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I love Jerry. I learn something every time I’m with him. He’s one of the first VCs I ever worked with and is my favorite other than my Foundry Group partners. We both struggled openly with depression. I think we have helped each other, and many others, through our openness. I consider him one of my closest friends.
We talked about a couple of heavy, conflict filled situations we were each involved in. He said something profound to me that I’ve been carrying around since we had dinner.
To be adult in a relationship is not to be conflict free. It is to resolve conflicts mindfully.
Most of the conflicts in my life are in business. Sure – Amy and I have them occasionally, but I grew up in a pretty conflict free home. My parents disagreed on things but talked through them. When I disagreed with my parents, they listened to me and we tried to work things out. Sometimes I ended up being disappointed or unhappy in the moment, but they taught me to move on to the next thing.
My first marriage has lots of conflict in it, which I’d put it in the passive aggressive category. I think that’s why I find passive aggressive behavior so distasteful – it reminds me of the failure of my first marriage. Of course, we are surrounded by this throughout of lives, even when people have the best of intensions, so I try to bash through it when I see it happening, turning passive aggressive dynamics to conflict, which has to get resolved.
In business, I’ve worked with a wide range of people. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of conflict many different times. When I see conflict emerging, I try to confront it directly, calmly, and thoughtfully. “Mindfully.” I rarely lose my temper. I try to listen carefully. I try to incorporate a wide view of what is going on, rather than just jump into a particular position. I try express my position clearly without excess emotion. I listen and incorporate more feedback. When the conflict is intense, I put myself in the position of driving a resolution, especially in ever-present sub-optimal situations where the “perfect” answer is elusive.
I really love the notion of mindfulness. Wikipedia’s buddhist definition is the one I understand the best.
Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by meditational practices
My experience this year with meditation has surrounded me with this word. At least half of the stuff I’ve been reading on meditation talked more about mindfulness than meditation. The practice I’m getting from Headspace is opening up a whole new dimension for me of how to think about work, life, and relationships. And when Amy says, “Brad – be present” she is reminding me to be my best, mindful self.
I don’t enjoy conflict, nor do I seek it out, but I’ve never been afraid of it. I just confront it and deal with it the best I can. And now I have a word for how I do it, which is “mindfully.”
This morning’s question during my Headspace meditation session was “Who or what would you miss the most if you weren’t here.”
Over the last few months, my meditation practice has been spotty. Something indeterminate happened and I just fell out of the routine. I’ve been told by my meditating friends that this happens often and not to worry about it, but rather just to start practicing again when you feel like it.
I’m feeling very maxed out right now. I know there’s some cliche about VCs taking it easy in August but that never seems to be my reality. For the past 45 days I’ve pretty much been saying “no” or “I don’t have any time” to anything new that has come up. I don’t really see that changing – I feel full – so this morning I sat down to meditate for 20 minutes.
As I sat down and got comfortable, I realized how incredibly tense I was. Not just physically tense, but mentally and emotionally tense. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and when there was a big pop, it was more than physical. I settled into the meditation session and a few minutes in was confronted with the question “Who or what would you miss the most if you weren’t here.”
Amy and Brooks immediately came to my mind. Bing bing bing – I got the right answer. But I know it’s not about that so I just let the thought float away.
Robin Williams came into my mind. I was sad that he was in such distress that he took his own life.
A friend who is going through a divorce surfaced. The pain from my first marriage and divorce jolted through me.
Amy and Brooks came to my mind. I held them there for a few moments.
A work issue that is front of mind intruded. I observed that I was having the thought and let it float away.
Amy and Brooks again.
I felt the tension leaving my shoulders. I sat a little deeper. I listened to what Andy from Headspace was saying, but I didn’t really hear it.
I tried on the feeling of what it would be like to not be here. I wasn’t hear, but was somewhere else, observing here. That became really uncomfortable, so I let it go.
Amy and Brooks.
As I finished the session and stretched, I felt everything soften. My shoulders are less tight. My gaze is softer. I’m clear about who I would miss the most and am going to go spend a little time with them before the day starts in earnest.
Who would you miss the most if you weren’t here?
My meditation experience continues. I’m currently meditating almost every morning immediately after I wake up and sitting for 20 minutes with GetSomeHeadspace.com. I’ve internalized the idea of “practice”mode – I’m not trying to get a good grade, do it well, or excel at it. I’m just practicing.
I slept late yesterday and when I woke up I didn’t feel like meditating. I felt odd about it for a few seconds, acknowledged the thought (“I wonder why I don’t what to meditate today” – ok, that’s a thought: odd), and then let it go.
This morning while meditating my mind wandered to the notion of a narrative. Several times I had a random thought that described my interpretation of something going on in my life. When I realized this, I labeled the thought with “thought: narrative” and went back to focusing on my breath.
When I was finished, I walked upstairs and realized the word “narrative” was still floating around in my head. I’ve let it sit there for the past hour as I responded to all the email that came in yesterday while I was taking a digital sabbath.
In the past week, during dinners, meetings, and hanging out with friends, I’ve been observing the narrative that gets created around specific situations. When I’m in business contexts, I’ve been listening to the narrative being told and comparing it with my interpretation of reality. When I read what others are writing on the web (blogs, articles, tweets), I’ve been paying attention to the narrative they are creating. The narrative from others and the narrative in my head are often divergent on subtle, but important points.
This isn’t an issue of fact vs. fiction. It’s not that one party is lying or consciously obscuring the truth. Rather, they are interpreting what is happening, or has happened, and creating their own narrative around it.
For the past 30 years, I’ve found myself reacting to these narratives of others. They impact my narrative, and my interpretation, of what has happened, and what should happen. In many cases, especially stressful ones or where there is conflict, I’ve tried to rationalize someone else’s narrative with mine, struggling to believe that we could interpret the situation so differently.
I have some deeply held beliefs that I adhere to. Amy and I are deep in Game of Thrones (Season 3 at this point) and the notion of a “code of conduct” or the idea of a “man of honor” keeps jumping out at me. My deeply held beliefs are analogous – they are the values on which my behavior, decisions, and actions are built.
But these deeply held beliefs are mine – they don’t map directly to others. They impact my narrative and how I respond to the narrative being told by someone else about a particular system. I can expose my deeply held beliefs to others but I can’t force them to adhere to them.
In the last two months this has come into sharp focus for me through meditation. I realize that many of the narratives I create are irrelevant. When I ask myself “will anyone care in 150 years”, the answer is a definitive “NO!” When I ask myself whether this narrative actually will impact the outcome of the situation, the answer is often “no”, although not necessarily as definitive.
Yesterday, I read Biz Stone’s book Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind. I like his narrative of the story of Twitter much more than Nick Bilton’s in Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. I’ll write more about Biz’s book in another post, but it’s a great example of the power of a narrative combined with a set of deeply held beliefs.
The next time you get wrapped up in a narrative about something, ask yourself the question “will this matter in 150 years from now?” And then, contemplate the implication of the question and how it impacts what you do about the narrative.
Oh – and Daenerys Targaryen is a total badass. I’m rooting for her as the one true king.
My exploration into meditation continues. I started on February 5th when I wrote the post Learning To Meditate. Since then, I’ve been practicing every day, read a few books on meditation, talked to a lot of people about it, and explored several iPhone / web apps.
The impact on me has been awesome.
After talking to Jerry Colonna for a few hours about meditation on the snowy Sunday after I started, he recommended I take a look at Headspace. I signed up that night and started doing the Take10 meditations. For the first few days, I did it once a day, but then quickly starting practicing twice a day, once in the morning and once before I went to bed. Occasionally I’d toss in another session at lunch time, although sometimes I just did a silent meditation instead for 10 to 15 minutes.
After about a week I was deeply hooked. I grabbed the iPhone GetSomeHeadspace app and untethered myself from my desk. We’ve got a meditation room in our new house and even though it’s very sparse right now (just one sitting pillow), it’s a magnificent sanctuary for my meditation.
I noticed that Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, had written a book called Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day. I downloaded it and read it last night and this morning. Since I’m deep into the Headspace program, a lot of it was familiar to me. But Andy’s description of his own meditation journey is fascinating, and reinforces a lot of things he guides you through in the Headspace program.
Near the end, he has a great chapter on different forms of meditation beyond sitting. He covers walking, sleeping, eating, and running. These are forms that intrigue me, especially since I run a lot, eat too fast, and am exploring different sleep patterns.
Overall, the book is a nice addition to the Headspace program. If you are intrigued about meditation, it’s a fast, easy, helpful read. But there’s nothing like just practicing. For that, I recommend you hop on line and try the free Headspace Take10 program.
Ok, I’m digging meditation.
I started with no goal, which I quickly discovered is helpful. Rather than gear up for a class, commit to a serious amount of time, or set a goal for myself, I just started. I started small with 5 minute sessions a couple of times a day using the Calm iPhone app. Sometimes it was twice a day, sometimes it was three times a day. They have a really nice “7 Steps of Calm” which is an easy way to get into it.
To break it up, I also started using Headspace. They have a “Take10″ series which are short 10 minute sessions with Andy, the founder. I’ve done a few of them and toss them in whenever I’m in front of my computer and want a 10 minute session.
Last weekend I had a long conversation with Jerry Colonna about meditation. We sat on his couch on a Sunday afternoon as the snow came down and just rolled around in the meta of mediation. Again, there was no goal, and no judgement. Just random thoughts that we shared. Very calmly.
On Wednesday, Michael Rich, one of Jerry’s partners for the CEO Bootcamp, swung by my office. We had a delightful talk and at the end sat for 10 minutes together. He introduced me to the Insight Timer app. I’ve now used it a couple of times and love it.
Yesterday, before my Startup Colorado board meeting, I was feeling tense. So I ducked into a CU Law Faculty Lounge and sat for 10 minutes with the Insight Timer app. The rest of the evening was so much calmer.
When I was with Jerry, I mentioned that I felt a significant shift in how I felt. I’ve been under a lot of stress since the beginning of the year and have been wary about it spiraling out of control. I have been a little fearful of falling into a depression like I did last year. I haven’t been fighting it, but it’s not where I want to be. When I told Jerry I didn’t care whether the meditation effect was real or a placebo effect, he snickered lovingly, in that “you have a wonderful journey in front of you my friend” kind of way. That moment was another lesson, which is that it doesn’t matter what I think, or don’t think, which is part of the point of it all.
I’m very clear that I’m not trying to be good at this. I’m not trying to be disciplined. I’m not focused on any particular outcome. I’m just practicing. And I like that a lot.