Three weeks ago I returned from a solo, twenty six day retreat in the Amazon jungle of Peru. I traveled 24 hours by plane, car, and then boat up the river to the lodge where I stayed. I slept in a thatched roofed hut and ate a very strict diet; no salt, coffee, alcohol, red meat, spices, oil or sugar. There was no internet, nor electricity; a generator ran for a couple hours each evening. This trip was the latest step for me in a self improvement journey that began twenty years ago. During the retreat, I spent most of my time alone. I worked with the shamans, took native plant medicines, and meditated. Without any way to distract myself from my thoughts, it was difficult physically, spiritually and mentally. It was also one of the most life changing experiences.
When I returned from this trip, the reintegration process was just as difficult as the trip itself. I realized I was living two different lives; the life of my design and product development career and the life of my self-development and spiritual journey. I also realized that they should not be separate, as the concepts and insights I have learned from the self development journey should be the foundation for all aspects of my life, including my business.
Let’s be clear, my self-development journey has taken me to some extreme ends, from fully immersive five day long “mental boot camp” like courses, to ancient plant medicines with Shamans in the jungle, multiple times, and everything in between. This level of self-development work has led me to the same conclusions. The basis for everything I do in life needs to include self love, love for others, non-judgment and developing solutions that are mutually beneficial to all involved. Without these things in place, I may be monetarily successful but I won’t be fulfilled. Conversely, I may be fulfilled but struggle to reach my financial or career goals. Or, if I benefit myself at the expense of others, eventually it will come back to bite me.
There was some fear at first when considering fully merging these two separate areas of my life. On the surface they seem so different from each other. How could they possibly merge together as one? The reality is, they have been overlapping for years already. I have been taking knowledge learned in my self-development journey and using it in all aspects of my life, including business.
Here are some highly beneficial things I have learned in twenty years of internal growth and how they apply to great business practices.
We all win or eventually we all lose – Years ago in a self development course we played a game. The object was to win as much money from the banker as possible. The group was divided in two and separated. Over ten rounds each team could choose either X or Y. If X was chosen, both teams received the same amount of money. If Y was chosen, one team got more money, and the other lost money. The way to win the game? Getting the most money from the bank was for both teams to always choose X for each of the 10 rounds. We failed at the game because we chose Y. We got more money than the other team but failed on the real objective. The world is a perfect mirror to this game right now. The only eventual success for us is if we all succeed. The world needs more win-win solutions in many different areas. When the entire world is lifted out of poverty and lack, we all win.
No problem was ever really solved by ignoring it or trying to contain it. Pollution and disease on the other side of the world will eventually make it to you. But just like the game, if we focus on the bigger goal, the right decisions can be made and the right solutions appear.
We only create in the present – There is no past or future, other than in our thoughts. Thinking about the past keeps us there and our thoughts of the future eventually create that reality. The only time we are in top creative and peak performance is when we are fully present, in the only time there is, now. If we approach our work with a heavy mind, focused on past mistakes or future problems, there is no way we can be innovative. We only rehash old ideas, feel stuck, frustrated and tired. Being totally in the present is invigorating and allows infinite creativity to flow through us. I have learned this truth from the creative process over the years. Truly innovative and creative ideas come when we are fully present. Worry, stress, thoughts of the past or future, judgment, negativity keeps us out of the all powerful present.
Past and future are concepts of the ego, whose goal is to influence us to do things the same as we have always done, meaning no change and no growth. Real connection and trust with others is only built when we are present. The solutions the world really needs will be created by many people working together at their highest level. But, if you just want to start by performing better at your current job, try keeping your mind in the present moment and see how much better you perform.
Self Love, love for others and for what we do is essential – I learned the magnitude of the importance of self love one night while taking plant medicine. During the ceremony, I felt the most alone I have ever felt in my life. It was so extreme I felt like I was dying. I felt like I had nothing and no one at that moment. It completely encompassed me. I also was in excruciating physical gut pain. At the moment I thought, I can take it no longer”, all the loneliness and pain vanished. All I felt was the most amazing love. It was a level of love so complete, I struggle to describe it in words. I realized in that moment, the pain and aloneness were illusions that covered up the love in me; the love that we all have access to within us. That love will not fight to been seen, we have to go look for it beyond the illusions of our mind.
This love is required in business, desperately. It is when we are in this state that creative solutions flow, we do our best work, we motivate and inspire others and others want to work with us. We have all been around people that love themselves, others and life which, in turn, helps us to feel great. They lift us up. That is the power of love. There is no blame, no judgment. Things get done and they get done right. Imagine your entire team functioning at that level!
Stress and fear start in the mind – After about eight days of being mostly alone in the jungle, I started to panic. The sun went down around 6pm each night and the mosquitoes came out. After dinner, the best place to be and not get bitten, was on my bed under the mosquito net. It was hot and a little bit claustrophobic for me. The fear that I just wasn’t going to make it 26 days surfaced in my mind. I felt the panic, and then was immediately aware of the thought that caused it. That awareness caused the fear to just vanish.
Often, our thoughts can create a corresponding feeling in the body and then the body, in turn, can trigger the mind to think the thought. It can become a vicious cycle of the body and mind. In this state, we become reactive to situations in our life; the mind and body, already on high alert and ready to act in a preprogrammed way; definitely not an example of living in the present. Stress also can be caused by thoughts. Those thoughts can manifest as body aches and pains. I saw how my own thoughts had been causing my massive neck and back pains along with migraine headaches. Awareness is a major key to mastering our thoughts. When we do that we become powerful creators and leaders.
Energy is real, I mean really real – We have all had a massage and after they tell us to drink lots of water and take it easy. Sometimes it can even feel like we are getting a cold. That is because the massage moved energy in the body and as that energy is released. Sometimes it doesn’t feel good. In my recent retreat, I felt how powerful moving energy can be. I have internally stored grief and self criticism in my life. These are feelings I had but never dealt with effectively. I knew I was repressing these feelings, I just didn’t think it mattered all that much. By the time I realized how wrong I was, I was clueless on how to deal with this repressed energy. Well, the shamans in the jungle know how to release trapped energy. I literally felt flu-like sickness for over twenty four hours, as my body purged deeply stored emotions. What we don’t deal with will eventually, deal with us. Storing up negative feelings has a heavy price when it comes due. We are energetic beings and our energy is felt by others; both the bad and the good.
We learn most effectively through feeling - I mean really learn; the type of learning that stays with us and makes real lasting change. These real learning moments are sometimes called peak emotional experiences. It can happen in a second or take a long time, but when we feel something to a great degree; it can make a drastic change in us. We probably all have an experience like this where an event happened and it affected us so strongly that we never forgot it. This happens to us a lot more than we may realize. We have experiences all the time and they affect us. Why not be more proactive about creating the peak emotional experience that we want, not just accept the ones we don’t want? During some of the immersive courses I have taken, along with this latest trip to the Amazon and plant medicine, I felt these lessons, sometimes over and over until it changed my actual thoughts.
This definitely applies to business. How many of us have been subjected to the Power Point show that seemed to never end and lacked all feelings. Getting others to feel the message we are giving is crucial to getting buy in and team support. This can be done in many ways, even subtle ones. You don’t have to break out in tears to make others feel your point. The point remains, when others are emotionally involved in what we say, they remember it and are more likely to support our goals.
The message here is that everything we do is connected. Trying to compartmentalize our lives, this is work, this is family, this is my time, this is a hobby, and where we are happy and fulfilled in some and not others only seems to fracture us. We can still have all these separate parts of our lives, but the true foundational principles apply to them all. If we are miserable or unhappy in one area of life, it is going to spill over and affect everything else, eventually. As I start to really learn this, my life is coming together and I begin to feel the true sense of calm, love and fulfillment.
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