As leaders and entrepreneurs we frequently find ourselves lying awake at night dreaming of our next big idea, strategizing our next product initiative, or far too often, ruminating on our struggles. If our brain is a charging device and our body is a battery just imagine the electricity we’re storing every night. Then we get up the next morning and haul all that pent up energy into the office, positive or negative, for all our employees to feel. This charge effects our culture, the energy in our office, and the health and wellbeing of your and your coworkers. Dissipating that charge, even multiple times a day, could mark the difference between success and failure, positive and negative, peace and dis-ease.
Recently had an opportunity to spend and amazing three days working with a gifted yoga teacher named Tias Little. Tias, who’s own a yoga school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has been coming to St. Louis for many years now. His teachings truly embody the heart of Yoga; both in the physical realm but more importantly in the less often taught components of dharma, meditation and pranayama. During each of the five sessions I attended, each started with a short but powerful drama talk, then a brief meditation, and on to a wonderful asana (traditional yoga) practice. But each time we transitioned from meditation to asana, while laying quietly on our back, Tias would remind us to, “empty before you begin.”
This short but powerful mantra struck me as profound. Not only in my yoga practice but even more so in my day to day routine. Returning home I did a little research and one of the few articles that specifically calls out this phrase was from Kathryn Maloney where she says, “‘Empty before you begin’ is a Zen mantra that reminds us to set the conditions for the vessel. When we intend this, we begin in a repeating ready state from which can create, learn, and become—individually and organizationally.” Well said to be sure but what does that mean and how can we put it into practice.
5 Times a Day We Can ‘Empty before we begin’
1. First Thing in the Morning
The first and best opportunity we have to empty is right after we wake up. Tomorrow, try waking up 30 minutes before anyone else in your house. Wake up, and without touching your phone, make your way quietly from your first pee to your meditation cushion or a comfortable chair where you can sit for five minutes (more if possible) and just be quiet. Set an intention to let go of any unresolved energy, ideas or dreams you had the night before. Meditate, let your mind wander, daydream or visualize your perfect day. Regardless of how you spend these five minutes, this is your first opportunity make space for what is to come. Let go of anything that no longer serves you.
2. Before You Walk Into the Office
Almost every one of my days starts out ultra spiritual. There’s meditation, candles, incense, and prayer. I feel like I’m on top of the world…then I pull out of my driveway. It’s much easier to manage the energy in our bodies and brains when we’re in complete control of our environment. Once I hit the streets it’s a jungle out there. Every time you have the desire to honk your horn (whether you do it or not) you just sent a small charge to your brain battery. So right after you park your car or get off the train, take five deep breaths and create some space in your chest and abdomen. Your coworkers will appreciate it.
3. Between Meetings
I’ve always wished my schedule at work was like high school; a 50 minute class then a 10 minute break. We got a lot done in that ten minutes. It usually included a short walk, chatting with friends and a chance for me to clear my head for geometry. Try using this schedule for your work day. Rarely can you accomplish anything in 60 minutes that you couldn’t do with 50 so end a meeting early and use the time to recenter. Don’t multi-task or check email. Just take a few deep breaths and make some more space for your next meeting. Dissipate some of that extra energy from the day’s printer jam worthless meeting. This one should be on a repeat loop. If necessary, go hide in back stall of the bathroom for five minutes where people won’t bother you. You can do it if you try.
4. Start Your Meetings
An amazing technique I’ve used with coworkers is to empty as a group before starting a meeting. This is especially useful for meetings where opinions differ greatly and tempers may flare. Before your meeting starts, ask each attendee to to share with the rest of the group what pre-conceived ideas and expectations (collectively their personal baggage) they are bringing into the meeting. This round-robin style of sharing is not only an opportunity for discussion but a practice to clear the air and to make space in everyone’s minds & bodies before the meeting actually begin. This opens the door for calm and focused discussion so vulnerability and ideas have a place to grow.
5. Before You Leave the Garage
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced a ‘driveway moment’ where I was listening to NPR on my way home and didn’t want to miss the end of This American Life. I sit quietly in the peace and quiet of my garage and shared an enjoyable moment with Ira Glass. A few quiets moments in the garage or your driveway can be incredibly powerful. With a couple little tweaks, your car, now that it’s safely returned from the jungle, can become a cocoon of solace. First, carry a small bottle of essential oils (lavender is very calming) and put a drop on each wrist. Go a little crazy and chant a mantra a few times. Pick something that resonates with you but a popular sanskrit mantra for Krishna will bring joy, love and light into your being. If that’s a little too out there just relax and breath. All of these practices will empty the vessel and release any extra charge you’re carrying from the office.
6. Before You Go To Bed
Emptying before you begin to sleep is a wonderful practice to embrace. Intentionally slowing down an hour before bed has dramatically changed the way I sleep and how rested I feel the next morning. A few years ago I was waking up constantly because my brain was still trying to solve problems while I was asleep. After speaking to a therapist about the problem she asked me if I was giving my brain permission to rest while my body was doing the same. This was a remarkable piece of advice that allows me to give my brain permission to take a break. I very intentionally spend five minutes before bed in prayer and quiet and let my brain and body know that it’s ok to take a break. This practice alone has resulted in much calmer nights where I often remember my dreams; a fun experience I hadn’t had in many years.
No One Likes a Shock
Childhood winters in Nebraska were always cold and dry. Walk around on the carpet with stocking feet and you’ll build up enough static electricity to give the next person you meet (or yourself if you touch a grounded object) a shock. You’ve undoubtedly experienced this so think back to the last time it happened and ask yourself how it felt? Surprising, jolting, mildly painful? I don’t like it when I shock myself and usually I know when it’s going to happen. This build up of static electricity is no different than building up energy in our bodies that we carry around from one meeting or person to the next. With each interaction we discharge a little of that energy to the people around us and they don’t like it anymore more than we like to get shocked.
So pick a day this week and see what it feels like to empty before you begin. Maybe commit to doing it for one week straight and see how you feel. It only takes a minute or two of deep breathing to create some space so give yourself and your coworkers a break from your fully charged self.