The power of the mind:
From chemistry to alchemy, from lead to gold
Organizations that want to survive must transform and people make the organization. These are two facts that almost no one disputes, but few draw the conclusion that follows: whoever wants to transform his organization must start with the people.
Petra Groot helps people who want to transform themselves. Who want to bring their self-awareness to a higher level. So that they become powerful and flexible in spirit. And so that transformation is anchored in the core of the organization.
A conversation with Petra Groot in four parts. (Read here part 1)
Part 2: Detachment
Man is often described as the rational animal. Our ability to think has enabled us to control the world. We do not have wings but can fly. We can whisper to someone on the other side of the world. We can rearrange the building blocks of life to create new organisms.
However, our ability to think can also hold us captive. In the first part of our conversation Petra explained how we can let ourselves be carried away by compelling thoughts. How our past shapes our brains, allowing us to walk the same path over and over again. However, this does not mean that there is no way out of the maze of our brain: we can free ourselves. “By increasing your self-awareness you can transform yourself: from lead to gold,” Petra indicated. But how do you do that?
“The method I use a lot in my work is meditation,” says Petra. “With meditation you can learn how your thought process works. And if you understand how something works, you can gain control over it”.
Jumping all over the place
Meditation is often seen as a way to bring your thoughts to a standstill. To achieve a state in which you think of nothing at all. “Everyone who has tried it knows how difficult that is,” says Petra, “and if you can’t think of anything at all, your thoughts will return afterwards. However, meditation can also be used to investigate your thought process. And the knowledge you gain then is kept with you forever”.
You do not have to silence your thoughts, you only have to observe them. “You begin by concentrating on your breathing. With this you give yourself an anchor point and you come into a rhythm that makes you very calm. You give your body the signal that it is okay to be quiet. That’s hard enough – some people spend weeks trying to do that. Once you succeed, when your body is very calm, you notice how restless your mind is. It’s constantly going in all directions, from one thing to another.
This will seem familiar to most of us from everyday life. Petra: “You do your very best to concentrate on – let’s say – that sales report that you have to hand in to the boss later that day, and ten seconds later, to your own surprise, you suddenly think of the smell of cigars. How is that possible? Your boss’s name is Irene. With that name you always think of Ireen Wüst, an Olympian skate champion. Then your thoughts automatically turn to skating. You used to go skating with your grandfather and he always smoked cigars. In this way two totally unrelated subjects are connected in no time. Every thought becomes a link in an endless chain”.
Clouds passing by
While this process is easy to recognize, it is less easy to stop. It happens seemingly automatically, and before we know it. “This is where meditation helps,” Petra explains. “What you do in meditation is, first of all, get used to all those thoughts that are constantly ringing around in your head, and secondly, learn not to put energy into it. We humans have a kind of primary impulse that tells us that we have to do something with every thought. So we get carried away and lose ourselves in our thoughts.
An exercise Petra uses to recognize and unlearn this is to see your thoughts as clouds blowing by: “You just let all those thoughts pass by and do nothing with them. Then you see that if you don’t pick up on that impulse to go along, that thought disappears by itself – like a cloud passing by. Every time you have the tendency to go along, you have to take a step back and just observe the thought. Going back to the here and now – where nothing happens, because you have stopped your body and closed your eyes.
In this way you create a distance between yourself and your thoughts. “You will see that you do not coincide with your thoughts. That you can choose for yourself which thought you will or will not go with.” This makes it possible to leave the paths that are literally worn out in your brain and to make new neural connections. You transform yourself – mentally and physically – as Petra explained in the first part of our conversation. You become master of your own mind and detach yourself from the hampering thought patterns that have formed during your personal history. In this way they lose their power.
Power in silence
But that’s not all. As you transform yourself, you train your mind. And when you train something, it becomes stronger.
“Because you learn to stop putting energy into every thought, your mind gets much more focus,” Petra explains. “We are accustomed to going in all directions with our energy. Every thought gets a portion, so the energy is scattered. You can compare it with light. The untrained mind works like a light bulb. Such a light bulb gives very diffuse light because it goes in all directions. If you train your mind you go step by step from that light bulb to a laser focus. The energy you normally spread over a whole area you will bundle more and more. You focus all the energy on one point and your mind becomes much more powerful.
Thanks to this bundling, that power is simultaneously accompanied by silence. “Your mind becomes quieter as you stop spreading your energy so widely. You clear your mind, learn to concentrate better. You no longer let yourself be distracted, stay in the here and now.”
From this silence you are all the more powerful when you do put your energy into something, but also at all other moments the power is palpably present. “In everything you want, everything you say and everything you do there is much more conviction. You can let things arise because you do not jump on top of everything. You move through life in a tranquility from which you can judge very well: ‘Is this something I want to act on, or is this something I let pass? You also radiate this peace and conviction. You acquire a certain charisma. A certain ‘presence’.
This charismatic combination of silence and strength Petra sees reflected in Roger Federer’s play of tennis. “Federer radiates calm. He waits calmly and at the right moment there is an explosion of goal-oriented energy and he hits a beautiful ball. And then there is calm again. He is not constantly jumping back and forth, watches calmly where the game is going and takes action on it. From his calmness he channels his strength”.
Beyond the here and now
Petra helps customers to bring that same calm force to the company floor. “Together we work on training your mind. You learn to recognize from rest what a situation demands – what is important and what is not, what is asked of you as a person, what actions are for the short term and what actions are for the long term. In business it is of course essential to be able to make that distinction.
A powerful mind, however, does not limit itself to what is asked in the current situation, but also looks beyond the here and now – to what is still lacking. And that is perhaps more valuable than ever in the current era of disruption, innovation and transformation. “A calm, powerful mind increases your potential to create entirely new things,” says Petra. “To form a vision for the future and let it materialize in the world.”
That brings us back to the beginning. Our human capacity to think may be essential to our technological progress – from planes to the Internet and genetic modification – but you can’t get there with reason alone. It all starts with vision and intuition. And for that you have to go beyond reason.
Petra explains how this works in part 3 of our conversation, which will soon appear here.