Meditate

A mistake in Rome...

I’m writing you from Rome, my favorite city in the world — and feeling a bit embarrassed to share with you what happened this weekend.

I was walking down the Via del Corso, one of my favorite streets, feeling happy and light.

When suddenly - BOOM! - someone smashed into me. I snapped my head around and saw the girl casually walking away. Did I have a lesson to teach her! 

Aspetta! I said loudly (“wait" in Italian). I walked towards her. 

“Why not say 'I’m sorry?’" I asked in Italian, ready to preach the wisdom of kindness.

But it was me who needed the lesson. 

She was walking with someone. Her caretaker turned around. And for the first time I saw that the girl who had run into me had a disability. It was now clear that walking was a challenge for her, and even being outside on this holiday weekend full of people enjoying the sunshine on the busiest shopping street in Rome.

It was I who was humbled. Deeply. Tears welled up in my eyes. Not only because I may have hurt this woman emotionally but because I was so wrong about the story I had created about her.

And how wrong the stories we create about others often are. And, really, the stories we create about ourselves, too. 

We live with big and small mistruths about ourselves (I’m not good enough for x, I’m not handsome enough for y, I’ll stay in this job/relationship/city because I don’t deserve something better).

In Buddhism they say everything is empty.

Can we live with everything being empty? No stories about ourselves, and certainly no stories about others?

I created a 100% false story about this woman. And probably about many others in my life. What if we let all the stories go? 

Today I pledge to trying living with fewer stories. To give people the benefit of the doubt. And to live with love, even if someone smashes into me (or the verbal equivalent) because I’ll never know the real reason why.

This month we're hosting a dinner for our members May 18th (invites go out soon!). We'll talk about the stories we create, about ourselves and others. And we'll laugh and hopefully share some humility too. If you're interested in becoming a member of The Path, which means you get special invites, discounts on retreats and join all our Tuesday sits for free, please click here to sign up (just $50, which is super super low)!

And to dip into your Buddhism, your kindness and your true self, with no stories, join us at The Standard, East Village Tuesday for a meditation with Home Nguyen of the MindKind Institute (who has more than 20 years of experience in personal leadership and mind-body practices). Home has an extraordinary way of guiding meditations that leave you feeling calm, happy and centered, so I hope you join us Tuesday:

click here to join us for meditation Tuesday at The Standard

We’re excited to meditate together — to help strip us of stories, about ourselves and others.

I've never shared this story before...

I come from the fast-paced NYC start-up world. I thought I could never show weakness. Or fear. No feelings!

But let me share a little "secret".

That's all BS.

We all get scared. We all feel alone sometimes. We all have moments of complete terror when we meet one of our heroes.

But here's the cool part ..

The moment we acknowledge it. The moment we allow ourselves to feel it. That's when everything changes.

It kind of blows my mind that I'm hosting a dinner and retreat with one of my mentors this weekend and that's it almost sold out.

Why?

Because the first time I had a chance to actually meet her, I was petrified.

I remember it like it was yesterday...

My hands were sweating. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to throw-up.

But I'm getting ahead of myself... let me give you some context.

I first heard about Sharon Salzberg when I was helping to run a tech company.

I was stressed out of my mind. I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it.

I wanted to meditate but didn’t know where to start. 

Every time I actually tried to do it, I thought I was doing something wrong and would just wind up getting more stressed .. and feel frustrated and stop!

I went to guided meditations all over the city but nothing felt quite right. I couldn't connect or identify with these people. I never felt "apart of." 

I didn't feel surrounded by people like me - a founder, super ambitious, surrounded by other entrepreneurs who wanted to learn meditation mainly to feel sane. To stop, even for a second, the churning of my mind which swirled in circles of stress worse than a cyclone.

The teachers whose classes I attended kept talking about the luminaries of meditation in the U.S. I retained only two names: Jon Kabat Zinn for mindfulness and Sharon Salzberg for loving-kindness. 

At that point in my life, I didn't feel any real "loving kindess" for myself, so I began to use Sharon's name as a "makeshift mantra" of sorts, and I would somehow always feel better once I did. 

Crazy, right?

I imagined what it would be like to someday meet her and how I would feel. It brought be calm and peace. But if I'm being honest...

I didn't really think I would ever meet her. I didn’t know where she lived, but I assumed it was on a mountain, maybe somewhere in Tibet or Nepal or somewhere else where she could meditate all day and think deep thoughts. It felt really, really different from my life.

One day a friend invited me to a meditation Sharon was leading. I couldn’t believe she was in NYC! I couldn’t believe I could ever be in the same room with a teacher as famous as she was.

Heck, this was the woman who literally wrote the book on loving-kindness and is often credited with bringing compassion meditation from the East to the West and helping to make it mainstream!

I remember sitting in the back of the room, awed and humbled to be in the same room as this famous teacher. I remember she taught us six phrases we could use to practice loving-kindness meditation on our own: 

“may you [or I] be happy, may you be peaceful, may you live with ease, 
may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be strong.”

I loved the first three of these phrases and used them for a half hour sit with Sharon that night. Sitting, still, at the back of the room, afraid to move up or to say hi. 

That evening I went back to work, as was my life as a tech founder, and I’ll never forget what happened. I answered emails from partners and from people on our team. 

And I was funny! I was kind. Something had "shifted". 

After this meditation with Sharon, without even trying, I was myself! I was funny and silly and light — and the next day my colleagues commented on how different my tone was in the emails they got from me that night :-)

Sharon’s phrases became my daily practice. 

It was the one respite in stressful days of press interviews, meetings, calls and panic attacks (that I didn’t tell anyone about). 

Then one day, when I had a panic attack and couldn’t cross the street to my office, I left my job and the company I had co-founded and took a 2.5-year trip around the world to get healthy again. To shake off the stress of running my first start-up...

As you can probably guess that’s when I really *found* meditation. I ended up studying around the world. 

And I had the inspiration, on a 10-day retreat in India, to start The Path — and to bring meditation back to the US and try helping people avoid the panic attacks and burnout I had suffered living a hectic "always on the go" life for so many years.

Eventually, I was ready to go back to NYC. As a new, better version of myself. And to launch The Path community.

On our first month, my co-founder and I made a dream list of people we wanted to partner with. Sharon topped the list. 

We laughed and said to each other — if we can ever do anything with Sharon, we’ll know we will have made it. And we will have accomplished our goal of offering to the next generation of change-makers — the best meditation teachers in the country. 

A few months after we launched a friend invited me (yay!) to a gathering of some of the top thought leaders in meditation in the city. I saw Sharon on the invite list, too. I couldn’t believe it. I opened the door to the event and took a deep breath. 

A group of people were there. Including Sharon. 

My hands were sweating. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to throw-up. It all felt like a blur...

But within a few minutes, someone introduced us, telling Sharon that I had just started a community called The Path, and asked me to explain our concept to see what she thought. 

Want to know what's so crazy about all this?

I used to be a live TV reporter. I've met some of the most famous and successful celebrities and business people in the world. I’ve given speeches to thousands of people. And yet...

I’ve never been so scared to speak in my life.

My voice trembled, and I said, “I’ve studied meditation around the world. Including your work. My partner and I believe you can put all of the types of meditation into four categories: mindfulness, mantra, energizing and meditation to help you accomplish a goal, like compassion or loving-kindness. We think all four categories are valid. And we want to teach all of them, to help people find the technique that’s best for them.”

And then I held my breath. 
I was, in a word, terrified. 
No one spoke. 

And finally, that famous, awesome, warmth of a Sharon Salzberg smile emerged. “I like that,” she said. “That makes a lot of sense. I support what you’re doing.”

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

I came back to the gathering the next month. As did she. 

We became close.

Now, two years later, Sharon is a dear friend. We know we're both night owls (shhhh), so we email funny things to each other at all hours. I helped her choose the font for her new book. And I forward her silly emails from my mom extolling the virtues of empathy :).

And yet, just last year I was terrified to ask her something once again...

We were both at the Wisdom 2.0 conference and walking to the bathroom after a session. I held my breath and asked her to lead a retreat for us.

And without hesitating — my hero, mentor and teacher said YES!

In that bathroom we closed the deal for her to lead her first retreat for The Path, last September. 

It was amazing.

This year we wanted to do something cool, and she had the idea to lead a seder. I thought she was kidding but said I would call her bluff and say yes, let's do it! 

She wasn't kidding. So on Friday we're doing it. She'll play rabbi and lead a "Jewish-Buddhist non-denominational vegan seder" (her name, her idea). 

I couldn't be more excited for this event. 

Because I know she will help you in the way she helped me. To breathe, live and love again.

And I also want to help her. I want to help bring her new book to bestseller status. 

So I'm thrilled we'll have a "day of love" retreat with her about the book Saturday. And that we're asking everyone who joins to buy a copy of her book. Or two. 

I WANT to help this woman who's changed my life so much for the better to get to bestseller status on her new book the week it's released. That's why we're asking people to buy books to attend the dinner and the retreat.

Sharon is one of my favorite people in the world.

On Friday I almost can’t believe I have the honor of introducing one of my life mentor’s and inspirations.

As our teacher. For the weekend. I hope you can join us and see how she can change your life for the better, just as she has changed mine.

Want to join us?

Click here to reserve one of the final spots...
and experience the "Sharon magic" yourself.
 

Conversation with a Meditation Teacher: Dr. Home Nguyen of MindKind Institute

The Path community was fortunate to experience a beautiful meditation led by Home Nguyen on Tuesday, February 21st. Sonali Nigam, a community member of The Path and graduate of our teacher training program, asked him a few questions about his life and work afterward. 

Dr. Home is the founder of the MindKind Institute and has over 20 years of experience in personal leadership, mind-body practices, career development, executive coaching, and facilitating organizational effectiveness. His mission is to develop mindful, influential, and compassionate leaders, and to help them master their power so they can make a real difference in the world.

The Path: Can you tell us about how you began on your path towards mindfulness?

In my 20s, I was going through a difficult period in my life – traveling, working too hard, experiencing insomnia and a very painful ulcer. I worked as an Artistic Director for a theater company and one evening a young actress came to me. She said, “We need to talk now, “and I tried to brush her off. But she was very insistent. She said to me, “You are very charismatic and you get people to do what you want, but I don’t feel loved when I work with you.” At the time I didn’t understand, but this conversation stayed with me. Soon afterward I checked myself into a Vipassana retreat for 10 days. That was the beginning of my meditation practice as an adult.

The Path: So that was a turning point in your life that led you to meditation…

There is one more event I would like to share. I was thirteen years old, and I was on a boat lost in the middle of the ocean – a refugee from Vietnam. We were lost at sea for 19 days. One day there was a huge wave coming towards me, and I was certain it was going to kill us. I thought that all 91 people on that boat would die.  I saw death up close and had to face it. In that moment I let go, I decided to accept death. In that moment I felt a very deep peace that I had not experienced before. From there the boat drifted into southern Thailand where I lived in a refugee camp for a year. For a thirteen-year-old boy that was a very profound experience. But at that time my brain was not developed enough to understand the significance of that moment.

The Path: What has your personal meditation journey been so far? Any challenges, any unexpected outcomes?

I have been exploring and practicing meditation for over twenty years now. After all these years, I still face difficulties. There are days I am distracted by the phone, Facebook, the news. Often, I still wake up in the morning not wanting to mediate. The difference for me is that when I find myself stressed or avoiding meditation I respond differently that I did before. In the past I used to judge myself, I was harsh. I would tell myself, “What’s the matter with you, what's wrong with you, you are weak, you have failed, you are not doing this right”. But now the judgement is still there but I can recover much faster. I tell myself that this period of struggling will pass. I will forgive myself. I will start again.
 
The practice of mindfulness is about letting go of what was and starting again in the present moment. In taking that approach of starting again, I use a beginner’s mind. I let go of achievement, I let go of measurement. I show up and do my meditation as I am in this moment. Even if it was for one breath, that is good enough to start again.

The Path: What advice would you give to those who are at the beginning of their path towards mindfulness?
 

My advice for a new practitioner is to allow yourself to start over again. The second tip is to find a good teacher. Think about learning to swim, when you are beginner you need a good coach. Once you learn how to swim you can surf, you can dive and do so many other things. But at the beginning, you need a good teacher to help you learn the foundations, and helping you to be safe and sane as you starting the exploration.

The Path: Can you speak about the work that you are currently doing in the field of mindfulness?
 

I recently finished my PhD at Columbia University, and my doctoral research was on mindfulness and how it relates to leadership, in particular how leaders can create environments that help their organizations become mindful. I have been teaching students at the Columbia Business School and Law School on how to develop mindful leadership practices for about 6 years now.  My research and practice is to understand how we can incorporate mindfulness into everyday life and how we can influence others in a positive and healthy ways.
 

Why I'm smiling...

I'm sitting in my favorite cafe, enjoying a green tea ... with a big smile on my face.

Why?

Because I'm looking at the site we're creating for the next Path Experience .. which we're doing again March 11th.

We'll finish the site soon and make spots available WEDNESDAY AT NOON (set that calendar alert...).

If we missed you the first time around and you're wondering what The Path Experience is .. 

I wanted to create something that provides the benefit of a multi-day retreat .. in just five hours. And do it in beautiful spaces, with great people .. so it's fun, social .. and transformative.

And .. it worked! 

People REALLY connected and said the meditations flew by .. they loved them, felt a profound impact, and actually wanted more! 

By the end people said they felt:

"really open and a bit blissed out"
"Loved it! Felt really great after."
"I felt relaxed and good."
"Elated. Peaceful. Connected."
It's hard for me to describe how I felt ..

Maybe the word is serene. Like I had nothing to prove, no need to be charming or funny. For maybe the first time in my life I felt ok 'being' rather than 'doing.'

It also had a big effect on people's work. You meet great people at the Path Experience (I'm working now with three of the people who joined the last one!). But it also affected people's productivity. One woman wrote me a few days after:

"I've had one of the most productive and crystal clear weeks in ages. I'm overwhelmed by the amount of progress I've been able to make in a week in my work and in my love life, and I think part of that is having a clear mind."

Our next Path Experience will be even better.

We're gathering in a jaw-dropping home off Union Square featured in The New York Times. We hired a chef to prepare dinner. And we'll serve gourmet snacks, organic home brewed coffee and Kombucha made by members of our community.

I'm SO excited for this. We're going to keep it intimate again — just 25 people. Spots will sell quickly, and we're raising the price to cover the chef and dinner, but I also want to make this accessible.

So we're going to offer TEN spots at $250 Wednesday at noon before we raise the price to $300.

It's the benefits of a retreat. In a stunning home. With amazing people. And a dinner party. Can't wait.