Controlling the Monkey Brain

I crafted the Fackler Five back in 2010 after 20 years of learning about leadership, especially as a CEO. Number Five is “Do not forget to work on yourself. Though fixing yourself is hard work, it makes fixing the business easier.”

A week ago, I completed a 10-day silent retreat at the California Vipassana Center at North Fork, CA, in the foothills of Fresno. It was an incredibly valuable investment of time and energy. I learned the Vipassana style of meditation, a 2,500-year-old Buddhist based practice. No electronics, no talking, no reading, no writing.

Meditation started at 4:30am and ended at 9:00pm. The longest session is an hour. Sitting/kneeling absolutely still for an hour with your eyes closed was harder than I thought. We were instructed to continually focus our attention on our body, from head to toe and back again while observing any sensations. Recurring sensations ranged from moderate pain in my knees and butt to gentle tingling sensations in my face. The less frequent itch was interesting to observe, especially without scratching it. We were instructed not to judge the sensations, but receive them neutrally. Needless to say my concentration came and went, but I was always able to pull back from my wondering monkey brain and refocus on observing bodily sensations.

Big disclaimer, I am new to this so my early conclusions will refine over time.

One goal of the practice is to learn how receive input in a neutral manner, not good, or bad, but neutrally. Not with anger or happiness, but neutrally. Not with a desire to crave or a desire to avoid, but neutrally. Though the focus of the practice is on your sensation of touch, the neutral concept extends to all your senses. For business leaders, auditory and visual input is critical. As a CEO, receiving input in a neutral manner gives you the ability to process the input without the emotional baggage that often is triggered when we receive written or verbal information.

Why would any busy CEO invest 10 days in a silent retreat?

Simply, the ROI is huge. Pondering problems makes sense. Stewing on problems does not. Adrenaline flowing through your body in a life-threatening situation makes sense. Adrenaline flowing through your body because of complex business dealings does not. I waste time and brain energy when I replay history or model the future in an endless, unproductive, repetitive loop. Understanding history and modeling the future is important for leaders, but to do so in an endless loop at 2am is utterly stupid. This meditation practice has taught me to quickly become aware my stupid endless loops and reframe them as neutral information so I can stop wasting time and brain energy.


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