Chade-Meng Tan: Create World Peace

Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow”, got the nickname for a reason. He is a person who radiates happiness. Normally I’d be suspicious of someone who seemed that content. With Meng, you can just tell by his presence that this is a man who is extremely intelligent and passionate about his work, yet genuinely playful and peaceful.

I loved seeing Meng speak at the first and second annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, so I was thrilled to see that he was in San Francisco giving a talk and book-signing through California Institue of Integral Studies (CIIS). Meng’s book: Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path for Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) is a culmination of Meng’s experience of developing and teaching a successful course by the same name for Google employees.

You might think getting participants for a seven-week course on mindfulness in any company could be difficult, much less in a high-pressure, high-stress environment like Google, where taking time out for a mindfulness course might seem counterproductive to success. Yet Meng’s course is filled up weeks in advance. Being an engineer himself, Meng is particularly skilled in teaching in a way that speaks to even the most skeptical engineer or business person. “I am selling you better employees”, Meng says. “This course is a key to effective employees.”

The results speak for themselves. The success has been overwhelming, both in terms of employee productivity and anecdotal evidence. The feedback from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, with countless stories participants have shared about how the course has positively impacted both their professional and personal life. One such story in the book is a manager who discovered during the course that he was unhappy and was not taking care of himself. He chose to drop-down to working part-time hours. The result? He was promoted and became the first part-time manager at Google to receive a promotion. With the demonstrable changes in job performance from course participants, Meng has the evidence to show that ignoring the value of mindfulness is poor business sense. Recognizing this, other companies are starting to follow suit and realizing that the way to success isn’t pedaling faster.

Meng highlighted some important points on mindfulness practice:

You have to do it. Meng compared mindfulness to fitness. You can read about fitness all you want, but that doesn’t make you fit. It’s great to learn about mindfulness, but you have to practice it to get the benefits of it.

That said, it doesn’t take as long as you would think to make a difference. Meng cited studies that showed with just ten minutes a day, people begin showing positive effects of mindfulness in just a few weeks. Of course, just like fitness, if you train for longer, the benefits can be even greater. Still, regular repetitions even with a small hand weight help create strength.

It need not be complicated. One practice Meng teaches is loving-kindness meditation. To get started, you only need to look at any person and think, “I want this person to be happy.” It can be as simple this focused, intentional attention that creates profound effects.

It’s all about the ripple effects. Small actions have a way of multiplying. When you feel more loving towards another person, you start feeling more compassionate and loving towards people in general as well as yourself. When you feel better about yourself and others, this can’t help but spill over into other aspects of your life: work, relationships, health, etc.

There’s still a place for anger. Just because we’re practicing awareness and compassion doesn’t mean there are not times where anger is warranted. In the moment, we always have a choice about whether to react from a place of anger. Meng related a time he was at a rental car counter and the employee there was trying to rip him off. He was aware of his anger and chose to get angry. As a result, he was not taken advantage of and the situation was resolved.

So far, Google employees are the only ones to have road-tested Meng’s course. That’s about to change, as Meng has formed the nonprofit, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), which in keeping with Meng’s playful spirit, is pronounced, “silly”. SIYLI seeks to build upon the success of Meng’s program and train leaders to offer the course to others. Meng is donating all proceeds from his book to support SIYLI.

But to reduce SIYLI or Meng’s work to mere business performance would be a gross underestimation of Meng’s mission. Meng’s life purpose is to create world peace. Perhaps what makes him most inspiring is witnessing his commitment to his goal. He doesn’t scoff or get overwhelmed by the loftiness and scope of such a goal. Instead, he finds joy in the changes he works to to create and delights in the way peaceful actions have a way of spreading.

How do you stay connected to your purpose?

Erich Schiffman: the real deal

Erich Schiffman is coming to the bay area this weekend. He’s doing workshops at Namaste Yoga Grand Lake (geez, all of my influential teachers seem to be coming there this year)!

Erich can best be described as the real deal. When I first encountered Erich, I had a regular yoga practice, but boy oh boy was it disciplined. In the beginning I needed that discipline. I needed someone to tell me what to do and sequences in which to do it. At a certain point though the discipline turned to rigidity. If I didn’t have at least an hour do my yoga practice, I felt like it wasn’t worth doing. The thought of getting on my yoga mat and doing what felt good for my body instead of a memorized yoga sequence was incredibly scary for me.

Erich advocates a freedom style-yoga that uses discipline as a framework, but then encourages you to freeform from there, guided by feeling. It’s about crafting the practice in a way that works for you and learning to trust the teacher within. As I later delved into Forrest Yoga, it was neat to see the parallels between Erich’s teaching and Ana’s focus on breath and feeling.

Did I mention Erich is also an amazing mediation teacher? In his opinion, mediation is the main practice. Perhaps the best $4.99 I’ve ever spent in the iTunes app store was on his mediation app. Make it the best $4.99 you’ve ever spent too.

Another way Erich’s helped me is through the pre-Facebook online yoga community he started. This has been a tremendous support for me especially in my early days as a teacher. I’ve met a number of amazing folks there (some of whom I’ve met in person). Indeed it was with complete trust that I shared a hotel room across the country with a woman from the list who I’d never met in person before. Since then she’s stayed with me on her trip to the bay area (and I’m about to stay with her on my upcoming east coast trip).

If you’re local, come to one or all of the workshops (you can catch me there on Sun.) Local or not, check out Erich’s book Moving Into Stillness. He also has a number of videos and the aforementioned app.

Have you discovered Erich on your yoga journey? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments.


One Thing

There was so much information in my Forrest Yoga teacher training that my big training manual binder and my notebook full of scribbled notes doesn’t even begin to cover it. “But what if you had to boil it down to one thing; one specific lesson, what would it be?” asked my fellow trainee, Diane, and I posed the same question to the other trainees I hung out during Ana’s SF weekend workshops.

Two months out from the training, here were our answers:

“One word: breath. That’s what makes the whole thing happen. And I realize how imperative it is to breathe when you’re teaching, not just in Forrest Yoga classes, but also in those power yoga classes where the room is 85+ degrees C. Breath.” –Drew

“I learned not just how to do a pose, but why. I like that everything is explained and every pose as a purpose. For example, some of the reason we always do abs is to protect the lower back, improve posture, strengthen and connect to our abdominal muscles.” –Diane

“That the content of what you teach matters less than showing up and truly being present for what your students need in each moment. Quite the lesson for me as a control freak/perfectionist.” –Megan (me)

“Finding my own voice in teaching. I’d taken different movement-based trainings and received various certifications prior to this training. The Forrest Yoga training helped me find me and my own unique teaching amidst all the information I’d assimilated.” –Stefanie

I like this concept of one thing because it’s very accessible. You may not have time to do a 2-hour yoga practice, but can you find one yoga pose to do? Reflect on one thing that you learned from my practice and life today? What’s one thing of beauty you noticed? These are the kind of one things I’m reflecting on.