When Your Bandwidth is Full - The Importance of "Empty Mind" As a Transformational Leadership Practice
by Alan Seale
Photo - Jos Rovers
I recently returned from my annual week-long retreat at the beach. It was a wonderful week - gorgeous weather, perfect water temperature, daily naps, time to read - very restful and rejuvenating. Each day began with a walk about a mile down the beach to my favorite spot for meditation. As I sat cross-legged on the sand in the edge of the surf, I could feel the earth beneath me, the gentle surf washing over me, the breeze against my skin, and the warmth of the early morning sun on my back. After the winter months of being indoors and so much traveling, it was a great way to reconnect with all of the elements.
My intention for this retreat week was "empty mind." The last months have been very full and, while my mind has been engaged with many wonderful projects, my mental bandwidth was approaching overload! Although I practice "empty mind" in my morning meditation every day, that alone isn't always enough when the mental bandwidth is full. It was time to clear my mental screen and see what wanted to show up. I spent big chunks of each day sitting and staring out into the horizon over the sea and letting my mind be completely empty of thoughts, plans, articles, and decisions. Just being. It was heaven! And it was the best gift I could have given to my work.
My week at the beach reminded me of the importance of empty mind as a transformational leadership practice. Too often we don't realize how full our bandwidth is until we stop the daily push. The more overloaded we have been, the longer it takes to relax and let get out of "work mode." It takes stopping the push and getting quiet to release the mental pressure and the bandwidth overload. Usually once we begin to decompress and open up some inner space, we very quickly want more, and then more. Just getting a little taste of empty mind creates a yearning for the rest, clarity, objectivity, and fresh perspectives that can be available to us if we will just create the space for it.
Whether you are leading a large organization, your family, or your own life, in today's high-speed, high-need, and high-expectation world, it is easy to get lost in all there is to do. Even though you may have a daily reflective practice, it is not always enough to fully open your mind and heart to what really wants to happen. It can be helpful to add short "empty mind" check ins during the day, and then schedule more extended empty mind retreats periodically. These extended retreats might be for a couple of hours, a day, a week, or even longer. The important thing is to schedule them - to write them into your calendar - or they won't happen.
Let's look at some of the huge benefits of empty mind as well as some very simple tools to help you become skilled at accessing an empty mind state of being.
First the benefits – the motivation for getting good at empty mind.
1. Rest and Rejuvenation
The first benefit from empty mind, especially if you have been living on overload, is rest and rejuvenation. It is amazing what can shift in your whole being when you just allow your mind to rest. All of your systems start to breathe again. You realize that, in fact, it is possible to have space in your life – that life does not have to be one long run-on sentence! So the first benefit is rest.
2. Intuitive Thinking, New Perspectives
As you begin to rest and feel some space coming into your life, perspectives begin to shift, your awareness begins to expand, and you start to think more clearly, both intellectually and intuitively. As the mind continues to empty and more space becomes available, you become more of an observer of all that is going on within you and around you rather than being so caught up in it. You become more objective in your understanding and awareness.
3. Enhanced Creativity
As space continues to open in your mind, you find your creativity greatly enhanced. You discover opportunities that you hadn't seen before, and are able to see beyond problems to discover the potential that is waiting to emerge. You are able to see or sense the pathway forward to something new.
4. Personal Sense of Well Being and Wholeness
One of the most potent benefits of empty mind is beginning to feel whole again. When our bandwidth is full, we can start to feel splintered or pulled in many directions at once. We can start to feel like we've been pulled apart into many pieces, with one piece of us taking care of this project, another piece focusing on that relationship, another piece handling that crisis, and on it goes. As you empty your mind, somehow the pieces of you start coming back together again and you remember what it is like to be whole, complete, clear, rested, objective, and creative. You remember what it is like to be in command of your life and to choose with intention and awareness how you wish to allocate your personal resources.
So how do you get to this empty mind state? I admit that it does take more than just setting aside some time. It does take practice, yet the practice can be simple. It can also bring pretty quick results if you are gentle and compassionate with yourself to let yourself find your way, while at the same time being diligent about your practice. It can feel great to know you are actually taking concrete steps towards achieving the benefits listed above.
Remember that the root of the word discipline is "disciple." So in choosing to practice empty mind, set your intention to become a disciple of what you are seeking – perhaps clarity, creativity, greater Consciousness, rest, or whatever feels right to you. The point is that your discipline feels good because you are devoting time and energy to something that is opening up your life and leadership again and giving you many more possibilities.
Four Simple Tools
Whether emptying your mind is a new practice for you or something you've been working with for many years, here are four very simple and practical tools that can help you.
1. One-minute Breath Re-charge
A very simple one is to practice focusing your attention on your breath coming in and going out for 60 seconds. That's all – just one minute. Simply pay attention to your breath as it comes in, has its natural pause, and then goes out. There will be a natural pause again before you inhale once more. You might even want to gently smile as you pay attention to your breath. Do this simple exercise every couple of hours for just one minute. Within a few days, you are likely to start noticing a difference in being able to empty your mind.
2. The Empty Mind Walk
Another very simple tool for emptying your mind is to take a walk and count your steps. Begin in an easy way by counting one, two, one, two, etc. Then experiment with a count of three, four, six, eight, twelve, or any number you wish. Just count your steps up to that number, and then start over again. Find the rhythm and tempo that feels good for you--that allows your body to feel like it is in a flow. Once you have found your comfortable rhythm, continue the exercise for at least five minutes. Each day, extend the time of your walking and counting until you are counting your steps for 15 minutes. Notice what begins to shift in your body as you do this exercise, as well as what begins to shift in your mind. Within a few days, most people find that by focusing on the counting, their mind is getting clearer. Because I love to walk, this is one of my favorites and something I practice several times a day.
3. Measured Breathing
A variation on this exercise can be to breathe in and out in rhythm with your counting. You can actually do this exercise sitting, or incorporate it into the Empty Mind Walk. It is very simple. Just find the natural number of steps or counts that feels comfortable for you for your inhalation, and then exhale over the same number of counts and/or steps. Breathe in this gentle, easy rhythm for several minutes. Again, notice what begins to shift in your mind and in your body. This easy exercise should also help you begin to empty your mind.
4. Becoming Mindful
The last tool to share with you here is focusing your awareness on your body and your surroundings. I call this exercise "Becoming Mindful," and you can find it on page 37 of my latest book, Create A World That Works.
Begin by sitting comfortably and focusing your attention on your breath coming in and going out. Let your breath find its own natural, steady, even rhythm. Then become aware of your body in the chair – how the chair holds you, and whether or not you allow yourself to sink into the chair and let the chair support you. After a few moments, become aware of your clothes on your skin. Keep your focus there for a bit, and then become aware of one part of your body touching another. As you keep your focus on these things, you will notice your mind getting quieter. Finally, notice the sounds that you hear – the close up sounds and the far away sounds – the many layers of sound. This exercise can help you become more focused, present, and grounded, allowing you to more easily reach a state of empty mind. I use it throughout my day.
There are many ways to begin the practice of emptying the mind. These four can certainly give you a great start. Being able to empty your mind at any moment is an acquired skill, to be sure, but an essential one if you are going to do transformational work. From the place of empty mind, you will much more easily access your intuitive senses, find clarity around challenges, discover creative approaches to situations, and let the future show you the best possible way for something to unfold.
Experiment with these tools for a few days to find the one or ones that feel right for you. Then commit to practicing them daily for at least two weeks. Create a practice that you absolutely know you can stick with. Keep it very simple and let it be something you look forward to so that there is no doubt that you can succeed. Feeling a result from these tools will help you sustain your practice. Otherwise, you will drift away from your commitment.
Simple and enjoyable is the key. In time you will find your own personal practice that works for you. And empty mind and its many benefits will be your reward.
Copyright © 2012 Alan Seale
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