Bear with me here, this is going to sound a little strange, especially for a business blog, but I promise you there is a very powerful lesson to be found within these words – powerful for business success too.
Last night (as I write this article) I found myself sitting down on the floor in a half circle of people facing some musical instruments that were waiting patiently for their musician masters to come and start playing. I was told that I was attending a “Kirtan Session” with David Stringer and there would be chanting involved.
My immediate response when I found out where I was going was – “Will I have to chant?”
I’ve chanted before, a couple of times at least, at the end of yoga sessions at some of the more eastern-philosophy yoga schools I’ve attended. They’ve always been very short experiences, made more comfortable due to the preceding yoga workout and its mellow effects. During chant time I’d lightly sing along, enough to be included with the group, but not loud enough for anyone to notice.
You don’t need a good singing voice for chanting mind you, and it’s certainly not about performance quality, rather wholehearted participation is the main criteria, but let’s just say I try and avoid using my voice for anything other than talking. I was cast as the voice-over guy in my grade school musical and there was a reason I wasn’t singing.
So, I find myself sitting on the floor of a yoga studio on a Wednesday night in anticipation of my first Kirtan session. The musicians sit down, David Stringer the lead singer…err…chanter starts talking about chanting, a projector fires up with some decidedly yogic words lighting up the wall above the musicians, and the chant begins.
The leader begins by chanting the words, which are very simple, usually two to four words repeated over again in basic sequences. Then the audience (including the other musicians) chants the words and then back to the leader, then to the rest of us again, and back to the leader, and so on.
The whole processes is driven by the music and the leader, with the pace increasing, different inflections and melodies help make it interesting, but essentially you are chanting the same words over and over again.
And yes, I had to chant.
The crowd, clearly, was not adverse to chanting. This was a group of people who, besides a few men who looked way out of their comfort zone, were there to chant, and chant they did.
At first I began cautiously, singing along and assimilating the experience. I started to get more comfortable and relax into it. After saying the same phrases over and over again for a good 20 minutes I started to wonder when it would end. I craved new words to chant, and even with the changes of pace and the pleasant voice of David, I was getting bored.
Thankfully the first “song” ended and we moved on to new chants, interspersed with spiritual wisdom that you can only get from the yogi universe (I lap this stuff up), dispersed by David, our chanting leader.
David is clearly a fellow who passionately experiences the Kirtan session. Just watching his face during the chanting was uplifting and I felt his love for what he was doing and our participation with him. It helped that the guy has a great voice too.
The night continued enjoyably enough, but then something amazing happened. We started a chant that had a little magic in it.
I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that this particular chant had transitions, which were beautifully orchestrated by the musicians and David, akin to a hook in your favorite song. It was addictive, energizing to the point of euphoria, leading one lady to stand up and just start dancing around the room.
By this time I had fully embraced the chant and I was having a wonderful experience. Although I’m pretty sure I mispronounced the words, the beat, the group voice, the rhythm and flow – and this was a chant of literally two lines of three different words rearranged in different sequences – was powerful.
I mentioned the idea of the Flow-State in my previous article on the Inner Game. To be in flow-state is to be completely lost in your present activity. You lose track of time, your mind becomes fully immersed in what you are doing and you no longer think of the past or the future. Engagement is complete.
Since publishing that article I’ve had people tell me they experience the flow during all kinds of experiences, from driving cars fast, to playing sports, writing, reading, painting and playing music.
Upon reflection after my Kirtan session, I realized, because I was fully engaged with the chant I was attempting to sing and as I was carried along by the music and my fellow chanters, I was present in the moment for large chunks of the evening. Boredom, as I initially felt during the first chant, disappeared completely. I was in the now.
Unlike passively observing musicians or singers, or listening to music on your own, where your attention tends to waver, because I had to participate in the chant, I became extremely present. Music is powerful, and even when you are just listening to something you love you can experience amazing moments, but as a person who has never sung, it was incredible to experience what it’s like to be part of the music and not just the listener.
If you’re a student of Eckhart Tolle’s work on presence and being in the now, and thanks to Oprah, half the female population in America should be (if you like Eckhart’s work, definitely check out the ten part New Earth series he did with Oprah, it’s free), then you can no doubt see the influence of his ideas on what I’ve written about my chanting experience.
Last week (as I write this article) I attended a two-hour seminar presented by Eckhart. The auditorium was full of at least 2,000 people in my hometown of Brisbane, who had come to hear him speak.
I’m not the type of person to hero worship. I don’t identify with Eckhart as some kind of saint, however I sure was interested to see and listen to him talk in the flesh, if for nothing more than to experience what it is like to be in the presence of someone who is self realized to the level he is, and enhance my awareness of the message he teaches.
I see Eckhart Tolle as a conduit for raising awareness of some very powerful ideas and concepts, and ultimately the practice of being in the now without thought. You have to be careful not to attach yourself to these ideas or the person delivering them (that’s the last thing Eckhart would suggest). Experience them, ask yourself whether it resonates with you and take on board what is helpful. For me, his message of the now and looking for the “space between thoughts” has been a great curiosity, so I continue to study what he teaches.
Rumor has it that Eckhart doesn’t have a prepared presentation when he does these seminars. He sits down, starts talking, and then two hours later stops. I believe that, because during the presentation Eckhart stated that he was acting as a listener to what he was saying as well, since he didn’t know what was coming next.
I’m capable of doing the same style of presenting when talking about Internet marketing and the subjects of this blog. I have an idea of what I want to talk about, but the specific words I say are just as new to me when I say them as they are new to the audience listening in. This style of teaching is very much in the now and of course fits very nicely with the whole idea of what Eckhart teaches.
Presence delivers the most powerful message. Anyone who’s tried to be creative while multi-tasking will be able to back me up on that statement. You can’t write a blog post while checking your email, cooking lunch and listening to a podcast. You need to focus, be in the now, and let the words flow from you without distraction.
As for where exactly creativity comes from, I’m still not convinced whether it’s the collective experience of the conscious mind pulling on past events to deliver the creative output, or some kind of universal energy that simply uses the human as the conduit, as per the Eckhart Tolle presentations.
I’m inclined to believe it’s both – we use our collective knowledge and experience to help deliver a message, but some things we just “know” and understand without being conscious of where the idea came from (a universal truth). You can see proof of this whenever you listen to a spiritual leader teach, or anyone for that matter, and you just know what he or she is saying is right, yet you have no physical grounds to base it on. That “knowing” has to come from somewhere.
If I’ve totally confused you with this talk of where creativity comes from, then you need to watch this short video from author Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED presentation. She discusses where “Genius” comes from, and speculates on the idea that it’s not the person that is the genius, but some kind of external energy separate from the body, that fuels creative output.
Being present has always proved beneficial to me. Truth be told, there is nothing but the present moment of course, but our mind is a great database, so we find it easy to pull up data from our previous experiences and refer back to it with our thoughts.
The past can be a place of loss, looking at what we once had and no longer have (youth, beauty, someone we loved, something we loved, an experience we can’t have anymore, etc). That sense of loss causes sadness, it places an attachment on something that no longer exists and as a result creates a stress point in our lives. This is an inevitable outcome if you exist in what used to be and compare it to what is. Ultimately that’s a choice we make based purely on how we think and view the world.
We all refer to the “past” every day, and unfortunately it’s the source of much of our limiting beliefs. As I wrote in the article – How To Find The Courage To Change By Raising Your Awareness – if you base everything you are trying to do now on what you have achieved previously, then you’re stuck. In order to move forward you have to believe it’s possible, regardless of your lack of previous results, and then take the actions to make it happen.
Eben Pagan introduced a great idea in his Wake Up Productive course, what he calls “inevitability thinking”. The basic premise is that because of the framework you build in your life to create the conditions right to meet your goals, it’s inevitable that it will happen. You are so aligned with what you are working towards, that it feels like a forgone conclusion for you, and when your mind believes this, half the battle is already won. It’s a nice self-fulfilling belief structure, aided by your efforts to change the external reality you exist in every day to support your goals.
The great thing about Eben’s strategy is that it forces you to focus on what matters now. You work on creating the foundation for what you want without referring to the past for anything but good ideas. You draw on your strengths developed previously in order to go to work building new strengths. Through the use of rituals, improved thought processes and following what has worked for others, you can achieve what you set your mind to, regardless of where you are coming from.
The past can be a place of regrets, of belief structures and conditioning that holds you back. It can also be a place of strength, of resilience and power, depending on how you look at it.
In my life, most of my suffering has come about because of looking at what I want in the future and seeing the lack of it in my present and my past. I assess what I don’t have now and what I can’t do now, see what I want, and then feel despair at the incongruity and frustration at my inability to make what I want happen now.
As business people we are always planning what comes next. That can be healthy and effective, when you look at it from the mind of what you have to do now and what little achievements you can enjoy immediately that take you closer to the big goal.
Unfortunately, especially after some time spent working towards a goal without feeling much progress towards it, what you want to be can become a source of agitation and suffering. There’s a fine line between using goals as motivation compared to attaching yourself to something you want so badly that you suffer when it is not there.
Ultimately much of the discussion of the past and the future is about how you frame your present. We can choose how we perceive reality and call upon whatever we want to think and believe at any time. Looking to what we might loose from the past or what we might miss out on in the future, is a sure fire way to create suffering.
You can use what you have been through in your past as the strength to make the future great. You can look at the future as something exciting and derive much positive motivation from it. However, most of the time we are fooling ourselves because we live in the present reality. Our mind can use the past and future as anchors or propellers, depending on how we decide to view the world, but reality will always “be” the same.
In my experience, most thoughts of the future and the past tend to create distractions that can be either pleasant or painful.
If my goal is to actually do something, to create something or experience something, then I benefit from being in the now. Any thoughts outside of what I am doing in the present diminish my ability to enjoy the moment, and hinder my ability to perform.
If I want to hit the perfect backhand down the line winning shot in tennis, then I need to be completely in the moment of that shot. If I want to enjoy a new experience like chanting, I can’t be thinking about how silly I might look, or what my friends might think, or that I’m not a “good” chanter. If I want to write a great blog post I need to focus on what I’m writing and let the words flow and not worry about whether my blog will ever make money, or that some other person has written an article on the same subject that I’m writing about.
Most mental concerns about the past and the future are completely moot points, especially when you are clear about what you are doing right now. Of course you have to plan for the future and it’s helpful to learn from the past, but there is a time and a place for doing that, and in most cases it’s not right now when you are engaged in another activity.
If you really want to excel at something you need to find your passion and then become completely one with it when it is time to perform. Your best creative output will come from moments of superior clarity and absolute presence with what you are doing. Presence enhances purpose and with purpose comes greater focus.
Eckhart tell us that presence can permeate all moments, whether it’s simply the act of bringing a glass of water to our mouths to drink, or driving the car to get some groceries. This, for the average human being, is a challenging concept to adopt completely.
If drinking water in the now seems a little silly to you, or seeking a state of permanent presence is daunting, you can start where it makes the most sense. When engaged in important activities for your business, especially activities that rely on your creative process, create an environment that allows you to completely immerse yourself in the task.
Once you have eliminated physical distractions, the next step is to become aware of your mind as a distraction. With this awareness you gain the power to control your state. It can be a battle at times, as the mind loves to jump around from thought to thought, but once you become aware of this, you have the power to stop it. From there you will be able to enter flow-state on a regular basis, your creative output will improve, and you can produce more in less time.
There’s a reason why this blog you are reading now is a success. You may have noticed that many of my articles are long, especially the pillar articles that teach something. Some of them are over 4,000 words in length, and for me publishing a 3,000+ word blog post is not uncommon.
I can write these blog posts in a matter of hours, roughly one hour for 1,000 words. Before I became a blogger, the idea of writing 3,000 words in just a few hours would have been very foreign to me, now I do it nearly every week.
How can I do this? Because I enter flow-state and focus my presence on the article I’m writing. I can’t tell you where the words come from exactly, certainly I draw upon experiences I’ve had (just as I did with the start of this post talking about my chanting experience), but when I’m in the moment writing an article, it just flows. It’s not always smooth of course, but for much of the time the words come effortlessly.
I’m not saying long articles are the key to a blog’s success, but being able to consistently deliver powerful ideas using blog posts, is the foundation of this blog success. I’ve been able to do this because every week I sit down, enter flow-state and create something with words. I enjoy the experience – I crave it – it’s a very “present” activity for me, and hence I’ve been able to keep doing it week after week now for four years.
When you find something that you enjoy, that you can easily enter flow-state when doing it and you want to do it every week, then you’ve found one of the secrets to leading a successful – and more importantly – a fulfilling life.
You must let go of any current mental structures that limit your ability to completely experience something or you can never truly know what is real for you.
If you read an article like this and scoff at the idea of “being present” as some kind of new age mumbo-jumbo, then you’ve just proven yourself right simply because you failed to open your mind to the possibility. Unfortunately as a result, you suffer, because you’re trapped in the reality you have created for yourself that you refuse to change, and eventually it will cause you pain. It’s nice to prove yourself right, but who wants to be right when you are right about something that can cause you suffering and limits your potential for growth and development.
Being completely open to ideas, to fully experience something as a means to test how it can impact your life, is the key for growth as a human being. If you shut down because what you face contradicts what your past framework is built on, then you’re in trouble, because it’s going to keep happening. Presence has the wonderful benefit of flexibility, so when something enters your world, you can choose to absorb it, reject it or take parts of it, always growing with the experience, having added to your existence as a human being on this planet.
When you can foster your creativity with present purpose, eliminate the stress that comes with focusing on the future and what you don’t have, and destroy limiting beliefs that exist purely because of your past, you are free. Presence is the source of productivity, it is where the best ideas come from, your most powerful moments arise and ultimately, where you can find the most peace.