Serial Entrepreneur |Blockchain 4 Social Impact |Sharing/Subscription Economy Researcher|
"In the middle of 2018, in the midst of the Blockchain and crypto-mania research and roadshows, I was consulting with dozens of startups on China strategies, dealing with endless emails, taking calls during the night due to different time zones, and constantly answering pop-up messages on Whatsapp, WeChat, Telegram, and Facebook. Ultimately, it was negatively affecting my mental health. My head felt like hundreds of tabs in a single browser trying to load multiple types of information..."
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Reading, watching, hearing, and personally getting to know about COVID-19 stories makes me at least once a day stop whatever I’m doing and reflect on how fragile life is and how all of our well-polished plans can easily fall in the face of not only a pandemic, but any disaster.
Can we rely on data and calculated prediction?
Can we ever adjust to our previous norms based on the pre-pandemic era?
How soon can we get back to a normal lifestyle?
What is the definition of a new normal?
The number of both the infected and death toll are surreal.
No one was ready for this situation or outcome. Even those I have spoken with who were infected and got the required medical treatment still haven’t recovered from the shock of it, physically or mentally.
I wanted to share the story below from 2018 after a life-changing transformation related to my personal well-being and mental health occurred. However, I felt reluctant and found millions of reasons deep inside me not to share this personal story. Now there is this urgency and need within me based on the current situation that is pushing me to take that step, to purge myself from it, and to share with my network more intimately.
In the middle of 2018 in the midst of the Blockchain and crypto-mania research and roadshows, I was consulting with dozens of startups on China strategies, dealing with endless emails, taking calls during the night due to different time zones, and constantly answering pop-up messages on Whatsapp, WeChat, Telegram, and Facebook. Ultimately, it was negatively affecting my mental health.
My head felt like hundreds of tabs in a single browser trying to load multiple types of information. It was like listening to music and trying to chat at the same time. It led me to make some blunders later, leading to a personal existential crisis, and even worse, to a complete lack of attention to details. I became victim to never-ending distractions to the point that I was no longer able to be in control.
While suffering in this chaos, my dear friend Lina whom I hadn't seen for ages, was in Shanghai and invited me over for a drink to see her new apartment. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was not because I didn't want to see her, but because I was in a state of complete mental mess. Looking back, that very day in May of 2018 was life-changing for me and exactly what I was yearning.
On the day of our meeting, I was astonished by her calmness, the positive energy radiating from her aura, her sincere smile, and her organized manner. She seemed to be able to control her business with a single click. During our 45-minute conversation, I accidentally spilled tea on her new tablecloth that I thought would infuriate her. To my surprise, she responded by saying, “Never mind, it's just a tablecloth after all.” It was 100% human-to-human, soul-enriching friendly conversation similar to what I used to have in secondary school.
To share more about Lina, she is one of the most sought-after cross-cultural Chinese centric experts besides being a meticulous listener with a deep understanding of human nature. Most importantly, she is one who understands Western and Eastern cultures and is able to decode what was said and meant like no other I have seen (at least among expatriate professionals). To understand what I mean, check out the article here.
I simply couldn't figure out how come the conversation that we had made me feel so good, positive, and radically-uplifted in spirit. I started grilling her to tell me about her transformation that was so obvious, and yet wasn't something that one could easily purchase with a single click on Amazon. It was clearly from hard work internally. She figured out and understood my frustrations within the first seconds we got together. With the sincerest smile on her face as if she had no care or worry in the world, she simply said it was Vipassana and that I should try it.
That was an offer or an idea I couldn't refuse. On that very day, I broke the code of following my “To Do” list and started researching Vipassana. One of the suspicious feelings I had about it was that it was completely free from a donations-run organization. To my understanding in today's world, nothing is free. There is a price tag for everything, either obvious or hidden. Yet, the case from all retreat centers using Vipassana was that it was run entirely by volunteers and functional due to donations.
The other piece of information that I learned that sounded interesting, abstract yet captivating, was that “Vipassana is a type of meditation that facilitates the process of self-purification by introspection deeply rooted in Buddhist principles.”
Vipassana teaches how to penetrate the deepest levels of the unconscious mind and learn or be guided on how to eradicate the complexities there. (I’ll share more about this with vivid examples later.)
I had an idea about what it meant, but could not visually picture it in my head. The idea was so controversial to my conservative beliefs due to my upbringing, environment, community, and region where I was born.
The message was simple and clear: Don't look outwards to solve the problem, look inwards.
I used to believe in action. I still do in which there is an action, there is an evidence-based change, and there is either a good or a bad result based on which one could make adjustments. When it came to mental health, yoga, or other various forms, Vipassana was never on my radar to explore and learn. The more I read, the more skeptical I became. Questions poured out of my head. What does this meditation session mean for my life, my desires, my dreams, my identity, my future, and my beliefs?
This radical hypothetical change in my thinking and visualizing to look inward first prior to make a change caused enormous conflict for me.
How can one settle a problem just by well-balanced inhale and exhale via hours of meditation? I figured to find the answers to all of my questions there was one solution -- just give it shot.
I knew that I had to be open-minded and leave room for new things if I wanted to change and break free from my state of mental chaos
There are many retreat options for trying Vipassana, yet I chose Indonesia, even better Jakarta and Bali. I have always wanted to take time and solely enjoy my own company. Thus, I made a decision that after I completed my retreat I would celebrate with a well-deserved vacation free from work, business, and myself.
After my initial research, I signed up for this Vipassana course:
Leaving for Indonesia
I kept my plans in strict secrecy; neither my family nor my friends knew where and why I was leaving. I simply informed everyone that I was leaving for a business trip and would be traveling across the Asia Pacific for two weeks or so.
When I arrived at the Jakarta-based center, it was packed with people from different walks of life, of different ages, and in different states of mind. Some were mingling and others who were first-timers like myself were wondering if this was some kind of cult.
I remember striking up a conversation with Tristan Turner from Australia, who remains a good friend of mine today. We asked one another why we were there and what we do in life, and then wished one another good luck in the journey.
We were told that there should be no eye contact, speaking, phones, the technology of any kind, reading, writing, listening to music, exercise, nor physical contact with others. Leaving the premises was prohibited also, except to walk around the compound, which was surrounded by mountains. I felt like I was Edmond Dantes in the Château d'If.
There were approximately 200 people. We were given the key to our rooms, and to my surprise, I had my own room. Even better, it was room N-7, which is my favorite number.
Some of the other participants shared rooms. In some there were two people, others had four people. Everyone had to follow the given mandatory guidelines if they wanted to make most of the retreat. To me, it felt like I had to swallow the sun to accept this. How could one live with roommates and not get to know one another? How was it possible not to talk, share, and enjoy one another`s company if no one is allowed to?!
The Beginning of 10 Days of Solitude
At 8:30 a.m., in the beginning of summer, all participants show up for the first day of the communal meditation for the first time. Men are on one side and women are on the other. We were told that we have to keep our eyes closed and legs crossed, and concentrate entirely for the first three days on our inhale and exhale strictly.
The more I tried to focus, the harder it became. My head was full of noise. Keeping my eyes closed was a challenge for no logical reason, but I did my best to follow the guidelines. In the mornings and evenings, everyone had communal meditation. In between, we were offered vegetarian food and free time to meditate in our rooms and walk on our own in the woods before dinner at 7:00 p.m.
The routine reminded me that I was facing my mental prison. Yet, the more I meditated in my room and with the community, the more personal it became, not to mention the pain I felt in my back and the complete numbness from keeping my legs crossed. Out of blue, tears would start streaming down my face uncontrollably.
On day six, I started to feel real value and accomplishment in my personal battle focusing on my breath. My entire life story was playing in my head over and over again, including quarrels with my parents, disagreements with my brothers, personal and professional frustrations and failures, and silly and foolish mistakes that ruined my reputation. The list is long. As I moved on with meditating, I felt like I was breaking free of those chains that were holding me back and resulting in self-sabotage.
I focused my energy inwards, dealing with well-buried problems and memories in silence while sitting either in my room or in the meditation hall packed with people. To me, they all seemed to have an identical story. Sometimes someone would start yelling in the middle of meditation. I understood, knowing it is hard to accept and feel it. Sometimes someone would just stand and leave the hall with no explanation. Sometimes I could see from the expression on their faces that some would find tranquility. Some would remain puzzled with their inner demons. Others would just go with the flow, which is what I preferred to do.
Being alone with your own thoughts for 10 days in silence mode in a silent retreat doesn`t necessarily mean there is silence deep inside of you. For me, it felt like a tsunami washing over my memories, touching upon deeply buried emotions, and shuttering all the chains, eventually setting me free from myself.
I admit it was too hard to keep up with meditation, follow all the guidelines, and manage myself with everything combined. Upon finishing, I learned that it was not about managing my anger or frustration, but about harmonizing or making peace with myself that mattered. It wasn't about knowing others, but about knowing myself. Just like Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Now it made a lot more sense to me. My biggest learning was that I didn't have to change the world, but change myself. Upon coming to this conclusion, I reminded myself of this quote by Rumi: When I was younger I wanted to change the world, when I got older I learned that I had to change myself
The Last Stand (Day 10)
On the last day of meditation, in the afternoon, we were allowed to get to know one another. I never felt so happy to have a simple human connection. All of the members were full of happiness. A positive aura surrounded everyone as we all started getting to know one another more intimately. The joy of being connected to and being listened to by others never felt so good prior to this experience.
On the last day for hours we spoke with one another sharing our story, those that connected became friends, both online and offline, i still enjoy keeping in touch fellas like:
James Streatfield, Raj Roy, Remy Rd, Meriki Garnett, Mark Anthony, Davide Bernardi, Clemow Bergmann, and of course, Tristan are among others...
After the retreat, some of us went to Bali and would continue sharing our stories and dive deep into spiritual and philosophic discussions during our lunch and dinners.
One thing was very clear -- none of us would ever be the same again
Upon arrival to Moscow, I never felt so alive or so connected to myself. The feeling is hard to express, yet so obvious to feel within me. I am not saying that I got rid of all my inner demons, previously committed mistakes that I am sorry for, or failures that could have been avoided, but the meditation created space for all of them to coexist in harmony rather than in conflict.
When talking to my friends, those that know me well, they would mention there was something about my being that slightly changed. I would agree. Anything that I put my hands no longer felt like a burden. I finally didn't have to spend hours struggling to concentrate. I was able to put my ass in the chair, essentially the driver’s seat, and take complete control. I could read a book in two or three days and take notes to reflect on.
I could write articles in a five to nine-hour timeframe. I could focus more deeply and improve my Chinese (not as good as i want though). There were no more battles with myself to stop looking at my phone. I didn't have to do things because I had to; I did them because I wanted to and because I wanted to stop doing 10 things at once. I could give my full attention to my priority task with a lot more ease.
Today, whenever I engage in any activity I don’t feel as unfocused, hopeless, or restless like I used to in the days prior to my Vipassana awakening.
I don't feel irritated or annoyed when I face uncomfortable situations of any kind. Flexibility and harmony go hand-in-hand. Whenever I have an issue to deal with or get to the moment when I feel like I am losing control over my life and need to be a lot more proactive and productive, I listen to myself, even more deeply than even before, to stay focused and keep my eyes on the big picture.