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Zen and the Art of Entrepreneurship

Practical meditation tips for busy people and why the new person might have the most important perspective in the room.

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One of the most important books I’ve read is called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I’ll give you a short summary of the book, from the book: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. The entire goal of Zen according to Suzuki is to remain a perpetual beginner. Zen is all about living (actions) and less about life (ideas/interpretations about living). So, why should someone strive for the perspective of the beginner? Beginners are eager, inexperienced, patient, curious, creative, and open-minded. They aren’t yet stuck in habitual patterns; they are free in ways that the experienced person is not. When you started your business, you were a beginner too. 

Related: 7 Proven Ways Meditating Prepares You for Success

Entre means to enter, begin, start. Pre means before. Neur is related to nerves, as in neurological. Essentially, the word entrepreneur means to enter something before you allow your mind to make you nervous; to dive in with both feet before you second guess yourself. To be an “entrepreneur” is to be living in a state of Zen. The word entre-pre-neur broken down in this way is, in essence, the goal of Zen. Whatever state of mind you were in when you had the audacity to think your idea was good enough to succeed was a state of Zen. To live in a state of Zen is to deny the mind its interpretations of reality and simply live reality, from moment to moment. It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. Over time, the same Zen state of mind which was the creative impetus to start the business has been altered by a whole mess of problems related to being a business owner. The honeymoon period is over, and the excitement slowly fades. It has officially become work.

“We shall not cease from exploration 

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.” 

—from "Little Gidding" by T.S. Eliot

Beginners take nothing for granted, while experienced people tend to overlook everything which has become ordinary. I bet there is a stapler or something at your desk which has been there for years and you don’t even notice it. Every day you look at it, but you don’t actually see it. The word ‘discriminate’ means to notice differences. The human mind is built to notice differences, so the simple fact that the stapler is always there is why you stop taking notice of it. However, if someone were to move it, suddenly you’d notice. We take so much for granted simply because it becomes routine and ordinary. When we get used to doing things in a certain way, stagnation occurs. Stagnation is the enemy of creative thinking.  

We all see life through a lens that is colored by our experiences. Significant experiences (or lack thereof) both positive and negative change the way we perceive reality. We all have a subjective experience of an objective reality, and no one is free of this. One definition of enlightenment is simply seeing things just as they are, without bringing our experiences and interpretations. One metaphor for the practice of meditation is a bathroom mirror collecting dust. Day in and day out, dust collects on the mirror. When the mirror gets too dusty it starts to distort reality. Meditation is the process of cleaning the mirror every day so that we can see everything the mirror reflects as it really is. Experiences can accumulate just like dust on the mirror. They can serve us or cause clutter in our minds, or both. If you are an entrepreneur, a business owner, or an aspiring entrepreneur, I would argue that you are already living in a state of Zen. 

Related: Why Meditation Works Wonders for Better Workplace Productivity

A brand new mirror hasn’t had time to collect dust. This is why the newest member of your team may have the most important perspective. Beginners don’t know enough to be nervous about all that could go wrong. They take nothing for granted and they see things from a different perspective. Wait about two weeks for them to get acclimated and meet personally with each new person at your company. It will be well worth your time. Furthermore, they will be honored by the opportunity and will feel valued. As you are speaking with them, simply ask them what they’ve noticed so far and if there are any changes they’d make to the way things are done, set up, systems, etc. Encourage them to speak freely and remind them that you are asking to make sure things haven’t gotten stagnant. I think you’ll be surprised at the perspective they bring and the information they provide. 

How does one change their perspective, even momentarily? Well, the solution is probably what you’ve all been guessing. Get yourself a rubber band. Get yourself a rubber band and put it on the wrist of your non-dominant hand. Throughout the day, when you see the rubber band and are conscious of it, simply pause. Let the rubber band serve as a reminder of your new goals. If your goal is to gain the perspective of a beginner, simply allow your focus to shift and pretend you know nothing. Pretend it's your very first day at work, and you’re still a bit wet behind the ears. The next time you walk to your desk, look at everything. Take the time to stop and look at what’s around you and you’ll notice all the things which normally go unnoticed. This perspective shift may seem like a waste of precious time, but it will prove immensely valuable to your creativity in regard to solving problems and combating the stagnation we are all subject to.  

Related: Why Guided Meditation is Essential For Every Entrepreneur

If your goal is a practical application of meditation, pause when you see your rubber band and take three slow, deep (diaphragmatic) breaths. You’ll soon realize that there is always time for three breaths. The world won’t stop spinning if we stop to take three breaths. Problems won’t actually pile up in the 10 seconds it takes to consciously breathe three times. I’ve taught meditation to beginners and the most common problems I hear are the following: “It just doesn’t work for me” or “I don’t have enough time.” The problem was almost always the same when I asked them to elaborate on their experience. They downloaded an app and hoped for the best, or they set unrealistic expectations for themselves. Imagine going in for surgery from a surgeon who was self-taught, using an app. You’d be terrified! If a personal trainer wanted to start you out by running half marathons, you’d never go back. Yet, we attempt to sit and meditate for 10 or 20 minutes, in an uninterrupted way, on the first try. We expect something to happen or to clear our minds. That’s just not how meditation works. It takes years to sit and meditate in a relatively uninterrupted manner. In this case, the expectations dictate reality, and the results are rather undesirable. I was taught using this rubber band method and not only was it successful but I have since used it to change other habits. I was wearing a rubber band on my wrist for over a year before I actually started to sit down and “meditate.” I was meditating all along, but doing it throughout the day in a more manageable way. Several years later I was teaching people how to meditate. So, whether you’ve never tried to meditate or if you’ve tried and “failed”, try again. This time you will go into the practice equipped with the practical tips and more realistic expectations I’ve outlined in this article. And remember: Meditation is not about achieving anything. There are no goals. The experience itself is the goal. If you’re doing it right, the more you learn, the more you’ll feel like a beginner. Oh, and I’d highly recommend you wear the rubber band in the shower or you might forget to put it back on.