xcelerate program, we’ve seen how powerful mindfulness training is in preparing founders for their startup journey. Everything from approaching customers, to pitching, to garnering investment is affected by your mindset, and getting in front of that at an early stage makes all the difference. The earlier you adopt mindful practices, the more aware you can be about your situation, the better you can communicate, and the more powerful you can be as a leader.
At our Sydney offices on Wednesday the 20th of Feb, Megan is running a breakfast workshop where you’ll learn How to Apply Mindfulness.