Health, Pleasure, Happiness, Meaning

The title of this post is not just a collection of words that everybody wants to hear about or a sequence of characteristics we all want to have in our lives.

Although these words are arranged in the order of increasing degree of abstract conceptualization (‘meaning’ appears to us as being more abstract than ‘health’), they have a relationship that is essential. In short, you cannot be healthy if you do not have a meaningful life. This is the outcome of a series of studies carried out on the human genome in which people who live a meaningful life tend to be happier and therefore exhibit significantly stronger health markers than those who just live an ordinary life of pleasure (see study reference at the end of this post).

Working long and difficult hours on a challenging project may not be exactly pleasurable, but, assuming one regards the project as worthwhile and meaningful to oneself and to others, its successful realisation may nevertheless be a major source of happiness. In fact, when it comes to meaning, the process of working on the project is just as important as its outcome if not even more so.

Human life is full of such examples where meaning ranks higher in terms of its intrinsic value than outcomes and even process:

  • a child’s carefree playfulness and spontaneity;
  • volunteer work or selfless service where there is no reward;
  • creative artistic or musical expression of one’s ideas and inspiration for their own sake;
  • doing gardening for its own sake;
  • running a marathon (however slow) to raise awareness or funding for a particular cause;
  • laughing for the sake of laughing, etc.

Meaning and life’s purpose are strongly interrelated. Meaningful activity springs from one’s ability to anchor oneself in his life’s calling. For example, “the meaning of my life is to do this or that for the benefit of my immediate community or the world at large, or to behave in a particular way”.

A purposeful life is always positive and creative and never negative and destructive. A purposeful life is always about doing things in joy and fulfillment no matter the effort and hurdles on the way. A purposeful life is always about placing others above yourself, about a higher and wider goal taking precedence over personal objectives. A purposeful life is always about benefiting humanity at large. A purposeful life is always about making others self-sufficient: why feed others bread when they can be taught to grow the grains from which it is made and bake it themselves?

So how to discover one’s calling? Learn to meditate to go beyond the limits of your mind and emotions. Learn to contemplate the hidden reality within and without.

 

To read about the study quoted in this post go to www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-better-kind-of-happiness

 For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

The Bigger Picture

What happens when you climb a tree? You see the bigger picture compared to when you were satisfied to sit at its foot.

What happens when you look at a map? You see the bigger picture compared to when you were content to aimlessly roam the streets.

What happens when you get to first know a person? You are first guided by his character before  agreeing to something.

Invariably in life, knowing the bigger picture is always a better guide to achieving success than getting bogged down in individual details.

If we were an ant, the challenge of surmounting the ups and downs of small potholes in a road would be so daunting that it would be easy to miss the destination. Luckily for us, as human beings walking on the same road, we see the bigger picture, both in terms of the physical perception of the ultimate destination, even if it is far away and out of sight, as well as in terms of mental perception if not conviction, where the visual turns and twists of the road, unlike for an ant, would be no impediment to motivating us to continue on the chosen path.

And so it is with things spiritual.

It is the distinguishing mark of a spiritually advanced individual to be firmly set on reaching the ultimate reality even if its existence seems ephemeral to everybody else.

It is the defining characteristic of a spiritually advanced individual to not be discouraged by the ups and downs of life even if at times it may seem that there is no escape within reach.

It is the blessed opportunity of a spiritually advanced individual to sharpen her resolve and strengthen her ability to reach the destination, thus blazing a clearer path for others to see and emulate.

Reach deeper, go farther, look higher. This is the simple message of striving for the bigger picture, the message of self-transcendence.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Want to be a better leader? Observe more and react less

These are personal reflections from Manish Chopra,  a principal in McKinsey’s New York office. This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly and can be freely accessed online at http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/leadership/want-to-be-a-better-leader-observe-more-and-react-less. This article is reproduced here to illustrate the general benefits of meditation and does not represent an endorsement of any one meditation technique over another.

 


 

Overloaded executives need coping mechanisms. This personal reflection shows how meditation can help.

Most time-strapped executives know they should plan ahead and prioritize, focus on the important as much as the urgent, invest in their health (including getting enough sleep), make time for family and relationships, and limit (even if they don’t entirely avoid) mindless escapism. But doing this is easier said than done, as we all know—and as I, too, have learned during years of trying unsuccessfully to boost my effectiveness.

In my case, I stumbled upon an ancient meditation technique that, to my surprise, improved my mind’s ability to better resist the typical temptations that get in the way of developing productive and healthy habits. Much in the same way that intense, focused physical activity serves to energize and revitalize the body during the rest of the day, meditation is for me—and for the many other people who use it—like a mental aerobic exercise that declutters and detoxifies the mind to enhance its metabolic activity.

Before my chance discovery of this timeless technique, I was skeptical, despite the accounts of the many accomplished practitioners who have preceded my own beginning efforts. Just as learning to swim or the enjoyment of floating in water can’t be experienced by reading books about it or hearing others’ accounts of the joy of aquatic self-buoyancy, so the benefits of meditation can only begin to be understood by taking an experiential plunge.

So why write about it? Because I think today’s “always on” work culture is taking a heavy toll on today’s leaders, and we need coping mechanisms. Meditation isn’t the only one; it’s just one that I feel somewhat qualified to talk about because of my experiences with it over the past five years. I’m far from alone; mindfulness has been gaining currency in business circles, and a few business schools also have been wading into the topic of meditation through the leadership of professors like Ben Bryant at IMD, Bill George at Harvard, and Jeremy Hunter at the Drucker School of Management.

In my experience, though, most of today’s workers—and senior executives perhaps most of all—lack what they need, whether it’s meditation or a different approach, to balance and offset the demands of their “anywhere, everywhere” roles in today’s corporations. The famous hitter Ted Williams, at the conclusion of a long baseball season, used to go hunting and fishing to relax and recharge. Winston Churchill was an amateur painter who once said, “If it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t live. I couldn’t bear the strain of things.”

Most executives can’t disappear for long stretches to go fishing, and picking up painting sounds daunting. But they can use simple versions of proven meditation techniques to improve the quality of their lives, even if it’s only by increments. My purpose in this article isn’t to tell you whether, or how, to meditate; there are several flavors of meditation and I have only really ever tried the tradition of Vipassana. Instead, I will describe how it has helped me deal with three common challenges faced by leaders: email addiction, coping with disappointment, and becoming too insular.

Fighting email addiction

Compulsively checking email, particularly first thing in the morning, is probably the biggest affliction to grip the modern-day professional. This was also the productivity-destroying habit I had found hardest to shake off.

In the past, I would find it almost impossible to resist looking at messages as soon as I woke up between 6 and 7 a.m., my mind conditioned in a Pavlovian manner to keep doing it. Some messages came in overnight from other time zones; others might be truly pressing items that couldn’t wait. Many were nonurgent notifications and newsfeeds.

The impact of checking everything first thing was a combination of electronic overload, a heightened stress response to difficult messages (leading to knee-jerk replies), and, most seriously, a slower start to the morning’s activities. This welter of electronic communications consumed my mind’s energy. A curt or unpleasant email from someone important could easily affect my mood and get me off on the wrong foot with other, unconnected people, as I ruminated on whether a personal grievance or some other reason was responsible. The email habit started to feel like self-inflicted harm that I couldn’t avoid.

Through meditation, my self-awareness and self-regulation “muscles” have grown to the point where I now am better able, after a good night’s rest, to put the first several hours of my day to better use: toward meditating, exercising, writing, planning the day’s priorities, and other complex-thinking tasks that would likely be crowded out later. I have relegated my heavy emailing period to the post-dinner timeframe when my mind is typically sluggish and less productive. Also, taking the extra time to respond to emails has helped my responses be more considered and deliberate.

My new conditioning means colleagues know that I won’t always get back to every email first thing in the morning. This has stemmed the flow of overnight messages and served to alleviate anxiety and guilt over unanswered emails. Like everybody, I’m at constant risk of slipping back into old habits. I try to guard against this risk with the mental space I have recaptured for myself, motivating myself with the improvements I recognize in my personal and professional life that have occurred as a result of meditation.

Taking positives from the negative

Shortly after starting meditation five years ago, I vividly recall hearing that McKinsey had lost to one of our main competitors the opportunity to serve an important healthcare ministry. As lead partner on the negotiation, I’d spent months with colleagues from around the world developing what we thought was a compelling approach for helping the ministry.

My instinctive reaction in similar situations previously would have been a mix of deflation, disappointment, frustration, and even resentment towards competitors. Minimizing any damage to the firm—and containing the impact on my own standing and career—would have been uppermost in my mind.

I’m not saying I was completely free of those feelings this time around, either—but something was different. There was more space between me and the emotional reaction that I’d have had previously. I surprised myself by acknowledging to colleagues that the rival bid must really have been better, and I almost took some satisfaction from the competitor’s success. The win would admittedly allow them meaningful entry into a market that they had been pursuing for some time, but it would likely mean they would be a more rational competitor in the future. On reflection, I also felt genuinely happy for the clients, who I believed had run a fair and thorough process and had now found a well-qualified partner for this important assignment. I was aware that my own negativity hadn’t been magically removed from me by meditation, but I was able to respond in a more neutral manner and not allow myself or others to be consumed by it.

Focusing on others

Although meditation is a solitary act, it has helped me focus more on others as I shed some of my insecurities and redefined the way I make tough trade-offs. I used to feel insecure about being “left out” of certain meetings or discussions, thereby passing up opportunities to delegate. Similarly, when I faced dilemmas that required balancing conflicting interests, my dominant consideration was “What’s in it for me?”

Again, I wouldn’t say I’m now free of insecurity or self-interest. But regular meditation has helped me better identify those things that I truly need to be involved with and those that could carry on without my direct involvement. This has freed up a good 10 to 20 percent of productive time, and it has reduced my stress about not pulling my weight. It was also energizing for those who worked with me, as it allowed many of them to step up and take greater ownership and control. While all this might seem intuitive, it had eluded me before because of my insecurities and my lack of self-awareness with regard to my unconscious drives, and about how I was matching my energy level with productive uses of it. Meditation has made me more aware of these issues and, as I continue practicing, I’m hoping and expecting to access further levels of self-awareness and to make more progress toward letting go.

What’s also shifted is my definition of personal gain or loss. I still acknowledge the personal dimension, but I find myself slowing down, and reflecting on situations from more angles, including more of how the situation will affect other people or the environment in which we live, and of what’s right or fair. The impact of a decision on me personally is less of a yoke that makes the labor of assessing my choices exhausting or draining.

Instead, I find myself coming to “seemingly right” conclusions more nimbly than in the past. When I am able to avoid, or at least put in perspective, my previously perpetual orientation—“How does this serve my agenda?”—the “right” approach becomes relatively self-evident. This is liberating: it helps free me from the internal turmoil that used to arise when I tried to reverse engineer solutions that, first and foremost, served me.

At one point before beginning the practice of meditation, I had a renowned time-mastery coach assist me in rewiring my tendencies, including blocking off periods of the day for important strategic tasks. This advice, like Stephen Covey’s habits for personal effectiveness, which I have long admired, was elegant and highly appealing. Yet I found it puzzlingly inapplicable to high-intensity professional life and I rapidly fell back into old habits. I would often feel a sense of passively going through the day’s events rather than making active choices in the driver’s seat.

Post-meditation, I have experienced a real shift in how I focus my energies. Despite the same, if not greater, pressures at work, I am enjoying more control and a greater sense of purpose in my daily and weekly activities. I no longer take pride in the number and diversity of my appointments—even as I now have to be on guard for new ways pride can present itself.

I would sum up my experience in four words: observe more, react less. I try to observe myself more disinterestedly and to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the rush of incoming stimuli and to situations that seem negative. Even if I don’t always succeed, I am more easily able to identify my weaknesses: my sense of insecurity, addiction to short-term benefits, and overemphasis on process-driven results. That helps me work smarter and lead better toward longer-lasting achievements.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Sunshine Forever

What’s the weather going to be like?

In fact this is not a usual question about the sunshine, temperatures and the like. Rather, it is a question about your own state of being today as well as a projection of what it will be like tomorrow and the day after. One important skill to master in this regard is the understanding of environmental factors that affect how you feel.

Happiness is contagious and we all agree with that. And so is sadness. The environment around us, the people we mix with and their state of mind as well as the places we frequent all can have a direct and significant impact on how we feel.

Consider a fashionable café that is buzzing on a summer evening with people, with trendy music streaming into the open air. As you and your friend take a seat and order, you relax and are immediately drawn into the ambiance of the place. There is no one thing that really stands out, but it’s just the overall feeling of having a good time that is simultaneously shared among all those present that makes the place appealing to you. Even after you leave the café, that feeling of coolness stays with you for some time as you make your way home. What happened is that you simply picked up the atmosphere of the café, its vibe, and carried it with you.

Spending time in a group of high-minded and open-hearted people can also create a vibe that you can take with you. That vibe has a different set of characteristics. While still part of the feel-good category, it is of a different breed altogether. Its characteristics include tranquility, dynamism and peacefulness. They also include such amazing qualities as purity, joyfulness, determination and compassion. Many other beautiful qualities can be added to the mix, among them forgiveness, self-giving and aspiration.

All these high qualities do not mix well with the simple, feel-good variety that one can rather effortlessly pick up in a café around the corner. This is because they are of a subtler nature and take time and effort to cultivate, develop and express. They are like most beautiful flowers in an untended garden, even if the garden as a whole may look green and therefore perhaps pleasing to the eye overall. If the garden is well kept and the overgrown greenery trimmed, the real flowers move center stage and become even more admirable revealing their beauty to the fullest.

So to make a forecast of how you may feel tomorrow or the day after, what you could be doing instead is checking the kind of environment and people you plan to come in contact with. More proactively, however, rather than simply predicting your state of being, why not actively create it? You can specifically choose to clear your mind of anxiety, fear and other unwelcome feelings, while replacing them with the more positive ones, such as kind-heartedness, joy and courage. And if you can do so in an environment and with people which contribute to such elevated feelings, you will have inner sunshine all year round.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Aim Higher

Intent on buying a camera during a recent trip to a local electronics store, I was approached by a photography counselor working for a leading camera manufacturer. My interest was simply to buy an entry-level reflex camera allowing me to exercise some creativity during occasional picture taking.

Regardless, when compared to a professional photographer browsing through the high-end cameras on display and the intimidating amount of knowledge he or she would need to possess to make the right choice, you may say that I was simply out on a weekend shopping errand in the nearby grocery store looking for potatoes.

There are people and companies who are ready to pay lots of money for a great shot. There are dedicated websites on which one can post their precious photographic creations in the hope (for many) or in the certainty (for some) that a few of them will be auctioned off for a good price.

While talking to the photography counselor, who was extremely valuable in helping me clarify my priorities concerning a potential new purchase (in the end, potatoes are easy to sort out!), I became curious about his own pursuit of creative photography beyond the requirements of his job. Needless to say, the counselor possessed vast knowledge about photographic equipment and techniques and in my mind he could have easily taken and sold off many great shots via dedicated photographic websites.

To my surprise he said: “Well, there is no point, there are so many professional photographers out there who are surely better than me.”

It was difficult to believe what I heard! How could somebody whose job is to know everything about photography resign himself so fatalistically? How could one lack motivation to succeed in his chosen field, especially given that it was a field in which the counselor clearly excelled in?

Imagine Einstein giving up on physics, Picasso throwing away his brushes and Bill Gates deciding that there was no future for him in software programming.

And so it is with many of us. Easily discouraged and prone to intimidation, fearful of failure or simply lacking confidence in our own character and capacities, we may readily drift away from our own calling in life. Worryingly, there are budding Einsteins, Picassos and Gateses among us who will unfortunately remain unknown to the world.

But truly, we’ll never know unless we try. We’ll never know unless we try many times, over and over. We’ll never know unless we ask others for help. We’ll never know until we believe deeply and act unflinchingly on this belief. We’ll never know until we succeed – or don’t, before we start all over again.

___

Aim higher, because this gives the real spice to life.

Aim higher, because this makes you a hero, at least in your own eyes.

Aim higher, because this gives real satisfaction. To you, because you’ve gone farther than ever before. To others, because they see that more is not only possible, but also inevitable and desirable.

Aim higher, because this is what you deserve. Not because others so observe, but because this is how you can better serve, others included.

Aim higher to solidify your progress of the past, lest you feel it may not last.

Aim higher to open new opportunities and expand the horizons of your dreams.

Aim higher. Your new achievement will become the launching pad for a higher aim.

Aim higher, and higher, and higher.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

When Everything Feels Right

When you are happy and things just flow, everything feels right.

When you’ve just managed to be helpful to a stranger and the passers-by all smile at you, everything feels right.

When there is no worry about the past and no anxious anticipation of the future, everything feels right.

When just being in the present moment feels natural and simple, everything feels right.

When you are happy with who you are, not to mention who you are not, everything feels right.

When there is no need to prove anything to anyone, including yourself, everything feels right.

When the good and great ideas just dawn, necessary events unfold and intended outcomes just occur, everything feels right.

When life feels like a beautiful song, everything feels right.

What else happens when everything feels right?

You feel at peace with yourself and the world. You have no demands to anyone including yourself. The world may twist and turn, yet you remain serene.

You are an artist creating the most exquisite and unique work of art – that of your own life. If you are a true artist, you have no plan. Your work is flowing from inspiration, spontaneously and harmoniously. Something else is expressing itself through you and you readily and joyously let it do so. You may have a vision of what the final piece may be, but it is not your goal. It is the process of creative expression that absorbs and enchants you in the first place.

Ambition, hatred, fear and the feeling of superiority have no place in this creative process. Instead, freedom, universal love, faith and humility are overflowing from your creative endeavor.

Above all, having a strong inner sense that one has a calling in life, a mission of sorts, being well aware of it and being motivated to see it through to fruition, is by far the most essential ingredient.

Finally, knowing that you are in the right place, at the right time and in the right state of being, sets everything right from the very start. Having the sincere and unyielding confidence that things are the way they are supposed to be no matter what, is the most priceless thing one can ever have. How to acquire and experience such a thing? Meditation has the key.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

True to Yourself

Ron has had this nagging thought for some time, but it was only now that it has become all-consuming.

He thinks he is doing quite well in life, with some of his friends even being envious of his accomplishments. Yet, he himself does not feel satisfied. Something is telling him that he would need to change course, but he is not sure how or when.

It was just the other day at work when he realized that something must change. This realization came after he had talked to one of his colleagues, who shared her distaste with herself and the work she does. Well-educated, smart and sociable, Jil has grown disenchanted with the high-powered woman that her peers expect her to be. More than that, it is the painful division within herself between the person she wants to be and the person that she is expected to be that worries her the most.

It is not that she must be at times firm with her colleagues when a project starts falling behind schedule or that she must project a self-assured and know-it-all personality when interacting with her bosses that displeases her. At times such things are necessary. Above all, it is her feeling that her time could be better spent if she were to be just herself, spontaneous and enthusiastic at times, reserved and thoughtful at other times. She would be happy in her current work if only she could act as her true self rather than as an externally imposed personality.

Jil’s predicament resonated deeply with Ron’s own soul-searching mood. Should he continue in his current job? What about the many personal projects that he dreams of doing, but never finds the time to do them? How would his friends and relatives react when they find out that he made a major change in his life? Definitely, some very tangible and uneasy questions to meditate on.

Talking about meditation, he has heard earlier that meditation may help with re-orienting oneself in life, but also in choosing and setting life’s goals. Apparently, meditation can do much more than that, they say. It can help connect with a deeper reality of things. What would be really great, Ron thought to himself, is to become more aware of his own deeper aspirations and capacities so that he could charter a better course for himself. That had an enormous appeal to Ron, to say the least.

Meditation, he recalled, is something that is akin to unfolding from within rather than acquiring something from without. Practised daily for 10-20 minutes, it is like a torch light that illumines one’s inner realms. Meditation brings forth and reinforces one’s good qualities, allows to develop new positive qualities and helps one accept and deal with negative qualities. It is a gradual process that requires perseverance and takes time, but which unmistakably brings one to the cherished goal. Ultimately, meditation clears the way so that achieving worthy goals becomes easy and natural.

Especially at the beginning, meditation requires some expert guidance one can get from other meditators or from books. Later, meditation becomes an integral part of one’s daily life, blending into it smoothly and supporting it wonderfully. Ron decided that when he sees Jil next day at work, he would mention meditation to her and suggest that they both join a meditation course later in the week.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

The Magnificent You

What other better topic to consider than our magnificent selves?

There is no one smarter, more beautiful and more worthy than our unique self. It is thanks to our own efforts that we have become so. After all, we have spent our entire life studying and working, nurturing ourselves and experiencing life in all its aspects, and even sometimes suffering. What we are right now is the culmination of this superhuman effort with not much more left to add to it. We are now what we have ably made ourselves to be. Without any hesitation, we are perfect in almost every respect. Respect is the right word and the more of it we are shown, the better we feel.

But is this really so?

If we are to look very sincerely at ourselves (and it takes ruthless sincerity to do so) and into the depths of our being, we will surely note imperfections that are outright obvious. We may think of ourselves as being exceptionally kind, when in fact we silently harbor ill feelings towards others. We may believe we have a most beautiful voice only to find out later that many other singers have even sweeter voices. We may think that we possess other exceptional qualities only to become disappointed when seeing that others are endowed with better ones.

When looking within ourselves, what we may not see right away are more imperfections of the same or different kind, yet more subtly veiled. Thanking somebody profusely in front of others as a way to show off one’s magnanimity is one example. Engaging in charitable activities, even if of the greatest kind, in order to brag about them or utilize them for personal gain, is yet another example. Thinking about ourselves as being righteous in every way, while occasionally not paying a bus or a parking fare, is to perpetuate a darker side of ourselves. Preaching to others while not walking the talk ourselves does not help things either.

What is striking is our limited ability to see ourselves from aside. But that is exactly what would be needed if we are to notice, come to terms and then correct whatever needs correcting. If you know you have an enemy, if you know enough about how your enemy operates, you can eventually defeat it. The same applies to our own effort for personal improvement, with the enemy being the negative aspects of our own personality.

What is even more difficult is to place ourselves in somebody else’s shoes and look at the world through their eyes. Doing so not only requires an open mind, plenty of goodwill and some imagination, but also strength of character. Going beyond our own persona and the fortress-like defenses that it has surrounded itself with, and doing so of our own accord, is perhaps the only effective and permanent way of growing into a better you.

Only then perhaps we stand a chance. And what a chance it is when a regular meditation practice is the means through which we discover, explore and polish the rough edges of our being! No one has ever said it would be easy, but it is worth a sincere try. It won’t be long that a simple exercise in spring cleaning of the lesser known chambers of our character will create enough enthusiasm and turn into an earnest wish to rebuild the foundation of the entire house. With patience, perseverance and enthusiasm, such work of self-improvement through meditation can lead to very tangible and immensely satisfying results.

Why then try to remain superficially magnificent when becoming sincerely good and happy is what we must be aiming for?

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

On Purpose

It is extremely good to have a purpose – on purpose. A purposeful life avoids purposeless wonderings.

More seriously, a sense of purpose makes life meaningful. Specifically, it is the satisfaction of achieving a goal that translates into meaning, especially if the goal is an important one to ourselves.

Purpose also makes life more disciplined as we are less likely to waste our precious time on activities that do not help us get closer to our goal.

If there are several concurrent goals, the outcome may not be as easy to achieve or may not be as effective as if one single, overriding and clear goal were to exist.

A clear and well-defined goal allows us to concentrate on it effectively our energies and psychic intent. A concentrated flow of energy, like the concentration of a sun’s rays through a magnifying glass, can burn through any obstacles ensuring speedy and sure success.

The difference between someone who is driven by a purpose and someone who is just drifting along through life is stark. The former exudes confidence and is outright inspiring, while the latter is generally avoided by others.

To paraphrase a Zen Buddhist koan, if you do not have a goal, how will you know that you have reached it?

Not all goals are alike. Some goals are lofty and absolutely positive, while others – even if well-formulated and well-executed – are better left unexpressed.

 

In the business world, objectives must be SMART. In other words, they must be

(S)pecific (fuzzy objectives lead to blurry outcomes, if any),

(M)easurable (if they cannot be measured, it is difficult to know if they have been attained),

(A)ttainable (impossibly far-fetched objectives may never be achieved making the entire effort futile),

(R)elevant (this ensures that the objective is indeed meaningful, rather than merely achievable) and

(T)ime-bound (they must be at least attainable in our own lifetime!).

 

Unlike business goals which mostly deal with material or near-tangible outcomes such as customers served, items produced or profits earned, goals of psychic or spiritual nature are subject to a different set of characteristics.

When it comes to psychic goals, the vibe and the thrust of the goal is just as important as the goal itself. A goal that is humanitarian in nature is worth more than an ordinary goal no matter how otherwise admirable the latter appears to be. This is because we as human beings attach more importance to the value of human life and its related aspects (hence the real fear of losing it) than we do to other kinds of goals.

Also, it is not only what is being done to achieve the goal but also how it is being done. A selfless, joyful and devoted attitude adds immensely to the ultimate value of the goal itself and greatly amplifies the satisfaction that follows its attainment.

Importantly, the purity and strength of the motivation that underlies the goal is of paramount importance. An otherwise worthy goal can yield half-hearted results if the motivation behind it lacks dynamism and is of questionable virtue.

 

A psychic goal should be of the SOULFUL kind. It should aim at the

(S)upreme or the highest plane of consciousness. It should be

(O)pen-minded and free of any egotistical constraints. It should be

(U)nifying in the sense that it must hold everything together at its core. It should be

(L)oving in its nature as it leads us to the final destination. It should be

(F)ulfilling in all the aspects of one’s being. It should be

(U)universal in its reach and all-encompassing in its application. And finally it should be

(L)iberating us from the tentacles of ignorance, the only thing that truly holds us back.

 

A SOULFUL goal is also a SACRED one. It is

(S)elfless as it does not imply pursuit of self-interest,

(A)spirational in that it originates in the depths of one’s inner cry and leads us beyond our self-imposed boundaries,

(C)ompassionate because it embodies the same quality plus forgiveness of the universal self,

(R)enewable because it always evolves as it draws on the limitless source of the universal energy,

(E)ternal because it originates in the ineffable beyond, and

(D)evotional, divine and delightful because it acts as a magnet drawing the highest closer to the aspirant.

 

A psychic goal can also be SMART, but in a different way than a business goal is. It is

(S)oulful rather than specific,

(M)anifestable rather than measurable,

(A)bsolute and not just attainable,

(R)eceptive rather than relevant and

(T)ranscendent rather than time-bound.

 

(S)oulful, because it comes from the depths of our soul and carries the most sacred of qualities,

(M)anifestable because it has to be manifested to the world to become visible so that it can be appreciated,

(A)bsolute because once attained it becomes one’s all-fulfilling possession,

(R)eceptive because to give one needs to receive first and

(T)ranscendent because it must by far surpass all previous achievements.

 

So let’s then be spiritually SMART and follow SOULFUL and SACRED goals, all the time.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Intelligence or Something Else?

Intelligence, they say, is what distinguishes a human being from an animal. Intelligence, as manifested in human beings, the argument goes, is the crowning achievement of evolution. According to this thinking, intelligence is where nature’s evolution of species ends and there is nothing breakthrough that can come forward anymore.

And what if this is not the end? What if this is just the beginning of something else? Hard to imagine for most of us, but this is what distinguished spiritual figures have asserted thousands of years ago and continue to say to this very day.

For most of us who are often entangled in the crushing routine of daily chores with its (momentary) ups and (uninvited) downs it is a utopian thought that defies belief. How else could one react to something that is not yet known to oneself and hardly ever observable in others? How could one relinquish relying on the only superior tool (or so we think) that nature was kind enough to bestow on human beings in order to deal with the constant challenge of survival?

But wait! What if there is a chance, however slim it may be, that there indeed may be something else around the evolutionary corner that is humanity’s next and already beckoning destination? What if there is a tool, a method, a door, a key or a map that can open, clear or point the way?

Throughout our own lives we have all relied heavily on our own as well as collective intelligence in a never-ending effort to come closer to the elusive goal of enduring and all-encompassing happiness. After all, this is why scientific institutions exist and why university education is so much prized. But has the level of general happiness increased? Are the richest of people truly happy? Why are there wars despite a massive increase in collective intelligence, undoubtedly a déjà vu if we are to learn anything from history?

Perhaps, intelligence (just like money) has little to do with true happiness. Perhaps, something else is needed. This is not to say that education is not needed or that technological progress is to be shunned. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong place, employing means that are not appropriate to the task at hand, while being uncontrollably driven by a chimerical notion of the end result.

What if the end result were to be re-defined as being content and at peace with oneself and the world at large, no matter what? What if happiness were to do more with having less of material wealth and more of the inner wealth? What if a truly evolved being were to be one with a markedly evolved soul, lofty ideas and ideals and less one who hankers for egotistic pursuits?

How does one evolve one’s soul? Through meditation, this is what the meditation masters have been telling us all along.

How long does it take? As long as needed.

What is the role of the mind and human intelligence? To assist with the provision of the basic daily needs for ourselves and others, while clearing the way for the soul to come forward.

Intelligence or something else then? Something else, then intelligence.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Meditation Is Cool

Meditation is cool. It really is.

Fifteen years ago when I first started to meditate, it felt like something beyond reach for us, the mere mortals, that only seriously minded individuals would practice. Meditation also seemed complicated in the sense that you are not supposed to do anything and at the same time something was supposed to be happening. And then there were all the do’s and dont’s — sit straight, keep your mind under control, eat this or do not eat that, not to mention the many approaches to meditation that exist.

As I look back, I am surprised at how simple meditation can actually be. It also amazes me how such a simple thing as meditation can change one’s life – only for the better.

I wake up in the morning. I meditate. I do my physical workout and then prepare for the day. I come back home in the evening. I try to find a few minutes to meditate again. My day has a start I can effortlessly control – my morning meditation. My day has a natural transition and ending point – my evening meditation. I am confidently in control throughout.

Before learning how to meditate, I simply used to be going about doing my daily duties. Now there is more. There is a time in the morning when I am with myself, consciously with myself. It’s neither sleeping nor working. It’s just being with myself. In the evening, the experiences collected during the day are put to rest. All extraneous mental and emotional weight is acknowledged and let go of. I am with myself again.

And then, without first noticing, there is the miracle of seeing over time results without caring for them. Here’s a useful analogy. Try to bring before your mind’s eye the image of a bird’s nest. What is it made of? Essentially, it consists of small pieces of wood, straw, dried offshoots and some sticky material like soil or clay. So what? Well, consider the constraints a small bird like a sparrow has to face: a small beak, no arms, not much strength. Yet, despite her smallness, it manages to build a nest for herself and her family to last a lifetime.

What’s the bird’s secret? Perseverance and focused repetitive behaviour consisting of hundreds and thousands of trips to locate, collect and bring the needed building material to the construction site of the nest. Tedious and boring? Maybe. Successful, useful and practical? You bet!

Meditation can be likened to a sparrow’s effort to build a nest. Meditating once a month would not amount to much, although it is better than not doing it at all. At this rate of progress, it would take many generations of sparrows to complete the nest. If they can survive many winters without a nest, that is.

Meditating every day, on the other hand, can make a world of difference in a relatively short span of time. You may or may not notice it yourself simply because of the habit of being with yourself at all times. Not so for others, who will notice the change or will see something special in you that they normally do not see otherwise. Being complimented on your ability to maintain your calm in the midst of a challenging situation or spontaneously exhibiting unconditional goodwill to people who do not expect it are just insignificant by-products of a major transformative cycle of personal growth you have embarked upon.

I just cannot stop being amazed at how cool and simple meditation is.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Quantum Meditation

Few would have suspected this, but meditation is a great way to experience firsthand quantum physics at work. Especially in group meditations, the individual aspiration and expansion of consciousness grow exponentially compared to what it could have been had the individual meditated alone. Even better, this expansion takes place wirelessly, so to speak, without the meditators in the group having to speak to each other a single word!

In classical marketing, when 1+1 becomes 3 or more, this is referred to as the halo effect. A synergistic effect is created when marketers promote one product, with tangible marketing benefits also extending to other related products. On the internet a similar effect is achieved through social media when a message posted on Twitter or Facebook, for example, and addressed to only a few individuals goes viral and reaches an audience of thousands.

This is not to say that all meditations should be done in a group. Far from it. Most of the time one should meditate individually on a regular basis. This allows to create first a solid foundation from which one can later venture into farther and higher territory. Individual meditations are essential if one is to benefit from group meditations.

Group meditations are like a great feast for one’s inner being. They create variety but also reinforce ones inner strength. Individual meditations are like regular training sessions, while group meditations are like competitive events during which one discovers that he can go faster, farther, higher and deeper. One cannot have a feast every day nor can one afford to compete at maximum capacity daily.

Mantras are sacred, specially designed, sounds and incantations, which allow a meditator to transcend one’s own nature thus opening the way to fruitful meditations. For this reason and thanks to the mystical synergy thus created, chanting mantras or singing devotional songs in a group is a very beneficial thing to do.

In an old parable, a king following a dream asked his subjects to create a pond full of milk rather than water. A big area was thus dug up for the occasion and every subject had to bring milk and pour it into the pond. When the king looked at the pond, the pond was full of water rather than milk. It turned out that each subject of his thought that if he were to pour water instead of milk into the otherwise milky pond, no one would have noticed the difference!

While group meditations are true occasions for strength-building and self-transcendence, it is very important that each individual meditating in a group maintains a regular individual meditation practice at home. Otherwise, instead of drinking nourishing milk, one would trade water for water!

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.

Is thinking meditation?

Perhaps, for many of us, but otherwise definitely not.

“I think, therefore I am”, said Descartes. “I meditate, therefore I truly am”, say we.

The main benefit of meditation is that it takes us outside the realm of the mind and therefore outside the realm of thoughts. It encourages us to seek a pristine place inside ourselves untouched by daily worries and anxieties, desires and ambitions. Meditation is therefore the opposite of thinking.

Thinking can be of two kinds. One is willed and conscious thinking that helps us deal with a particular task or idea before us. This kind of thinking is needed and helpful. The second kind is erratic, disorganized, uncontrolled and, frankly, a gibberish type of thinking that has no conscious purpose. It goes without saying that this kind of thinking is unhelpful in the very least. We often tend to experience the latter more often than the former.

Thinking is a thief. It steals from us three things. One is time. The other is energy. The third is spontaneous joy.

Thinking is often a burden. This is because rational thinking, not to mention irrational thinking, may miss the point. One buys a car to gain greater freedom of movement (a rational goal), but increasingly gets stuck in traffic and gets to suffer from pollution that his and other cars generate (an irrational outcome). Or one accumulates wealth in order to feel at ease in life without realizing that constant worry about the value and security of his riches undermine the very comfort he seeks.

Because of that, thinking is perhaps our own most formidable enemy. Equally, because of that, thinking, controlled and enlightened thinking, is perhaps our own most precious friend.

Thinking, especially concentrated and collective thinking, creates what we call reality. A national identity, a company culture or an individual character are forms of concentrated thinking that have set into certain patterns and grooves over a long enough period of time, have become easily recognizable and thus have given a nation, a company or an individual its defining traits. A prosperous nation, a successful company or a remarkable individual is one that has done better and more concentrated thinking than another.

How to become a better thinker? The way to become a better thinker is to become a better meditator. When the room is spacious, well lit and tidy, and the items inside it are organized, one can easily find the right item and move it around as needed. Because great thinking is about finding the right ideas and making the right connections between them, developing a mind that is orderly is key to becoming a great thinker. Meditation creates the spacious, illumined and pure environment inside ourselves for the mind to unclutter and organize itself – naturally.

The difference between a mentally ill patient and a healthy individual is very subtle and precarious. One is controlled by aberrant thinking, while the other happens to have somewhat more mastery over his own thoughts and mind. Also, as modern medicine demonstrates, psychological blocks that originate in deeply ingrained thinking patterns are the cause of psychosomatic illnesses manifesting themselves in the physical body.

Bad thoughts are contagious and so are good thoughts. Replace bad thoughts with good thoughts and the world around will also change to reflect your enlightened way of thinking.

Thoughts are like clouds in the sky. Worries and negative thoughts resemble dark and heavy clouds, while inspiring and positive thoughts resemble white and light clouds. Genuine meditation is like the vast blue sky without any trace of a cloud, dark or white, in its firmament.

Be careful what you wish for. Be careful what you think of.

 

For more articles on integrating meditation into the present-day lifestyle and for more information on starting a meditation practice of your own, visit www.GenevaMeditation.ch.