“Consciousness is so turbulent”
About the Episode
Mind hacking, Meditation and Leadership. Explore why meditation works, why mindfulness matters and how meditation and mindfulness can create better leaders.
Vincent Horn is a mind hacker & buddhist geek. He has been practicing meditation intensively since his freshman year in college—In 2006, Vincent co-founded Buddhist Geeks, which has gone on to become one of today’s most important venues for exploring Buddhist thought & practice in the 21st century. Buddhist Geeks has been featured on the pages of the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Tricycle, and The Atlantic. Vincent was also honored to be part of Wired’s “Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world.”
In this episode, Vince and Jerry talk about their own mindfulness practices, how Vince navigated his own ups and downs as an entrepreneur and how meditation and mindfulness can create better leaders, and better organizations.
**And be sure to listen all the way through the end, as Vincent has included one a 10 minute guided meditation for you to kickstart your own mindfulness practice.
- Vince’s Guided Meditation
- Naropa University
- Kenneth Folk
- Daniel Ingram
- Buddhist Geeks in Los Angeles Times
- Buddhist Geeks in The Guardian
- Buddhist Geeks in Tricycle
- Buddhist Geeks in The Atlantic
- Vince included in Wired’s “Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world”
- Jerry’s post: “Taking my Seat”
When Vince was at Naropa University he really wanted to bring together his interest in meditation and technology, which he had been neglecting somewhat.
- As a result, Vince and some friends started the podcast “Buddhist Geeks”.
As part of that they started a company that was first really just a hobby, but then it became a lot more than that because people really found what they were doing to be interesting and insightful, and Vince served as the CEO of that for several years.
- They are now doing this in the form of a non-profit (which they recently transitioned to).
As part of this he also started teaching meditation a couple years ago, and has connected with Jerry and Reboot.
- He has been participating in the Reboot CEO Bootcamp’s as a meditation instructor.
- Bringing together his long-term interest in business practice with that of meditation and mindfulness practice has been really rewarding.
On CEO Challenges
When Vince went to the CEO Bootcamp the first thing he realized was that everyone there was going through similar challenges to him, even though their businesses looked quite different.
The main challengers were fear, insecurity, not knowing if he had what it took to build a long-standing, sustainable organization, and to actualize the vision that was so important to him.
- Vince dealt with challenges around being so deeply invested in the company that any time there was a criticism or attack on it he would feel it personally ripple through him.
- There were also challenges around learning how to balance his contemplative idealism with the practical skills of running a business, managing people, managing cash flow, managing the budget, etc.
Vince’s “inner state” was being reflected in the company.
Doing meditation practice for a long time he noticed he would go through these cycles of moods.
- One day he would be feeling on top of the world, seeing everything clearly, knowing exactly what to do, and feeling invincible.
- Then three days later it would feel like his whole world was collapsing and he didn’t know what to do and was uncertain, afraid, and hopeless but still needed to publish next weeks podcast.
He really just started seeing these same cycles were happening in his inner world and in the business and they really weren’t that disconnected.
It’s like there are two compartments: there is personal life and then there is work.
- At work you are supposed to be this person that has all the answers and knows what to do, and somehow it just doesn’t really work.
Being in the leadership role at Buddhist Geeks people were looking to Vince to really take the lead on things both in terms of action, but also in terms of holding a sort of emotional and intellectual stability.
- When he was really unstable, wasn’t really able to observe what was happening, and was just lost in the torrential pouring out of feelings and experiences they would freak out in response.
- Vince felt that because he was in that position there is a certain level of connection where people really do respond directly to his change of state, and awareness of it or lack thereof.
Jerry mentioned that it’s a further point that when a leader sneezes everybody catches a cold.
- It is understanding that what’s going on for us internally in that very human aspect of our experience affects everybody around us.
It is extremely challenging when it feel’s like there is so much on the line – the company, peoples livelihood, investors, and the customers you are serving.
- It feels like it makes it even harder to stop and reflect on that and work with it in a vulnerable way because it feels like you will be letting all of those people down, which makes it even more challenging.
Vince always felt he was the ultimate source of responsibility for everything, which is actually very neurotic, egotistical, and narcissistic in the sense that everything has to flow through him.
On Meditation’s Role
Meditation has been a foundational skill for Vince ever since he was 19.
- It is one of the first things he tries to use when he is in these situations.
The main thing it has enabled is first an awareness of what’s arising in his own experience where he can see clearly how he is feeling in his body and the thoughts associated with it.
- It’s a way to take a step back and see what’s happening in your own system first.
- That seems to create a space and opening to be able to interject a little intention, a micro-moment of steering things in a new direction.
That has been hugely helpful in being able to respond in these situations because he can at least take responsibility for his own experience and see it is not being created by anyone else.
When Vince is able to “take his seat” and be present for his own experience the rest of the team recognizes that it’s okay to say certain things, and bring up different things instead of everyone walking on eggshells worried they will upset him.
- They know that at one point he will come around to acknowledging what he is experiencing and taking some sort of responsibility for it.
When the biggest challenges are happening in Jerry’s life he knows he has to go meditate even beyond his daily practice.
- He has to go pause, stop, and reinforce the phenomenon of being here now.
There seems to be two main elements for why it works, and it has been expressed very simply as “stopping and seeing.”
- It is the interrupting whatever is happening to make space for a more simple way of being and noticing.
That’s not really enough if we just stop, we also have to see what’s there to bear witness to – whatever is present.
Whether it is something pleasant and enjoyable like joy, calm, clarity, or having brilliant creative ideas, or it is something more difficult to bear like sadness, grief, frustration, and confusion.
- Just being able to see those things, to really know what they are like, and become intimate and familiar with them because they are not going to go away anytime soon.
- That is a realization that dawns gradually.
Why Meditation Works
Vince doesn’t claim to fully understand it because he still finds himself wanting to get away or rid himself of those human experiences.
The goal is being able to stop and let go of whatever we are enamored with or caught on or stuck on – the attention traps we get in to, so we can see what’s operating and how it is presenting itself in our actual experience, our first person objective experience.
- This is almost like becoming a scientist of the mind and becoming really familiar with the pattern of body, emotion, and thoughts and being able to know them with a deep precision, care, and allowing.
That starts to transform one’s relationship with experience, and develop all of these meta qualities like wisdom, opening of the heart, and patience which are all of these virtues that various wisdom traditions and philosophies always describe as really good things to do.
Jerry mentioned that not only those wisdom traditions of the past, but also wisdom traditions like Harvard Business School describing as good qualities of a leader.
- These are one in the same.
There’s a perennial nature to wisdom. It is not a fad, or something that comes and goes. It stands the test of time.
Jerry mentioned that sensibility that comes over when you are trying to do this new startup and something that hasn’t been done before, and you are so attached to the outcome that it exacerbates our almost inherent anxious state of mind.
- In the “stopping and seeing,” you get to see past the experience of the anxiety to the experience of being scared right through to the experience of disappointment and anger.
This is the most practical aspect of this practice, which is it helps moves us through the things we are most scared of facing, and transforms us in the process.
The energy it takes to move away from it becomes anxiety, and the energy it takes to stop and see is that meditation moment, that mindfulness moment, which then causes the opportunity for a transformation for how we feel about what is actually going on.
Those fears that most entrepreneurs have are tied in with the feeling of not being creative or innovative enough.
- It is the very thing we are afraid of not being able to do is the thing that is preventing us to actually have the capacity to succeed at what we are doing.
Jerry mentioned our emotional reaction fosters the very conditions we are trying to run away from.
Meditation isn’t a solitary activity, it is also a social action.
Why Mindfulness Matters
A framework or idea to help see why mindful awareness is so critical is that whatever we are able to see, experience, or make in to an object in our awareness is something we are no longer blindly identified with and caught in.
- As soon as we can see it we can work with it. When we realize this is a story, we can begin the story in a new way. We can take a creative position. The beauty of that is the malleability of reality.
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About Our Guest
Vincent Horn is a mind hacker & meditation coach, working with individuals and organizations. He also runs the Buddhist Geek podcast, and Along with his wife and creative partner Emily Horn, he makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina—that is until the distinction between atoms and bits dissolves.