Transcendent leaders consciously align with the guidance of spirit in their leadership practice. Part of the process of alignment is a daily habit of spiritual exercises. Introduced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century Spanish theologian, this involves meditation and contemplation.
Some believe that spiritual exercises are only done by people who are completely devoted to spirit. That perception depends on how you look at your life. Many leaders view themselves as bodies (minds and emotions as well) that have a soul. Transcendent leaders view this differently. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a 20th century French philosopher and Jesuit priest proposed, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
As spiritual beings, cultivating a practice of spiritual exercises is done consciously and with great loving. If de Chardin’s proposition is accurate, it means that all people are spiritual beings, whether they are conscious of this or not. My own daily meditation practice informs me that there is a great deal of truth in what de Chardin is stating. And, you need to cultivate your practice to have your own unique experience of this awareness.
Meditation is often perceived as sitting in a full lotus position chanting the aum or om sound. And of course, there are several million people who do exactly that on a daily basis. However, western leaders have now been introduced to other forms of meditation, ranging from body scans or progressive relaxation to mindfulness meditation, Zen meditation, transcendental meditation, etc.
And yet, because every human being continuously breathes, I suggest that they are also naturally meditating 24 hours per day, even though they may not be aware of it. Becoming conscious of your own breathing is a form of focused meditation.
If you follow de Chardin’s proposition, as a spiritual being, a divine presence (God, Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, etc.) is, in fact, breathing you. Consciously focusing on your breath, then, means you are also focusing on divine presence. This form of meditation is an important skill providing a number of ancillary benefits, including dealing with stress.
The toughest challenge for most people learning to meditate is to stay focused on the meditation. Because meditation can take your consciousness beyond the body, emotion and mind, those levels tend to resist meditating.
Here are some examples of what happens. The mind wants to look at other things or flit around from topic to topic and tries to convince you that meditation is a waste of time. It does this by bombarding you with “urgent” distractions. These distractions usually seem very logical and often reflect concerns that you may be holding in your consciousness: incompletes that need to be immediately handled or unresolved emotional disturbances with co-workers that are impacting the entire team. The body chimes in as well and whispers, “I’m hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”
Without conscious intention to focus on the breathing, these distractions will likely win out. Nonetheless, all it takes is intention to make the exercise more important than the distractions. When a thought, feeling or outside sound comes in, acknowledge it, and then return your awareness to your breathing. With intention to focus on the meditation you are doing, the distractions may quiet or dissolve away.
After developing your willingness to focus on breathing, perhaps a next step might be tone meditations. There are multiple forms of tone meditations. Well-known examples include Om or HU meditations. A quick Google search will turn up countless examples.
There’s actually a nice physics principle that supports the validity and benefits of tone meditations. Research indicates that the universe is made up of sound — not just planets, suns, cosmic dust, etc. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has translated these primordial sound waves into frequencies we can hear. Aspects of human consciousness (body, mind, emotions) also have unique sound signatures that have been documented.
The physics principle for tone meditation has to do with resonance. When you take one tuning fork and get it to vibrate, and then move it toward a second tuning fork that is structured for the same frequency, the second tuning fork will absorb the energy and start to vibrate.
The tuning fork example might also explain the experience of a leader who is practicing tone meditation. As the leader moves into the purity and singleness of the tone they are chanting, they also begin to align with the inner spirit that is made up of that tone.
Some readers, rightfully so, may be saying, “So what?” Since 1972, there have been thousands of studies on the benefits of meditation. In Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson identify 60 studies that demonstrate the benefits of meditation for our mind, body and our heart.
Over the last 50 years, I’ve been fortunate to cultivate my own daily practice of spiritual exercises. I’ve also been privileged to have had discussions with many different leaders about their unique meditation practices and the benefits those practices have produced. Among the things they’ve shared with me are an enhanced ability to regulate their emotions, decrease performance anxiety and enhance their creativity. And, interestingly, they’ve all discussed an increased awareness of their intuition along with the resolve to follow it.
To begin meditating, all a leader needs to do is make a choice. As Professor Dumbledore says in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
What do you choose for your development as a leader?