How Meditation and Kindness Changed Me

Gus Tai - An optimistic realist (or was that an accidental tourist?) Nov 30, 2016

My own journey with mediation started in 2001. I don’t remember exactly why I began, but I do remember feeling quite stressed by the collapsing Internet bubble. As a board member of many startups, I was anxious that some of these companies might fail. Anything that could help me relax into this tense environment was worth exploring.

Despite my initial enthusiasm, I quickly found meditation to be frustrating. This is a common refrain, and I was no different from others. Focusing on my breath struck me as an odd way to invest in my well-being. Wouldn’t it be better to be doing actual things? Perhaps things that could help my companies? And I found that my mind kept racing. At the time, I was under the mistaken belief that my mind shouldn’t have any thoughts. It felt like I was continually failing.

What shifted for me was dedicating myself to the care of my own well-being. I felt selfish at first, but then I realized that if anyone wants to engage vibrantly in the world, he or she serves others best by being fully charged and nourished. Just as it’s obvious that one can’t sprint a marathon, it’s equally clear that one can’t maximally contribute by being constantly run down by exhaustion and stress.

So I chose to indulge my stubbornness. I stuck with a practice and overcame my misconceptions. Many years later, I now have a daily ritual which helps me recharge and tap into my wisdom, which in the past, I would have overlooked.

I don’t want to enumerate the benefits of the various meditation practices since there are dedicated resources which provide that information. From my own experience, I feel that I’m much more able to respond rather than react; to assess rather than judge; and to accept being human and all of the turbulence that come with it. The examination of these waves has caused me to be more kind to myself and kind to others. It’s often not easy being a human being. We deserve as much kindness and compassion as we can get.

My meditation practice also affects how I engage in my professional work. These days, when CEOs ask me how I’m different from other venture capitalists, I often answer, “It’s simple. I have care and concern for your holistic well-being.” It’s not that other investor/board members are heartless, but it’s clear to me that a person’s well-being is the foundation of his or her capabilities and strengths. Caring for the person is caring for the company. And a side benefit is that connecting with others is itself nourishing.

These days, making well-being an explicit priority is a matter of wisdom. Perhaps before, we could assume everyone was balanced and well. But we’re now living in a time where technology and media nudge us to race from one situation to the next. We sleep less, eat faster, exert ourselves more, and ignore rising fatigue that builds up in our bodies. This pace can’t be sustained.

I focus on making sure my CEOs don’t get caught in this reactive loop. I’ll frequently ask, how is their well-being? Are they taking care of themselves first? And what about their immediate family? Do they have rituals in place that help them recharge? Getting to a place of healthy well-being is key. From that place, we can explore the situation at hand, see more clearly, and respond more wisely.

Meditation has been life changing for me. However, what is more important than the method is the commitment to any type of rejuvenating practice. If we want to show up consistently, we need to fuel our mind, body or soul.

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