Always up for a quick dose of self-improvement, I attended this dinner event last week in Singapore. The keynote celebrity speaker was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a guy whose picture I had seen before, but who I had frankly never chosen to pay much attention to.
And if I’m honest, I suppose it’s because the Western, Judeo-Christian-raised part of me can’t help but tell me that an Indian dude in a white robe and a beard is too weird and wacky to be taken seriously. But somehow I managed last week to push beyond my built-in racist tendencies and I actually paid money for a non-substantial vegetarian meal at a fancy Singapore hotel (no alcohol served either) to listen to Sri Sri speak for half an hour, and to then participate in a 5-minute mindfulness meditation.
I am glad that I managed to push through my pre-conceived notions about the guy based on his photo because I got to learn a lot about someone who has made it his life’s mission to get people to be more present and “in the moment” with themselves, primarily through breathing, and then, as a result raise the collective consciousness of society. His impact globally has been significant and he has been credited with playing a role in the 2015 peace deal between the Columbian government and FARC rebels, as well as in other peace agreements.
So while I was glad to have had my eyes opened to someone who is doing something real and significant in the world (someone I would have normally simply chosen to ignore), I was struck by how downright simple his message and advice was to the attendees. My expectation was that I would hear him speak and give answers to questions that would really knock my socks off. Instead, his message was one of simplistic compassion to others. And when an audience member asked him, “how can I better prioritize all the many things I have to do in my life?”, his answer was “don’t worry, the things that are most important will just make their way to the top of the list”. I got the feeling that the guy asking the question didn’t get the answer he wanted.
The other interaction which stood out to me, especially from the standpoint of being a coach, was when Sri Sri was asked “why can’t I listen to my gut instinct more often?”, the idea being that that guy’s head/thinking was getting in the way of making good decisions. Instead of answering the question, he replied with “I don’t know, you tell me why.” This was, in fact, the only correct reply as it is up to each of us to answer “what gets in the way?” when it comes to following our inner truth and intuition. We all know the answers, yet our conditioned thinking all too often gets in the way and causes us to stumble.
The ultimate irony of the evening was that after a 5-minute “mindfulness meditation” I walked home where my wife was waiting for me and happy to hear about what I’d learned from the guru in the white robe. We spoke at length about the talk and Sri Sri’s interactions and “advice” given to audience members. Yet it was only the next morning that my wife very politely pointed out to me the new hair cut/style she’d had done the day before – which I had completely not noticed. So much for my mindfulness! The journey continues…