For most entrepreneurs in their first year of business, the idea of taking an entire month offline to pursue something they feel is valuable or worthwhile seems unthinkable. We’re drilled into believing we always need to put our clients first, need to be accessible at every moment (waking or not) and should be working all the time. I’ve built my business on the premise that in order to serve my clients and community best, I need to be the best version of myself. So, when the opportunity came to live in an Ashram in the Maharastra province of India for a month, I acted upon it. I decided it would be a smart investment for my business and my life to live in an Ashram for a month. I was hoping to gain insights into a different lifestyle and culture, with the intention of applying the lessons I learned to the way I live my life. I was lucky to absorb some key concepts and important lessons from Ashram living which everyone in the West can benefit from, either personally or professionally:
How to Listen
Six of my thirty days in the Ashram were spent in complete silence. In the context of Ashram living, silence means not only not speaking but also not communicating with others. You spend the day with your head down, avoiding eye contact and all other forms of communication. The experience was beautiful and taught me about observing thoughts but more importantly, learning to listen and observe. Talking is an addiction and we often use it to fill uncomfortable spaces or even just hear out own voice. The time and space to stop and think about words not only empowered me to be more conscious of speaking, but taught me more about listening. Listening is perhaps the most valuable skill for anyone looking to serve their clients as authentically as possible. The power of silence is paramount to all else.
Remembering to Focus on Myself
During our first night at the Ashram, our teacher Ghandar spoke about the significance of focusing our time at the Ashram on ourselves and not those around us. ‘It is an individual activity which takes place in a group environment,’ he said of living in an Ashram. ‘Do not focus on the others. You do not get the benefits by thinking about the experience of others. You only get benefits when you focus on yourself.’ This advice was extremely helpful and a great reminder of staying true to myself. The application of this principle to our businesses and lives is easy to draw. Often, we evaluate ourselves in comparison to others. Maybe we look at a competitor with more desirable clients or cleverer marketing. The exercise is futile. If we are clear on what we need to feel fulfilled and how we subjectively define success, it is easy to stay focused on achieving that. This applies to you no matter what industry you work in. Once you realize your business is about your tribe, your service and your contribution, regardless of what anyone else is doing, you become empowered to serve as best as possible. Remember to focus on what matters to you first.
The Importance of our Environment
The food at the Ashram was totally vegetarian and there were no caffeinated beverages served. Yes, this means a month without coffee. While I never thought about coffee during my time at the Ashram, I did find myself craving it when I would go into town during our weekly day-off. I asked Ghandar, ‘why am I interested in coffee when I am in the city but not at the Ashram?’ He patiently responded, ‘it is because everyone in the city drinks coffee but here no one focuses their attention on it. The environment you surround yourself in plays a highly influential role in where you direct your attention.’ It is such a simple and trite observation but is filled with such depth. If you want to achieve specific goals either professional or personal, the environment you spend your time in will be a significant factor in determining your ability to execute. If you find yourself distracted from what really matters, it could be that the people or places around you don’t help you focus on reaching those goals. While we are unable to control many things in our life, choosing our environment is a choice. Remember you can always switch it up if things aren't working for you.
Why We Need To Step Back
There is an idea in our culture that we always have to work faster, harder and smarter. If we take our foot of the gas for a second we may lose all of our momentum. But, I found that taking a significant break from my work actually gave me the space to come back and be better at it than I was before. While it did seem silly (especially for my profession) to be offline for so long and so out of touch, my first month back from the Ashram was one of my best months of the year. Upon reflection, I think I was able to serve my clients so much better when out of the Ashram, because I was in such a relaxed and calm mindset. I learned about the importance of stepping back and giving time and space to look at everything in my business and life from a more patient perspective. You can only do this when you fully detach. Try taking a little break with a few days here or there and pursue something you are passionate about or do something you love. The more you do things you enjoy, the happier you will be and the better you can serve. That is, after all, what we are all here for: serving each other and making the world a better place through our unique contributions.