Leadership Learning Mental health Mindset Self awareness

10 leadership lessons from 10 days of meditation

As I’m standing in the back of the meditation hall, I see 60 beautiful human beings sitting on the ground in meditation, their eyes closed, in absolute silence.

There’s this Indian folk tale about five blind people who get introduced to an elephant for the first time in their lives. Since they can’t see, they’re asked to touch the elephant to get a good feel. The first blind person feels the legs and states: “It feels like a big lamp post.” The second person gets to feel the tail and states: “It feels like a broom,” The third person while touching the trunk, comments that it feels like a water hose. And so on. You get the point:

Reality may look different to each of us.

There is no single version of the truth. There’s our truth, but that’s not necessarily the same truth for someone else. We have our truth, and when we decide to always stick to our version of the truth, we won’t get very far in life. 

My truth has recently gained a significantly new dimension.

I spent ten days in the last two weeks, and it was a life-changing event.

  • Ten days of meditation, ten hours per day.
  • Ten days of waking up at 4 am and sleeping at 9.30 pm.
  • Ten days in silence. Participants were not allowed to speak to each other. Men and women lived separately, and all types of contact, even eye contact, were to be prevented.
  • Ten days with my phone locked away without access.
  • Ten days without anything to write on is almost a prison sentence for a writer and somebody who loves to journal.
  • Ten days of healthy, vegetarian eating with a good breakfast, lunch, and two pieces of fruit for dinner.
  • Ten days with only water and tea (or instant coffee, no thanks).
  • Ten days where the only resource you had was your mind.
Ten days of thinking about my truth.

It was the most challenging mental thing I’ve ever done. To sit with yourself in a not-so-comfortable position for one hundred hours requires a lot of mental strength and strong determination. And I’m incredibly proud that I made it without hesitation about whether I should quit. About ten percent of the participants dropped out and did not get to complete the course and the benefits from it.

I wanted to do this because I wanted to test my mental strength, get to know myself at the deepest level, build more balance and resilience in my mind, and reflect on the stage of my life I’m currently in. In addition, I wanted to think about the future of my work and some choices I will have to make for myself.

Here are my ten biggest lessons:
  1. I’m significantly better at meditating now than I was before, and I went a lot deeper than I ever did before. Apps like Headspace don’t even touch the surface of what’s possible with deep meditation.
  2. It pays off to pause and reflect. When we invest time to slow down, we gain time when speeding up later.
  3. Wisdom gained from experience is significantly better than any intellectual wisdom from hearsay or books.
  4. Those who master their minds and can be balanced have an edge.
  5. Quick reactions, without pausing how to respond, are the sure road to misery.
  6. Not all minds are equal. There are about 52 types of structures in the mind, and everyone has stronger and weaker elements.
  7. Cravings, aversions, and ignorance of awareness are the three main drivers of mental instability.
  8. Observe the way things are in wisdom. Spend more time in the moment. Better things happen when you master the power of now instead of always being focused on the past or the next thing to do.
  9. Higher degrees of (self) awareness and a more balanced mind are the road to success.
  10. I am 100% responsible for my own happiness, troubles, and misery. Yes, you interact with other people, and every relationship has patterns, but inside of that, you always have a choice to do what’s right for you.

I’m fully aware that some of these may seem trivial to you. And that’s precisely my point about intellectual wisdom versus lived-through experience.

In a confined environment, I lived through these ten lessons. 

As I close this section of my book about being an inspiring leader in this week’s and next week’s Insight, and before we switch to high-performing teams, I want to spend more time on our mindsets.

Effective leaders are always aware of the context they serve in. They’re also aware that that context is always changing, with people who are also changing and have different perspectives.

Remember multiple realities: Elephant. Lamp post. Broom. Trunk.

As leaders, we have to deal with our own mindset, the mindset of others, our ever-changing context, and our ability to adapt to that context and the people we work with instantly. In case you missed last week’s Insight, we’re high-performing athletes who need to practice, perform, and rest.

We need to be sharp and aware of our surroundings at all times, in the moment.

That’s why any great leader is a situational leader. When you’re leading every single time with each person the same way, you’ve already lost your leadership battle.

One last reflection:

As I’m standing in the back of the meditation hall, coming back from a bio break, I see 60 beautiful human beings sitting on the ground in meditation, their eyes closed, in absolute silence.

Sixty human beings who all have their own stories, their own happiness, their own misery, their own successes, their own failures, and their own imperfections when dealing with others. 

I see one big shared human condition in front of me, and it’s one of the most beautiful mental pictures I have been taking of myself. 

As leaders, we need to be aware that we’re dealing with people and that they deserve our care for their stories as much as others should care about ours. We live and lead with multiple realities.

Your turn: What’s your reality?

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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