Dec 8 2010

Business and Meditation

When I wrote my previous post, my plan was to write an update every two weeks. It took me a grand total of three months to get the first followup out.


The number one thing that has been keeping me busy has been the founding of my own company. On November 4th I finally filed in the papers and Synerba was born. Figuring out taxation, accounting, and even insurances has been surprisingly appealing as I feel I’m really working on something that is my own.

Of course founding a company is merely a beginning. As planned, I’ve been working on a handful of facilitation gigs, but most of my income this year has been coming in from web development jobs. I don’t intend to do the latter in the long term but they offer a good safety net on the short to medium term. Baby steps, baby steps.

Oh, and before you go looking, the official website for the company is not up yet but I did roll out a simple site for my web development services.

Winter Dathün

While the company has been my main focus as of recent, I will orient myself to something else entirely over the upcoming four weeks. This Saturday I’m namely heading off a four-week meditation retreat, the Winter Dathün with Reggie Ray.

The thought of spending the next 28 days practicing from morning until night hasn’t really sunk in yet but I’m slowly starting to feel both excited and intimidated by the idea. I will report back when I return.

Until then, enjoy the holidays and have a great start for 2011!

Sep 9 2010

New Beginnings

During the past couple of months, I’ve been working with my coach to gather the clarity and commitment to get started with my own business. Last week we had our final meeting as I felt that I had achieved what we set out to create. He challenged me to start posting regular updates about my ongoing progress on my blog, and since then I have been waiting for the right moment.

Today I think the moment has come.

Pieces of the Puzzle

The pieces of the puzzle started started falling in place when I realized just how important authenticity and embodied presence are to me. I saw my meditation practice in a new light as a tool not only for my own development but as a viable pillar for my professional work.

For some years now I’ve been observing the work of Richard Strozzi-Heckler on embodied leadership. I find his approach to leadership to be very grounded in practice—he has even taught the US special forces—but with a deep commitment to authenticity.

Some months ago I decided to further study Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a controversial but very realized Tibetan Buddhist teacher, now deceased, who places great emphasis on cutting to the core of who we are and bringing that into the world. One of his former students, Reggie Ray, seems to carry his teachings forward in a particularly vibrant way, bringing in somatic practices from other traditions while still maintaining the great depth of the original teachings.

Then it hit me. Continue reading

Jun 18 2010

Visions of the Past and Future

I wrote the following vignette last winter while exploring the topic of my life purpose with my coach. It tries to capture the essence of what feels most alive for me at the moment through a brief impressionistic scene. I notice myself returning to it again and again so I thought it appropriate to share it with you.

Countless of millennia ago, a tribe gathers around a fire to listen to its aging shaman…

Throwing a handful of dust into the fire, the shaman recounts his final vision:

“I saw wise men in orange robes being cruelly killed with magical spears. I saw ancient writings left in the dust, wise words falling on deaf ears. Mighty tribes building abodes that touch the clouds, old people everywhere, elders nowhere. Messages from everywhere to anywhere moving in the blink of an eye. Shelters, robes, people, places looking entirely different every spring.

“I saw a mighty tree, reaching up to the sky. I saw thunder clouds gathering. And the tree was withering. Supporting its mighty bulk was but the tiniest of roots. Would it last the storm, only time would tell.

“That tree, my children, is our tribe, ages and ages hence.”

With great effort the old shaman rises up and lifts his gaze from the fire.

“When that time comes, I will not be here. By then, neither will you nor your great-grandchildren. By then our tools will be obsolete, our names and language long forgotten. But there is wisdom alive in this very moment, wisdom that can be carried on and refined, and transmitted to that day.

“Who of you will carry that torch?”

Jun 2 2010

Fear, Truth, and Freedom

I must admit I have not been entirely truthful with you. In fact I have even lied to myself.

I did not need so many months to complete my thesis, writing my business plan is not as hard as I make it out to be, and I do not need more knowledge and practice to get started with coaching, training, or facilitation.

Fact of the matter is, I am scared.

In setting up my own business and making a living out of what I love, I have—possibly for the first time in my life—a challenge I am not sure I can meet.

The Fire that Burns

By endlessly psychologizing my experience and coming up with seemingly legitimate excuses, I am robbing myself the power, and even freedom, that comes with this fear. Writing these words, I already feel the fear being mixed up with and transmuted into excitement.

The very fear that holds us back can be the pulse of life that pushes us forward. Are you willing to pick up the fire that burns you and follow its light?

I know I am.

Mar 28 2010

Moments of Choice

Habit is a second nature which prevents us from knowing the first, of which it has neither the cruelties nor the enchantments.

—Marcel Proust

Day to day, our lives are built up by our habits. We go about our duties as if on autopilot. And for the most part, it would appear, that these habits are either harmless or even positive. After all, why would we not want to brush our teeth in the morning or stop at the crossing when a car is speeding by?

However, at times habits rob us the choice of being the authors of our own lives. From the outright destructive ones, such as compulsive computer gaming, to the subtle but sinister ones, such as the fears that hold us back, we give away our freedom to habits.

Making Friends with Our Habits

But whenever we engage in a habitual behavior, we have a choice to stop. And I do not mean this in the sense of making a New Year’s resolution. What I mean is simply recognizing the habit as it is, when it is; an unfolding pattern of sensations, thoughts, and actions existing right here, right now.

First we must make friends with the habit, become intimately familiar with the story it tells. Does my gaming habit start with clicking the icon on my desktop or can I trace it back to the subtle tensing of my chest that I feel when I’m avoiding a daunting task?

Once we see the habit unfold in real time, we can choose to simply be with it. “Ah, there it is. The familiar tightening, the story I tell myself. Breathe and relax. I am at choice.”

An Experiment

I’d like to suggest that you engage with the following simple experiment:

  1. Identify a habit you would like to change. It can be something as concrete as smoking or as ephemeral as holding back your feelings in a relationship.
  2. For three weeks keep a journal of your observations. What was the very first thing you noticed when the habit arose? Did you find yourself playing your favorite game or did you catch yourself telling a story to yourself?
  3. If you feel so compelled, let me know what you discovered. I would be honored to hear your story.

I found this to be of tremendous benefit for myself in working with specific bad habits and in building my ability to self-author in general.

Dec 15 2009

Ancient Masters

Recently I’ve been rereading Tao Te Ching (Mitchell’s translation), and I still feel like it’s quite possibly the most profound book I’ve ever read. Today just reading this passage sent shivers up my spine. I’ll let it speak for itself:

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
She is present, and can welcome all things.

Dec 9 2009

Our Relationship with Nature

Great hopes, fears, and doubts rest on the Copenhagen climate conference. Personally I’m rather hopeful. Some years ago ozone depletion was making headlines and we managed to avert disaster on that front. I don’t see any reason why couldn’t pull off the same with CO2emissions.

But whatever the outcome, I feel that’s missing the point.

The High-Tech Holy Grail

Let’s for a moment fast-forward to an ideal future, say in 2100, where cold fusion and nano-tech has enabled us to create a veritable heaven on Earth. We’ve managed to avert the climate crisis, the water crisis, the nuclear crisis, multiple economic crises, you name it.

Now surely with practically limitless clean energy and the power to create just about anything from just about anything, we would finally be at peace with each other and with Nature, right? I’m not so sure…

What if all the 15 billion people on the planet suddenly decide to flick their nano-tech magic wands and move into four-story mansions? Or how would a cold-fusion enabled World War look like? And would we be able to live in peace with our Muslim neighbors who just zipped over at light-speed to experience the winter here? Looks like we’d still have some challenges left.

Bring in the Band-Aid

We think like engineers. We see a problem, we fix it. Global warming? Cut down on carbon emissions. Fossil fuels? Let’s try bio-diesel!

I don’t feel at ease with that. Stopping the bleeding is important but if the patient is cutting himself, band-aid won’t help. We’ve cut ourselves apart from Nature, from each other, even from ourselves.

Returning Home

Children grow up depending on their home and family for everything. Entering adulthood we fight for independence as if our family ties were bonds holding us back. And having found ourselves in the world, one day we finally return home to live inter-dependent with each other.

Perhaps humanity simply needs to return home. To be the sons and daughters of Mother Nature, brothers and sisters of all life.

Next time we wander in the woods or stand on the mountaintop, let’s look around and recognize what we see as our home and who we meet as our siblings. Let’s end the war we wage with each other, ourselves, and Nature, our great family.

Nov 4 2009

Perpetually in Transition?

Several months have passed since my last post. I’ve settled down in Helsinki, working to get The Hub Helsinki up and running. I had some time to reflect on my experience at a recent meet-up with great friends in The Netherlands.

The Stories We Tell

During the meeting we found ourselves amused at how each of us had a tendency to repeat the same story whenever we met. For some people it was about letting go, for others about stepping up. Me, I noticed that the story I repeat involves being in transition.

In a way this is an easy story for me to justify. During the past five years, I’ve switched cities five times, countries thrice, and jobs four times. And I’m not planning on settling down yet. So I suppose it’s only natural to feel that I’m in transition. Constantly.

What’s Behind the Restlessness?

I can’t help but to ask myself what’s what’s causing this restlessness? Partly it’s certainly a positive drive to experience and see the world while I’m still without a family or a stable job.

But I’m starting to suspect that partly it’s a lingering fear of the uncertain. So far the path has been laid out in front of me—school, university, AIESEC, etc.—but all of a sudden there’s no clear next step.

Sitting in the Fire

As I become aware of the fear and stop running away from it, an interesting alchemy starts to take place. When I name and own the fear, the fear becomes excitement. Instead of running away from it, I turn to the storm and hear the wind whisper what the future holds. For now I will just sit with it.

Jul 21 2009

Nature, the Great Teacher

A week ago I returned from a one-week vision quest into the Swedish wilderness. It took me some time to fully let the experience sink in, but now looking back at it I can honestly say it was a turning point in my life.

Lost Compass

When I received the invitation, I signed up without hesitation, more than a little inspired by Into the Wild. I felt I needed to get away from it all to rediscover who I truly was.

Closer to the event I felt like I was fumbling in the dark, having lost the inner compass that guides my way in the tough decisions in life. My career was at a crossroads, yet I had no idea what my heart was calling me to do. So I set forth…

Windswept Mountains

After almost 20 hours of travel by plane, bus, and train, I met with the other participants at the Vålådalen nature reserve. Our base lay by a serene mountain lake, flanked by ancient fells on all sides. And there we got acquainted with the practicalities of the vision quest as well as with methods of awakening our intuition and getting closer to nature, as we spent the first day and a half settling down to a calmer pace of life.

On the second day we packed up our tents and headed off through the marshland and forest, through increasingly steeper terrain until we finally found ourselves above the timberline. We ceremoniously parted ways, listening to our hearts and senses for where we were each called to spend the three-day solo period of the vision quest.

I found my spot in a miniature valley flanked by two ridges and split by a clear mountain stream. I set up my tent and soon found myself fogged in as the clouds gathered all around. The uniform cloud wall further added to the isolation experienced by switching off our mobiles, leaving all distractions behind, and fasting. With the rain beating on my tiny tent and wind sweeping down the mountainside, I ended up spending most of the first day inside my tent, just relaxing into it.

Simple Feeling of Being

On the second morning the sun started peeking from behind the clouds and I ventured out from my shelter. As I enjoyed my time alone in nature and explored my surroundings, I noticed that the tumult within was calming down and my true voice was rising forth.

In a moment that seemed simultaneously both profound and mundane, I realized that my inner compass had never been broken or lost. I had simply shoved it aside and ignored its signals out of fear for the path it pointed towards. But in that moment of clarity, I also discovered the courage to follow my heart.

That evening the rain and clouds returned but I was no longer bothered by them. As I packed my tent the following morning, I spotted a white reindeer—supposedly a good omen—and met up with the rest of the participants in silence, with the wind still beating the rain against my face.

Painful Decisions

After a peaceful reentry and journey back home, I faced some sad decisions that my heart called me to make. I decided to quit my job by the end of August and, more painfully, to end my relationship with a wonderful woman.

Now that the pain has subsided and a calm clarity has taken its place, I’m certain that I’ve made the right choices. My heart is opening up to the world and I feel excited to be alive. And I believe with time the people I chose to part with will ultimately be better off.

At times living your truth may be a painful way to go but it is the only way we can go.

May 25 2009

Firsthand Descriptions of Meditation

Yesterday I returned from a three-day meditation retreat held in Belgium. People asked me how it was and I was struggling to come up with any explanation going beyond mere descriptions of the venue and the activity of just sitting. This post is my attempt to convey some of what happened in the real arena of activity, in my mind.

A Word on the Technique

The retreat I attended was in the Vipassana tradition as taught by S.N. Goenka. The ten-day, donation-based introductory retreat is a great way to get started with meditation. Without getting too technical about it, the technique revolves around sitting still and simply observing whatever sensations arise on the body, be it gross pain, subtle vibrations, or anything in between.

Stabilizing Awareness

After the inevitable arrival logistics and introductions on a sunny afternoon in rural Belgium, we took our vows of silence, promising to refrain from any communication with our fellow meditators for the duration of the course. The next days became something of a blur as the 4 am morning bell flowed into the last sitting ending at 9pm. A total of 11 hours per day spent in intense concentration.

Initially my mind was abuzz with thoughts from work, from the Internet, hobbies, summer plans, and everything else. I turned my attention inwards and concentrated on the natural rising and falling of my abdomen. At first a few breaths on, then gone again, I slowly started to build the stability of my attention. Early afternoon on the first full day I was able to maintain fairly constant attention for 10 min.

A Staring Contest with Reality

For those ten minutes, it felt as if I was staring at reality. My aim was to penetrate through what I saw. For the remainder of the day, I entered a staring contest with reality. Time and again my attention would waver, but I kept at it, stubbornly refusing to turn away from the sensation of bare breath.

I had been on this territory before. I knew that if I were to pin down this sensation of breathing and study it closely, it would betray its true nature. And sure enough, as I went at it once more, I suddenly saw the breath vibrate, as if I was sobbing or shivering. But I was doing neither, nor was this experience my heartbeat.

My breath was even, yet I detected a vibration in the experience of the breath. This is what so many books have talked about; the ephemeral nature of our experience, arising and passing faster than we can usually notice. But meditation is not as usual.

Observing Body and Mind

Mid-way through the second day I was able to consistently detect these vibrations in my breath, on a couple of occasions culminating in a state where my mind was effortlessly absorbed into the observation of these vibrations. The closest everyday equivalent to this experience would perhaps be waking up rested and being in no hurry to move from bed; relaxed, yet alert.

The last sit of the second day I witnessed another shift. So far I had been observing my body, but now I felt a shift where my mind joined this field of the observed. The closest I can come to describing this experience is saying that I felt like I was observing myself from above myself, although I didn’t feel like I was higher up in the surrounding space.

Why Should I Care?

What did I gain from thirty hours spent on staring at my own breath? I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you that my ability to focus increased. Increased peace of mind would probably also be easy to understand.

But the real reason I do this is deeper than that; it is to understand the very nature of experience. We spend our lives chasing pleasurable experiences and running away from pain, no matter how lofty words we use to describe our ambitions.

Meditation, to me, is breaking through the surface reality to see what experiences are mere reflections of our habitual thoughts, and what is truly worthwhile. The vibrating breath and altered perceptions are but milestones on a path trodden by many before me.