Four years ago I was sitting in the meditation hall in my master’s ashram when suddenly the whole world became alive. The chair I was sitting on, the carpet, the column, the air—every inch of matter and space was alive and pulsating with love, it was love itself. Technically I saw that my so-called body was still separate from the so-called walls, but I could find no separate me anymore, no borders, no separation in the Being itself. The whole creation was full of bliss, which was streaming through me and all things and beings. It was bliss itself and I could literally understand what the saints meant when they said they had heard angels singing the glory of the Lord.
In the evening when the master came out for a talk he told me that now I was ready to start teaching the methods he taught me for the previous five years.
And I did so. And I’m still sharing his methods during intensive workshops and meditation retreats with those who would like to remember themselves as ever-present wakefulness.
But there was something else. I felt there was no separation between my secular life and spiritual life anymore as well. I saw—or should I say I was feeling and embodying—that what we often called spirituality was in the core of our mundane activities in every moment: hidden for most people but underlying the essence of their being.
I spent 15 years of my life in a corporate context working in large publishing houses like Hearst Media Russia and Hachette Filipacchi Russia, and later I was a director of the first Russian integral development center, where I met with Susan Cook-Greuter and Beena Sharma. I knew that many young, well-educated and creative Russians spend their lives in offices. And many of them suffered there.
So my inquiry was around those questions: What if I can share with people in corporations what I experience about the essence of life not saying anything about spirituality? What if I find a simple way to bring the spirit of awakening to the corporate context without saying a single word about the awakening? How would it look like?
I must confess that when I say inquiry I don’t mean thorough market research or reading books. I had no directions and I did a very natural and simple step for me at that moment—I dived deeper and deeper into my spiritual heart, into the total aliveness and stillness of the One with this subtle inquiry coming from the depth of my being and waited for what is to come.
And quite soon, almost in several days, the Being answered or there was an answer from nowhere or both simultaneously. I received an email from Sean Esbjörn-Hargens who wrote that he has launched a new project—the MetaIntegral Academy—and was inviting me to join the first cohort. And I immediately felt it was a right thing to do.
There was a condition—to come with a project. I had no idea of a project.
But in the meanwhile, I had created a web-site dedicated to the meditation approach of my master. All the methods he teaches are based on work with attention. In Russian it is called the Practice of Attentiveness or the Practice of Ultimate Mindfulness. Where the Attentiveness is similar to what is understood as Ground in Dzogchen. Ultimate mirror-like Attentiveness is our true nature.
And as we use no mantras and no rituals but work with pure attention which we bring back to ourselves at different levels of our being—from gross to subtle to causal to witnessing—I thought that I can use some of these techniques in a corporate context. I asked my heart what was gonna be my project and the answer was immediate—I had to found a company which would offer corporate meditation programs to Russian business world. And I have founded Mindful Business (Russia), LLC.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
At that point, I knew nothing about the mindfulness movement in the States. But when I googled “the practice of attentiveness” or “mindfulness” I realized that in the States a secular form of meditation had already been used for decades in a corporate context.
And later I came to the States and discovered that mindfulness was a buzz word. That Fortune 500 companies were meditating and Google introduced meditation to its employees. I was curious. I visited several executive leadership mindfulness retreats with famous American secular teachers and… I was quite disappointed. The way meditation was taught in these retreats was very Expert-style or Achiever-style. In one of the retreats a participant—an owner of a family company—asked a teacher: “Everybody promises that my decision-making will change. But why my decisions will be different if I meditate? What will be different and better?”. And the woman who led the retreat said: “Well, you will be different so you decisions will be different as well”. Just this. Hm.
It wasn’t satisfying for me. And I was pretty sure it would never be satisfying for any Russian CEO I knew. I even wouldn’t approach any of them with such a response.
And yes, it is quite obvious that teaching meditation or mindfulness people share the perspectives of their respective stages vertical development.
At the Expert Stage it’s all about rules and instructions, but you are not taught to be creative and experimental and to adjust practice to real life. The teacher will tell you to be creative (as it was during the retreat I’ve visited) but the whole spirit of that retreat was suffocatingly right and correct without actual embodiment of any creativity.
At the Achiever Stage it’s all about neuroscience and effectiveness and resilience and better decision-making and reducing absenteeism and improving KPI (you can continue). You can hack your brain as guys at Google love to say. An intense course for those who want something new and fancy.
So I asked myself (and the Universe): What does it mean to be mindful at a Strategist level? At a Unitive level? The Mindful Leader program emerged as an inquiry into this question.
The Mindful Leader Program
I felt that the main difference would be the following:
- mindfulness should be taught not as an instrument or a technique. In this case there are still times when you are practicing and times when you are not. My idea was to share with the participants the vision that mindfulness isn’t just another buzz instrument—it’s our innate quality, the ultimate nature of a human being. Which needs to be recognized and manifested not only for 20 minutes a day, but as a way of being, 24/7 if you are lucky enough.
- there should be an introduction to vertical development
- descending from head to heart—in the approach of my meditation teacher we are paying special attention to creating conditions for our spiritual heart to open, to awaken. Most of these techniques demand very stable attention (natural shamatha without object for a couple of hours is often a prerequisite) but some practices can be shown even to kids. So I thought that what is good for kids can be good for Russian top-managers as well.
It may sound very pretentious (and this is definitely not the effect I’m looking for), but as far as I know this is the only corporate mindfulness program in the world which combines meditation with vertical development.
I was a total newcomer in this market of leadership development. No connections, no friends. And it was a huge advantage—I had no idea of what was appropriate and inappropriate, what other trainers and coaches felt they could talk about with their clients and what they couldn’t. What they believed would bring money and what wouldn’t. I wasn’t limited with any assertions or prejudices.
So when I started talking to several CEOs I knew in my own language it was totally fresh and new for them and they wanted to try it all immediately—to meditate, to learn about vertical development, even to learn more about the heart. And I was extremely surprised to discover that many of them were naturally prepared to descend to the heart—just because flying high in an unstable Russian corporate context demands from you to be very mindful implicitly, even without being self-aware about this.
Of course, most of the time I don’t use any spiritual terminology—but still I always address the core of their being. And it looks like it’s working because during the last three years I was invited to teach this program to the major Russian banks and companies and the advertising happens mostly through the word of mouth.
I created this program 4 years ago, before the famous Full Spectrum Mindfulness series of the Integral Institute appeared and before I saw Ken’s book, The Fourth Turning. And for me it’s a kind of a proof that I’m attuned to the Being in a correct way—as it manifests itself in similar forms across the continents, cultures and languages.
The Mindful leader program consists of a two-day workshop and four two-hour weekly sessions.
Before meeting my meditation master I was practicing for more than 10 years in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and I found the structure of Tibetan Buddhist teachings to be very supportive for me. As there were three turns of the Wheel of The Dharma, there are three corresponding ways of teaching the Dharma—sutra, tantra and dzogchen.
I used this structure creating the program.
The two-day workshop is an introduction to the gradual path of sutra—you move on slowly, building strong theoretical foundation before the real practice begins. There is lots of neuroscience and basic mindfulness techniques. It can remind you of any mindfulness program in the world. What is a bit different is that I use some techniques which are totally unique and was given to me by my teacher. They are not intended to develop basic mindfulness and are aimed to bring your attention to the witnessing state or even create conditions for spontaneous manifestation of the Ground as fast as it possible but I have found the way to use them in a more simple context with very powerful results.
And then there are four two-hour weekly sessions, which is an introduction to tantra of leadership development. I use Action Inquiry as skillful means here as I feel that the loop-learning is very close to the basic tantric principle that the fruit is the path. In tantra pretending that you are already a bodhisattva or a yidam and visualizing yourself as him or her you are trying to live out this new transformed perspective. Applying this principle to the stages of vertical development I would say that through the process of loop-learning a person at earlier stage can reconnect with the Strategist’s or Alchemist’s nature in herself and to try to live from this perspective—just like in tantric practices we transform into deities which actually represent our own already enlightened nature. As in tantric practices it demands much more initial psychological resources but like the tantric approach, it is more powerful in results and faster.
I feel important to mention here that I don’t think that later, faster, or more powerful is better. I don’t share the idea that we all have to develop at any cost to later stages or to awakened states. For me these different paths are just different manifestations of skillful means given to us in our human realm out of great compassion an love which is the Being itself.
I would like to quote Hazrat Inayat Khan who described it so beautifully in his book The Way of Illumination:
“One may ask why the awakened ones do not awaken people in the world from the sleep of confusions. The answer is, that it is not to be advised that little children, whose only happiness is slumber, should be awakened. Their growth depends on their sleep. If they are kept up late they become ill, they will not be so useful in the affairs of life when they are grown up. Childhood needs more sleep, and the children must sleep. Such is the nature of immature souls. They are children, however old their bodies may appear. Their fancies, their joys, their delights are for unimportant things in life, as the life of children is absorbed in sweets and toys. Therefore those who are awakened walk slowly and gently, lest their footsteps may disturb the slumber of the sleeping ones. They only awaken on their way those whom they find tossing in their beds. They are the ones to whom the travelers on the spiritual path give their hand quietly. It is for this reason that the spiritual path is called the mystical way. It is not unkind to awaken a few and to let many sleep, but on the other hand it is great kindness to let those slumber who require sleep”.
I have discovered that quite often people who are at top positions in companies are already tossing in their corporate beds. They already possess the resources to encounter their own awakening soul and meditation and Action Inquiry in one program can produce a great effect (at least in Russian context). And the feedback I get from the clients proves this.
So my next question was very obvious and simple—if the principle of three turns of the wheel is quite universal (at least, as it unfolds in my experience now): What will a dzogchen approach to vertical development be? Does it exist already in a manifested realm or in other words has this turn happened already?
I don’t know. This is an open question I’m living with in the heart of my being. But I want to use the chance and in this little article to share some of my feelings and observations regarding this issue and to invite you to share yours.
The Dzogchen of Vertical Development
While sutra is a gradual path and tantra is a path of transformation, dzogchen is a path of great perfection or resting effortlessly in our true nature. If we are able to recognize our own true nature right here and now we don’t need a path or a practice. Even more—any path or practice will be distracting us from our true realization. It is formulated in simple and beautiful way in the following words: “There is nothing to meditate on yet there is no distraction”.
But what can it mean in terms of vertical development and in a leadership context? Does it make any sense to approach leadership development from such a perspective?
Here are some feelings and observations I would like to share with you.
When I talk to HR-directors and CEOs in Russia I see that more and more of highly-educated and developed people come to understanding that in a new world their heads are not serving them any more as good processing and data-operating systems and don’t support them in decision-making. Even more, they find rational thinking as sometimes limiting. As one investment banker told me:
“I wake up at night and I can’t sleep. For years there was a known and an unknown. In trading you are ready for the unknown but this unknown is still a known unknown if you understand what I mean . But what I and my team are encountering now every day is the unknown unknown! It’s like black swans are everywhere and you never know when one will appear and we have no idea how to prepare ourselves for this”.
They also confess that they have read tons of books about intuition, insights, nonlinear thinking and the flow state but in these books they didn’t find practices to actually get into all these states or to develop intuition and non-linear thinking.
When I offer them a hypothesis that there is another type of communication with the world around them—from the perspective of the heart—and that through opening their heart they can get access to these states I find that many of them are already prepared for this idea. They are ready to try and to experiment.
What does it mean in practice?
Put it simply, if a leader is gravitating more in stages of development from the Conventional to the Strategist level, she will believe that there is a she and the outside world and she is doing something in this outside world—learning new practices, leading people, creating strategies, even reinventing organizations. It can happen in very sophisticated ways including multiple perspectives and paradigms but the separate ego of the leader is still present. And this separate ego is communicating with the outside world in different ways.
But when we totally descend to our hearts we uncover that there is no separation any more. We continue to operate in a mundane human reality but it’s a total U-turn. Reference points shift 180 degrees. There is still a subtle witnessing self but it is not separated from the whole anymore. I and the father are one. And this is where all tantric transformations happen naturally, not as something practiced or done intentionally, but as a natural process—like breathing. When our heart opens into the wholeness of the Universe the whole Universe provides us with resources and support.
What is happening here is that a leader doesn’t work with the outside world anymore as there is no outside world. He is just staying silently in his open heart and the Being is transforming its’ lower more dense realms through the open heart of the leader. You don’t do anything in terms of your personal doing but from the outside it may seem like you are teaching meditation or running a multinational corporation. Yet there is a subtle doing left here—this transformational process which is happening through all your bodies.
I believe that what is happening now is that more and more leaders even in a corporate world are ready at least to think about such a perspective and some of them are ready even to try to descend from their head to their hearts.
As I’m not a scholar I don’t have any statistical data regarding this shift. I mostly share my experiences. For me it looks like this shift happens somewhere between the late Alchemist and the Unitive stage.
I have discussed with Susann Cook-Greuter that what is called the Unitive stage is very similar to heart-awakening. And that there should be later stages behind the Unitive. Susann said she also felt these later stages existed but for now we can’t discern them through linguistic methods.
However the impulse which is unfolding through this so-called me now is to create a program and an environment where leaders will be able to experience such a shift. At least as a peak experience.
We are now designing a nine months leadership development program with my good friend and partner Evgeniya Volyanskaya which is called The Heartful Leader Program and which is aimed to help leaders to learn how to descend from their heads to their hearts.
There is also a very important point here. The awakening of the heart is a long-term process. And on this way one may encounter siddhi phenomena which are actually side effects of the process. But for a strong ego it can be a serious temptation. My meditation master once told me:
“Politicians and businessman will come to you in search of power. You shouldn’t show them how to develop such siddhis. Don’t give methods for those who are not ready to surrender to the Whole. Whose hearts are not touched with compassion”.
And I carefully pay attention to this being attuned to my heart.
But I know from my personal experience there is life beyond our awakened individual heart—and perhaps it is corresponding with stages of vertical development beyond the Unitive stage which we can’t detect now with the linguistic methods. Just as our individual heart is an alchemical cauldron for our personal transformation and the transformation of gross and subtle and very subtle levels of the Being, the cosmic, universal heart is the cauldron for transformation of the witnessing level of consciousness.
It is here where there is no need for transformation any more. The great freedom of the primordial mind-space is totally open and free from any concepts. Everything is self-liberated through the direct recognition of our true nature—we discover that neither we as leaders nor them as others and the outside world have never existed, don’t exist and will never exist.
Sometimes it is said that there are no instructions for meditation at this point, there are instructions of non-meditation which are always personal. My intuition is that with leadership development we will encounter a similar situation—in five or in ten years—there will be no practices to teach in a way you can teach leaders to descend to the heart, but there will be personal instructions for those who are rooted in their open heart and are ready to go deeper.
So what seems natural for me as a next step in leadership development is this acknowledgement: we need our hearts to be wide open to the whole Universe (as we are Universe itself) and yet at the same time remember in every single moment that neither we nor the Universe nor we as the Universe have ever existed, don’t exist and will never exist.
If we are not doing this radical step into emptiness the conceptual mind which is ruling in the corporate world at least for now will consume this heartful leadership movement and instead of a new turn of the wheel of the dharma we will witness the new turn of the wheel of spiritual materialism. And MacMindfulness will be replaced by MacHeartfulness.
But in the spirit of heartfelt and empty inquiry I want to ask the readers of this issue—what do you think? Do you think we can ask the question about the dzogchen of vertical development in this manner? And if yes where will it bring us
Crazy Wisdom Notes
A newcomer always has a subtle advantage—she can pretend she was not fully aware of the rules in the particular community and go crazy without seriously offending the field. By the end of this paper which lacks any academic rigor and may sound too lightweight even as it is I feel an impulse to go even further and share some Notes of Crazy Wisdom Leadership.
In my masters approach we work a lot with bringing attention to our subtle bodies and transformation of our subtle energies. So with years of practice I began to see that not only people have subtle bodies but so do cities, countries, corporations. And just as the material world is very crowded with different forms of life so are the subtle and very subtle realms. But the majority of us as human beings live in total ignorance of these realms and their inhabitants. We are like bulls in a china shop. We are not aware in which ways and how we are actually interacting with them and to which extent the so-called physical reality we are living in is a result of their activities.
What does it have to do with leadership?
It’s a huge topic so I will be very brief here. I can see two things to pay attention to.
1. Teaching meditation in different cities and countries I have noticed that subtle bodies of the participants are in strong connection with subtle bodies of their cities and countries. We are interdependent. The elements of our bodies are dependent on the elements in the environment around us. Until we are in a dormant state we can’t change anything. But when we begin to awaken we begin to influence the subtle structure of the world around us.
Now leaders are trying to influence reality mostly in the physical realm and their accountability doesn’t spread further than that. But what if the triple bottom line paradigm can transform into a quadruple bottom line paradigm—when we begin to explicitly pay our attention to the damages and benefits we bring to the subtle levels of being and subtle beings around us?
One of the instructions my meditation master gave me several years ago was very simple. He told me: “Take a thermos of tea, go to the garden and sit there in front of a tree or a bush for four, five hours. Totally still, deep in your heart, until the tree talks to you. Until the flowers tell you their stories”.
I understand how insane it may sound and no, I don’t offer this practice to Russian executives, but what if someday it will be a part of an executive MBA program—to go into the nature and to sit there silently until the spirits of nature come to you?
2. If we describe the process of human awakening as a process of waking up to more and more subtle dimensions of the Whole it looks like the same process is happening at the planetary level but at a different pace.
It looks like (and maybe this is just my personal crazy experience) not only the hearts of some individuals are awakening now, but the hearts of whole geographical regions begin to awaken. I feel this every time when I come to Northern California. I feel this in Germany. Just as when our heart performs the process of the alchemical transformation of all unaccepted, suppressed, shadow parts and energies in our life and people sometimes call it the dark night of the soul, the planetary heart has begun the same alchemical process.
What if what we are experiencing now as a so called economic crises or the migrant crises in Europe are the manifestations of the awakening of the planetary heart which is happening at more subtle levels? What if what we are experiencing now as global crises is the dark night of our planetary soul? And these tectonic processes can’t be managed just at physical level of being as our politicians or business leaders are trying to do.
As these are crazy wisdom notes I don’t have any answers…
About the Author
Anastasia Gosteva is a meditation teacher and a founder of Mindful Business, LLC—the first Russian consulting and training company to offer advanced, scientifically based mindfulness and vertical development programs for business leaders and managers. She is honored to work with companies like Alfa-Bank, MTS, YPO (Russia), Alvarez & Marsal (Russia), QIWI, Teach For All (Russia) and other largest Russian banks, corporations and non-profit institutions.
Her formal training includes a diploma in physics from Moscow State University and a diploma in psychology from Moscow Higher School of Psychology as well as a rigorous two-year training in family systemic constellations (Wiesloch Systemic Constellation Institute, Germany) and a year-long training in structural systemic constellations (Austrian Institute for Systemic Practice, Constellation and Reconstruction Work). She also has completed a two-year Embodied Practitioner Certification from MetaIntegral Academy and a certification program in vertical development from the Center for Leadership Maturity.
Anastasia lives in Moscow and apart from her work in a corporate context every month holds intensive mediation retreats, workshops and regular meditation sessions for those who would like to learn the methods of her spiritual teacher.