There’s something I’ve noticed missing in the several dozens of articles I’ve read over the last two years on the explosion of mindfulness meditation in mainstream business culture.
I’ve had a meditation practice for 18 years and have studied with a handful of different teachers in various traditions, mostly within Tibetan and Zen Buddhism.
From where I sit, with a foot in that world and a foot in the business world, it seems there’s something big that folks are missing out on with the benefits of mindfulness meditation in the business domain. It’s a skill you can develop after you get a handle on mindfulness practice, and it can make a significant and positive difference in your business if you use it regularly.
This other skill has been one of the most helpful tools for me in navigating the daunting challenges that have come in every business I’ve created. It’s helped guide my marketing, content creation, product and service offers, and even entire business models.
Today, I want to show you how to access this skill and how it can help you in your business and life. If you’re new to this kind of thing, this might be a little odd at first, but stick with me. This practice can expand your mind and the very sense of who you are.
Does that sound like woo-woo spiritual mumbo jumbo?
If so, don’t worry. If you easily get triggered by new age approaches or language, what you’re about to read is not that.
Today, I want to take you in one of many possible directions out beyond the Mindfulness Visitor Center, but I promise to keep the spiritual lingo to a minimum.
And remember, I’m showing you this not just for the sake of personal growth. I’m sharing this because it has a massive potential to help you on your entrepreneurial path…and no one seems to be talking about it.
I hope you’re sitting in a way-more-comfortable-than-coach-class seat, because I’m going long. Hope you enjoy this.
Mindful of what?
What exactly is mindfulness practice? Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leaders of the mindfulness practice movement, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
2016 was the year that paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, went mainstream. Large companies have incorporated mindfulness into their work culture, from Aetna Health Care to Google to Goldman Sachs to Salesforce.
Its benefits to the people and companies who practice it are many, including:
- stress reduction
- increased productivity
- increased creativity
- physical pain reduction
- improved sleep
- increased focus
- reduced employee health costs.
Mindfulness practice is a type of meditation practice. It’s common, in different versions, within many spiritual traditions around the world. Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and many other spiritual and religious traditions have some form of mindfulness practice built into their path of practice.
When mindfulness went mainstream and flowed into hundreds of large businesses and corporations, the focus of its benefits tended to be centralized on the end benefits to the company as a whole, and most often zeroing in on increasing the company’s bottom line.
For example, in this Forbes article on mindfulness in business, the author states that employees that practice mindfulness “…also become more effective on the job, gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity, each which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year.”
This is common to see in articles on mindfulness: A dollar amount of increased revenue for the company as a result of its employees doing a daily mindfulness practice. I’ve done the calculations in my own business, with a grand total of two co-founders (Chris and I), and no employees (yet.) I estimate that I make an extra $10,000 a year as a result of meditation. And I just realized…that pretty much makes me a professional meditator.
Businesses and companies are, to say the least, very pleased with the results of how much money mindfulness can save their company in health costs and how much more money they can make as a result of increased employee productivity.
And the mindfulness industry itself is benefiting wildly from the meteoric rise in popularity of mindfulness in the workplace.
According to research done by IBISWorld, it’s a $1 billion a year industry. Not a bad amount of profit for companies creating products and sending teachers out to help people pay attention in a particular way on purpose.
Those profit driven motives are not perversely corrupt. Not at all. Especially when the benefits to the people learning mindfulness are so numerous and tangible. Reduced stress, better sleep, increased productivity? Win-wins all around.
But there are greater benefits out beyond mindfulness that are not included in the mainstream narrative about it. These benefits take a long time to get. Years of consistent daily practice, in most cases. That is likely one reason for the lack of discussion about what’s out in the wilderness beyond the Mindfulness Visitor Center.
But if you stay on the meditation practice trail, a whole new world can open up, and the skill you gain in that world can do far more than just increase the bottom line of your business.
What is this mysterious skill?
There’s something that happens when you continue on the path of meditation, at least certain types of meditation, like those found in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.
It might sound weird, but here it is: your skin-boundary-defined sense of self begins to dissolve, and you begin to realize that you are much, much more than just the collection of things you commonly call yourself.
What the hell do I mean by “skin-boundary-defined sense of self”?
It just means that most of us, most of the time, feel that who we are is everything contained within the physical boundary of our skin. Your body, your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts, your brain, your values, the way you normally do certain things (i.e., your habit patterns or traits of your personality.)
When you continue on the path of practice beyond mindfulness, the definition of who you are begins to broaden slowly. You begin to feel that who you are includes more and more of the things in the universe. Things outside of your skin boundary.
And what gets you there is a shift in your awareness.
(Yeah, I get it that those are just words on a page. It’s like trying to describe what chocolate chip ice cream tastes like to someone who’s never tasted it. Give me a minute, though.. I’m going to give you a scoop of the ice cream.)
The benefits of this shift of awareness are powerful. It can seriously help you on the path of building and running your business.
If mindfulness can help you make many things 20% better in your business (and it can), learning to shift your awareness like this can make things in your business another 25.7% better.
Before I say anything about how, exactly, this level of awareness, or realization (aaaack! Another “spiritual” woo-woo word), can help you in your business, I want to point this type of awareness out to you. Right now.
And if you’re thinking to yourself “Oh great, now he’s going to get his guru crap on and teach me how to navel gaze,” just hang on. Look, the beginning practice of navel gazing (a.k.a. “Mindfulness practice”) has gone corporate mainstream. I’m just showing you what’s next. It’s pretty damn cool, so keep reading.
If you’ve never had this part of your awareness pointed out to you before, this might feel a little…odd. It won’t likely stick around for long. You might feel a shift in your awareness for a few minutes, and then it will probably fade away, and you’ll feel normal again. Don’t worry about that.
The point right now is not to have this kind of awareness turned on all the time, every day. At least not in the context I’m working within, which is around helping you in your business life and non-business life. (If such a thing as “non-business life” in fact exists for us small business owners.)
In the context I’m talking about here, the point is simply to have access to this level of awareness whenever you need it.
What you’re about to read in a moment is called “pointing out instructions” in many meditation traditions. They’re meant to point out a part of your awareness that’s already there, and has always been there.
That last part bears repeating: this part of your awareness has been there all along. It’s just that most of us, most of the time, don’t pay attention to it.
Pointing out instructions have a long history in meditation and contemplative spiritual traditions. They’re a powerful tool that teachers have used to help their students on their spiritual path.
The pointing out instructions I’m about to share with you are my version of Ken Wilber’s pointing out instructions that I memorized many years ago after reading his book No Boundary.
And in fact, Ken Wilber’s pointing out instructions were themselves adapted from Ramana Maharshi’s pointing out instructions (he was an Indian spiritual teacher, whom many people felt was enlightened, and who passed away in 1950).
Okay. Unbuckle your seat belt. Here we go. This is where the rubber meets the toad.
How to tap into a bigger awareness
Take a few breaths and simply turn your awareness to the sensations that your breathing causes in your body. Notice your belly rising and falling. Your lungs filling and emptying. The sensation of air passing into, and out of, your nose.
If you’re having thoughts come up, just let them go. You can attend to those things later. For now, for the next few minutes, just stay here in this moment.
(Stick with me here. That first part was basic mindfulness practice. And now…we’ll go beyond it.)
Extend your attention from the sensations of your breathing to the sensations of your body sitting on whatever you’re sitting on. Feel what it’s like to have the chair or couch or bed touch your body.
Then simply scan the rest of your body for any other physical sensations you can feel.
All of those sensations you’re noticing…they are not you. They aren’t who you actually are, simply because you’re aware of them. Who is the one that’s aware of all those sensations? Who is aware?
When you go through this with me, you can change the pronouns in your mind to first person pronouns, like this, “These sensations are not me, because I’m simply aware of them. There is me, and then there are these sensations. Who am I? Who is the one that’s aware of these sensations in my body?”
Your eyes are open right now. You’re reading these words on a page, which means you can also see parts of your body. Your legs, your hands, your arms. Your physical body is not who you are either because there’s something, and someone, within you who is aware of your body. Who is that? Who is aware of your body?
When you ask yourself those questions, let them stay open for a moment. That’s where the process happens…within the inquiry.
Now, turn your attention to your emotions and feelings. What emotions do you notice are present right now? Nervous? Excited? Frustrated? Angry from something that happened earlier in the day? Happy about what is to come later today?
Whatever emotions are there, just be aware of them. Turn your mindfulness awareness on them and simply, effortlessly, be aware of them.
The emotions you’re aware of…they aren’t who you are either because you’re aware of them. Who is it that’s aware of your emotions? There are your emotions that you can feel in your body, and then there’s you who is aware of them. Who is the one that’s aware of your emotions? Who is witnessing your emotions right now?
While you’re reading this, you’re likely having thoughts arise. Thoughts about what you need to get done in your business today, or this week. Thoughts about your bank balance, or unexpected expenses that just came up.
You may have memories of past events come up, or images for plans of things you want to do in the future.
Just simply be aware of your thoughts, whatever they are, as they come and go. Those thoughts aren’t who you are, simply because you are aware of them. Thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. Who is it that’s aware of your thoughts? Who are you?
The physical sensations in your body. Your body itself. The emotions and feelings. The thoughts coming and going in your mind. You’re simply aware of them ALL. Hold the awareness of all of them in mind at once.
How can you be any of those things if you are aware of them all right now? Who is the one that’s aware of all of those things? Who is the one witnessing everything?
Sit with that question for a while. There’s nothing else you need to do. Just sit with this. Inquire. Lean into this question with steady focus. Gentle, but steady.
Ask yourself “Who is it that’s aware of all these things? Who am I, really?”
If you want, stop reading for a couple of minutes. Shut your eyes and put your awareness on each of these things in turn, and ask those questions along the way. Just for a couple of minutes.
Who is it that’s aware of these sensations, this body, these emotions, these thoughts? Who am I?
You are not your body. You are not the physical sensations. You are not your emotions. You are not your thoughts.
You are the one who is witnessing it all.
Okay…do you feel that? Do you notice anything different about your awareness, or about your sense of self, or your sense of identity? If so, you’re tasting it. This bigger awareness ice cream.
Genpo Roshi, a Zen teacher, calls it Big Mind. That fits well because it tends to make people feel pretty big, simply because you stop identifying with your limited, skin-defined egoic self, at least for a short time.
From this point, there is another step, another level of awareness you can get to. But it takes more practice, and it’s beyond the scope of what I want to share today.
As you continue to read here, that larger state of awareness that you likely tapped into after reading the pointing out instructions above will start to fade. That’s okay. It’s also okay if you want to stop reading and re-do some of those instructions in your mind so you can drop back into that state of awareness.
My favorite Zen teacher, Jun Po Roshi, calls this state of awareness “meditative awareness.” I think that’s as good a name as Big Mind. They both refer to the same thing.
So, here’s the deal: mindfulness practice is uncommonly important. Without being able to maintain your focus for extended periods of time, you won’t be able to access this Big Mind.
Your random thoughts, and the resulting emotions that get triggered from them, will cause too much static and noise. And that will prevent you from resting in this bigger mind for very long.
So, don’t get me wrong. I love mindfulness. The benefits it brings people are beautiful. It helps so many people reduce their level of suffering. It helps companies treat their employees and customers better. It helps businesses make more money.
We need basic mindfulness skills to access to this Big Mind state of awareness. But…mindfulness isn’t the end.
It’s just the beginning.
How can Big Mind help you on the entrepreneurial path?
Now, let me explain the ways in which this meditative awareness can help you on your business path, and perhaps more importantly, in your life as a whole.
There are four ways that it can help that come to my mind:
1) The longer you regularly practice just sitting in this meditative awareness, this Big Mind, the more you will start to care about helping other people. Call it compassion, or a desire to serve, or whatever you like, but it will start to come up more and more.
My sense is that this happens because you start to identify, more and more, with a larger sense of who you are. You’re not just a body with a brain and emotions and thoughts and a Facebook profile pic and habit patterns that make up your personality.
You’re much more. At some point, you’ll realize that there is just one Big Mind, with lots and lots of vantage points that it sees reality through. And those other vantage points, the other people on this planet, or animals…they’re not so different from you. You share the same awareness, after all. The same Big Mind.
Eventually, you may even come to feel that you are them, and they are you. I know, I know. That sounds like spiritual, new age lingo, and you may think I’m about ready to start singing Kumbaya, or We Are the World.
Saying “you might feel that you are them and they are you” will always sound like that.
Until you have the first-hand experience of it yourself. And then you try to describe it to someone else and realize that you sound all woo-woo.
So, to summarize the first way that this practice of sitting in Big Mind can help your business: It can cause you to care more deeply about helping the people in the target market that your business serves.
You can then come to see their pain points more clearly, and create new solutions to help them reduce their pain and suffering, or to remove problems they have.
Do that and you can make a greater profit more quickly, and you can positively impact more people’s lives as well.
2) If you have a team and if you or your team does any form of customer service, being able to access this Big Mind gives you a big leg up in creating remarkable customer service.
The more authentic kindness and compassion that comes through your customer service interactions, the more you’ll be able to make a lasting, positive impact in the lives of your customers. And when you do that? They will tell their friends.
And that makes for great word-of-mouth marketing…the best kind of marketing you can hope for.
So, it’s not just mindfulness that can help. It’s having access to Big Mind and being able to identify, on a deep level, with your customers.
And by “identify,” I don’t mean just “sympathize.” I mean ACTUALLY feeling like you and your customers are part of the same big “is-ness,” that you’re more similar to them than you are different, and that maybe, just maybe, you and your customers are not two, but One.
3) If you do any content marketing for your business (which you should be doing), you’re going to be putting yourself out there. Your ideas and opinions will be out on the web, and not everyone will agree with you, or like your ideas, or like you. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay.
Inevitably, you will get some nasty, unkind, or even mean private emails and public comments on social media, or on your blog’s comment area, from people who don’t like something you’ve created.
I’ve gotten those before. My wife gets them once in awhile too. And I’ll likely get one or two from writing and publishing this post.
When you see these kind of mean, unkind comments directed at you and what you created, they will hurt if you’re identified with your small self…the self we all normally identify with: the one we define as our body, our mind, our emotions, the things we feel, our thoughts, our values, or the way we normally do things.
Once you have access to Big Mind, though, it comes in handy in these moments. When you feel the jab-sting of a scathing, nasty comment about you or your work, take a deep breath and simply turn your awareness to whatever emotions are coming up in your body as a result of reading the mean comment.
See if you can describe the feeling of the emotion. Give it a shape and a color. And then…just hold it in your awareness, and ask yourself: “Who is it that’s aware of this emotion? Who am I, really? I am not my emotions because I am aware of them. Who is the one who’s aware of these emotions?”
Then stay with that inquiry for a moment. Lean into it. And remember…you HAVE emotions, but you are not your emotions.
When you do this practice, the emotions may remain, but most likely, the volume will turn down, because you’re not so strongly identifying with them.
Those emotions are part of the system of patterns that make up how you, as a person in the world, show up. They’re valid and important, and I‘m not suggesting to use the Big Mind awareness as a kind of “eject button,” or what some people call “spiritual bypassing.” If you’ve not heard that term before, spiritual bypassing is where you skip over mundane things like anger or jealousy and fly up into Big Mind, or further up into One Taste where you feel merged with all things.
In situations where you’d normally get spun out in a challenging spiral of emotions coming from negative, hateful people projecting their unconscious shit onto you somewhere online, shifting into Big Mind awareness can help you stay clear and calm so you can make smart decisions about how to respond.
It allows you to honor your emotions and can help you work through them as well, while giving you the clarity to respond appropriately to the situation, whatever the challenging situation may be.
That could be challenging emails you get, or negative reviews of your book on Amazon, or mean comments on your Facebook wall, or a product launch that didn’t go very well, or feeling overwhelmed with your to-do list that has 187 things on it that need to get done in 2 weeks before you start teaching your next online course.
It doesn’t matter what the challenge is. When they come (and they will), being able to rest in a larger, Big Mind awareness will help you make better decisions about how to navigate the terrain of the challenges.
4) You will make business and product decisions that are based less on what you need and want, and more on what your employees and customers need and want. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but when you take this approach, you’ll end up getting more of what you wanted in the first place.
As I mentioned above, often touching this Big Mind awareness will broaden your sense of self out beyond the small, skin-boundary defined self we normally have. What has happened to me over the years is that my default setting is shifting towards that of feeling like I actually don’t exist the way I thought I used to. The “me” I thought was me, isn’t me. It’s something much bigger, which means that all of this isn’t about me. At all.
This kind of awareness tends to bring other people’s needs to the fore, and you can then begin to lead your business from a place of service.
Serve. Serve your employees or team of independent contractors. Build a work environment and culture that reduces their suffering and increases their happiness. They will then likely turn around and go out of their way to do the same for your customers.
You can also turn this extra amount of kindness and understanding towards your customers. You’ll become more intimate with their problems and frustrations and pain points because you won’t always be identifying with your, up until now, normal, smaller sense of self. Your Big Self includes the people in your target market.
And again, as I mentioned above, if you know their problems and pain points more intimately, you suddenly have an edge over your competitors because you can then come up with creative, unique solutions to the problems of the people in your target market.
Okay, there are likely a few more ways this meditative awareness can help, but this is enough for now.
This is a long post, so I’ll stop for now. Told you I needed to get up and stretch my legs.
I hope you enjoyed the experience of reading this and (hopefully) tasting the Big Mind ice cream.
If you like this post, I’d love it if you help me out and click a share button below and share it with your friends.
And let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
Be well. Keep going. And remember to ask yourself “Who is it that’s aware of this? Who am I, really?”
co-founder of Clarity Lab