10 days of absolute silence, surrounded by mountains. For 10 hours each day, meditation. No phone or email. No speaking. No eye contact. To some it may sound blissful, but to many others, it sounds tortuous.
Before he left for the retreat, Lorenzo Tencati wasn't sure he could be silent for 10 whole days. And when he began the retreat, he wasn't sure he'd make it through. Ultimately, he was amazed at his ability to complete the retreat, and at its effect on his life. The gregarious business executive speaks several languages and has lived all over the world, including no fewer than 7 European countries, Australia, Colombia, and now South Africa. A serial entrepreneur, Tencati has founded or co-founded and leads several companies, including Singular Group, Winterberg Group, and LTH Group. He also has two masters' degrees, and is a member of the African Leadership Network and YPO. Clearly, communication is a strong point for Tencati. Yet it was the silence of the meditative retreat that proved life changing.
As he and I began discussing his experience, I asked Tencati whether he felt different from before he left. His answer was telling: "If you multiply how lazy you feel before you go to the gym by 100, and then multiply how good you feel after going to the gym by 1000, that's about how you feel before and after." Here, Tencati shares more about why you, too, should go on a silent meditative retreat:
1. Train Your Focus
Some people are naturally gifted with the ability to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. Tencati did not think he was among them, but his attitude changed after his retreat. He explains, "Your mind is like a computer. You realize how much processing power you're wasting on other stuff that is not the core thing you are trying to do." He says it takes practice, but is worth the effort, saying "Train your focus by [quieting] your mind. The more you focus it, the more powerful it becomes - exponentially so. Now I'm able to dedicate more processing power to the task or experience at hand. That holds true in a work environment and in a personal environment. You learn to be more present and focused." This method has even helped Tencati improve at performing tasks he finds less pleasant. "You start being aware of and appreciating the nature of pain...You detach from it so much that you don't perceive it anymore as painful experience," he says. Your brain is a powerful tool, and becomes even more powerful when you learn how to wield it better.
2. The Best Leaders Are Joyful
Tencati was impressed by the changes others saw in him upon his return. He says, "They see you are more energetic, positive, light, self-aware. I started having more meaningful interactions with people in the office. I was more present in the meetings." Tencati says the impact on his leadership ability is palpable, explaining, "You can't lead without being happy. The less happy you are, the more negativity you'll spread to those around you. Negativity is like a contagious disease that kills performance and teams. Work on your happiness first." So how do you get there? Tencati starts with a question: "To what level is your happiness affected by all the noise?" He first noticed a change as distractions were stripped away during the retreat. He says, "When we were in the mountains, every day the landscape became more beautiful. Every day, the food became tastier. As your conscious mind starts to quiet, you start to appreciate these things much more." The goal is to reach a space where your inner peace is undisturbed by outside influence.
3. Get Out of Your Head
This is one of the most difficult aspects of meditation, and it was by far the most challenging part of the retreat for Tencati. "It was really incredibly hard. You are forced to be with yourself all the time. That's the power of the experience, but it's also what makes it so painful," he says. He goes into more detail, saying, "Whatever your demons are, so to speak, in life, you are not pushing them down anymore...You are allowing them to come up. And that makes the experience very hard, because you are faced with thoughts that you consciously do not want to face." You almost need to trick your mind to get into that frame of mind. He explains, "There is frustration that comes from trying to tame the wild beast that is the mind. And paradoxically, by trying to tame it, you're just observing it. And that's even more difficult, because normally when you try to tame a wild beast, you tend to do something rather than ignore it." You must get yourself out of your own way.
4. Anger Is Not Your Ally
It's no mistake that wrath is one of the 7 deadly sins. It can be a powerful force. Tencati explored the nature of anger during his retreat, and concluded, "We think anger is a natural reaction that helps us deal with challenges in life, with insults from colleagues, and so on... In fact, if you look at it close enough, the only thing anger does is [hurt] you. If someone insults you or offends you, why [put] yourself through the extra pain of being angry?!" To Tencati, anger only makes the pain worse, and is ultimately a self-destructive emotion. During his retreat, he learned this strategy: "Treat your thoughts as a movie you can detach yourself from. You don't have to be angry about it. If it makes you angry, you're allowing it to have influence over you." He admits he's not perfect, smiling as he says, "I used to get very frustrated about stuff. And I still do! But definitely less so." You may not conquer all your anger right away, but you can greatly reduce it, which will have a marked positive effect on you and those around you.
5. Less Is More
Tencati came away from the retreat with a profound sense of gratitude for the people and things around him. The trick, he found, was elimination. He explains, "We tend to be happier and feel like we're doing what we should be doing by adding stuff. But the secret is taking stuff away. By virtue of eliminating stuff, you're focusing more on what's most important." This heightens your awareness of what you have, which has the added benefit making you more grateful for it. Tencati says, "The process of elimination is very important to focus...You become more aware because you become a better observer. You purify your senses, so you become more perceptive and aware of things." This has even made him more efficient, because "you're achieving much more of the more important stuff," he says. But Tencati also has a warning: "Addition and addiction go hand in hand... Eliminating the noise is not a natural process, so you need to find the discipline to do it."This takes continued effort during and after the silent retreat.
6. Focus on What You Can Influence
Tencati believes this is a deceptively simple concept. "It sounds very simple and sensible, but I think most people don't abide by this very simple rule," he asserts. "Whether we like it or not, we don't control most things in life. Speculating and despairing about things we cannot influence is perfectly wasted time," he explains. He offers an example: "Take, for instance, a rainy day. You sometimes are influenced by it, and you get sad. Why worry about a rainy day, which is something you definitely cannot change? It's completely wasted energy." Using your newly-improved ability to focus, Tencati advises, "Focus instead on the few things you can influence. Like your opinions, your values, and your goals, for example."