The Hardest Thing I Ever Did was Nothing

I lived in Japan for 10 years and worked as a management consultant setting up the branch offices of Fortune 500 companies in Tokyo, Osaka, and other parts of Asia.  This allowed me to make a great living and to spend a great deal of my hard-earned Yen training with many of the premier martial arts masters of the day.  In addition to the tough physical training of the martial arts, I also regularly practiced Zen meditation.

While living in Japan, I attended a week-long Zen meditation bootcamp called “sesshin.  During sesshin, Zen practitioners eat, sleep, clean, work, live, and meditate together at a Zen temple for a week.  Besides short group lectures and brief meetings for personal direction from the Zen master, the entire sesshinbootcamp is silent.  Seated meditation, called “zazen”, is performed in 30 to 60-minute periods numerous times throughout the day separated by periods of cleaning, work, lectures, and meals.

During Zen meditation, the challenge is to quiet your mind.  To slow down.  To do…nothing.  And this is one of the hardest things — mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually — that I ever attempted in my life.  Meditating for 20 minutes is a physical challenge.  Your legs cramp and fall asleep, your back hurts, shoulders ache, you get sleepy, your neck gets stiff, knees creak.  Mentally it’s also a killer.  Thinking you’ve completed 35 minutes of a 40-minute sit, you sneak a peak at the clock only to discover it’s been five minutes.  You’ve got 35 minutes to go.  You panic.  Your mind starts wandering, you start thinking hilariously random and bizarre thoughts, self-doubt, fear, and ego plant themselves firmly in your mind.  Imagine eight plus hours of this per day.  I remember completing the first full-day of sesshin thinking to myself, “I’ve got six more days of THIS?  What the hell have I gotten myself into?”

How did I make it through this tough situation?  How do you succeed when you are challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally?  Passion, willpower, and grit only get you so far.  My willpower and passion died out before the first full day of sesshin ended.  You need inspiring support systems and structures to ensure your success.  For example, I had over 30 capable, supportive, and highly motivated people to help me through my meditation bootcamp.  Each had distinct strengths.  Some were great motivators.  Others offered wonderful advice.  Some held me accountable to not run away in the middle of the night.  The Zen master was transformative — sitting with us, eating with us, working with us, sleeping on the same mats as us, teaching us, LEADING us.

In addition to the great people, I was surrounded by other inspiring systems and structures to ensure my success.  Like software in the cloud, these elegant systems were everywhere.  Hundreds of years old, the Zen temple was designed to be pleasing to the eye.  To be open to the surrounding wooded environment, yet able to be protected from the elements.  The wooden beams and floor, sliding paper “shoji” screens, and the straw “tatami” mats all combined to create an intoxicating aroma of enlightenment.  The meditation cushions and benches were high-quality and, quite literally, supported us properly for hours of seated meditation.  Every silent, inspiring system made it easier for me to succeed, allowed me to get through the next day, supported me in achieving my meditation goals.  Allowed me to make empowered decisions.  Helped me overcome my fear and ego.

And I did it.  I made it through the week-long meditation bootcamp.  Without those inspiring support systems and structures to ensure my success — the people and elegant systems — I would not have made it through the entire week.  Passion, willpower, and grit are absolutely necessary for success.  Combine that with inspiring support systems and structures, and your success is guaranteed.  Whether you are attempting your first week long meditation bootcamp, starting a new business, selling one, or struggling in your personal and professional life, have a look:  Are you surrounded by the people and elegant systems you need to be successful?  Are you inspired and excited by them?  If not, what are you going to do about it?