Written by Johanna GB Jackson, Head of Operations of the global MS Mindfulness at Morgan Stanley.
I’m a first generation American. My family is from Chile. We came over here around the 1970s when the political situation was very unstable over there to give me and my sisters a better life. I wish I could say life was easy once we got here but it wasn’t. I grew up in a very challenging household with poverty and a lot of limiting beliefs. Dr. Jim Doty says it best when he said poverty robs individuals of their dignity and spirit through despair and hopelessness. So I can tell you that I have a personal relationship with stress and understand it very very well.
One of the best things my mom did for me and my sisters was work 3 jobs to put us in Catholic school. She wanted us to have a better life than she did. So she did whatever she had to do to at least give us an education which in turn would give us better opportunities. I had the privilege of attending Padua for 3 years. I went to public school for my senior year. I have to say that going to public school was an eye opener for me. I didn’t really appreciate the education I was getting at Padua till it was gone. It was such a different experience. I remember thinking how the teachers cared so much more at Padua. Sometimes you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. But the 3 years I did have at Padua I would say definitely set me up for success that would serve me for the rest of my life.
I consider myself a humanist. I believe every human has a right to flourish, to have dignity and to thrive regardless of where they come from. So it wasn’t till very late in my life that I believed thriving was my right. At a very low point in my life when I was going through my divorce I started seeking solutions. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will come. That’s when I discovered meditation and it changed my life. I went from a life of limited possibilities to one of unlimited possibilities.
Most of us focus so much on the external world that we rarely pay attention to our internal landscape. When we do that we become disconnected and fragmented. This can result in things like anxiety, depression and lots of self-doubt just to name a few. Now some of us had to because of the environment we grew up in. I know I did! So we learned to dismiss our own needs and our own knowing. But it’s critical to quiet down the noise and get back to the silence. Why? It’s when we do, that we get centered and more balanced and it’s a gateway to answers and guidance. This usually leads to more happiness and peace. Now some of us are afraid to get quiet because we don’t want to face what we hear and know inside to be true. I get that. I was one of those people. But there’s no one that cares more about you than yourself. The level of care you give to yourself will be matched by the people around you. Because here’s the thing! Your external world is a mere reflection of your internal world.
Now meditation is not new. It’s been around for thousands of years. There is so much data that supports why it not only helps you on a physical level but also helps your mental and emotional well-being. I will tell you that when I first started it was hard to sit still and quiet my mind. But the more I did it the better I got at it. And now I crave it every day. I have a daily meditation practice which on average is about 20 minutes, but if I only have 5 minutes, I’ll take it, or on the other hand if I have an hour, I’ll take it. And the times of day varies because there’s never a bad time to meditate if you ask me.
I’ve noticed that my intuition is much sharper, I get clear on things and I am much more at peace. It really does help you get into a flow. That is because it’s in the stillness that creativity, ideas, peace and joy are able to come in. Now that I was experiencing this myself I wanted to share it with the world. So the first group of people I wanted to share it with were my colleagues.
When I started group meditation in my office, I was doing my research on companies that already offer this to their employees and I came across a great article on how it improves performance at work. They talked about how Harvard Business Review says it’s no longer a “nice-to-have” for business leaders but a “must-have”. And they mention how neuroscientists are now showing the benefits in relation to the body and brain. But here’s the thing…it’s not just for business leaders…it’s for everyone. Why? Because it taps into the most precious resource in any organization: ATTENTION. It’s a huge resource that we use all day everywhere…at work, at home and yes at school.
So if and when you start you will most likely find, like I did, that it is harder than you think. But don’t get discouraged. Your brain is a generator and receiver of thought so be gentle with yourself. Keep at it. It’s like a muscle. You have to go to the gym to build up your muscles. You have to practice with meditation. You can try guided meditations to help you get started. I also use binaural beats sometimes to help me meditate. But ultimately you want to get still and quiet. Start with just a few minutes and keep extending it. That’s what I did. The goal is to allow space to come in between the thoughts. So an easy way to do that is to just focus on your breath. Thoughts will come in and when they do just put the focus back on your breath. Then you will start seeing the world from the inside out. It’s a very different view, I can tell you that, and it is amazing!
An interesting story I will share. Steve Jobs planned every detail of his memorial service down to the farewell gift he gave to each attendee. It was the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. This book is about self-realization and meditation. It’s about the journey from your individual self (ego) and realizing your true universal self. I’m not surprised that Steve Jobs was into this. Many accomplished men and women subscribe to meditation. If you ask me why, it’s because meditation helps you get out of your own way to success. We self-sabotage so much. We often get in the way of our own happiness and success. We overthink. We get lost in the noise.
I want to leave you with some words that I wished someone told me when I was still in high school. Well-being, abundance and prosperity are your birthright. Once you believe they are, they will begin to show up in your experience. So as you continue your journey in Padua, I want to remind you that your journey in fact is just beginning. Your life is unfolding in a way that is unique to you. Trust the process and enjoy every minute of it! Be true to yourself first and foremost. Be your best authentic self in everything that you do. If you focus on what brings you joy the rest will follow. The world needs more people that are passionate about what they do. As Marc Anthony said “when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I wish you all the best in your amazing life experience.