Gus Tai: Lessons in Mindfulness & How to Recharge Your Internal Battery
Initially, Gus found meditation to be frustrating and thought it was odd to focus on his breath in order to maintain a sense of well-being. Shouldn't I be doing something about this? he wondered. Years later, meditation and mindfulness have become part of his daily practice, not only as a means to fuel his mind, body and soul but also empowering him to become a more aware professional in his work as a venture capitalist.
Gus Tai's journey to explore meditation and mindfulness began in 2001. As a board member for a number of startups during the dot-com crash, Gus watched companies around him collapsing. He looked for anything, including meditation, that would help ease his tension.
Today, as a dedicated meditation practitioner, when CEOs ask him how his approach differs from other venture capitalists he often responds "It's simple. I have care and concern for your holistic well-being." So, when Gus meets with his CEOs, he checks in on how they're doing: How is their well-being? Are they taking care of themselves? Do they have rituals to help them recharge?
In the modern world, where technology and media enable us, and our monkey minds, to race from one situation to the next, Gus feels we sleep less, eat faster, and exert ourselves more.
You mentioned that you actually learned more about kindness through meditation. Can you explain that a bit more?
Through my meditation practice, I realized that I was actually dedicating myself to the care of my own well-being. Then I realized that if anyone wants to engage vibrantly in the world, they need to be charged and fully nourished.
Kindness flowed naturally from that practice, first toward myself and then toward others around me. I discovered patterns and beliefs created a lot of criticism – which is a natural model of the mind – and that kindness is an antidote to that. First, being kind to oneself and others, and then inspecting with wisdom whether you're actually being kind.
One of the practices of mindfulness meditation is to notice that thoughts are a property of the mind. They aren't you. They arise, and then they pass. What I noticed was how many thoughts I was having that were deeply self-critical. And at times, these thoughts would grip me and convince me that I was wrong and bad. Not that I wouldn't make mistakes or do things I would regret, but those self-critical thoughts seemed overly harsh and quite persistent.
Even though I recognized many of these thoughts as just thoughts, I still felt bad holistically. That's where I learned the benefit of having a kindness practice. Whether the thoughts were true or not, what kind acts would help me now be more at ease so I could be more present and try to be more wise? That's where I really felt the power of a kindness practice. And that attitude of kindness can help lift people out of a place of tight clenching so they can more fluidly engage with the world.
We've talked a couple times about your "internal battery" model and how we can recharge and replenish ourselves. Can you tell us more about this model?
It's a simple model, based on the body having three batteries, and built slightly on Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Jungian theories.
Basically, when you want to have a better sense of where you are in terms of your energy, determination, and resilience, it's helpful to step into your body and sense how you feel and how to recharge yourself. In order to do this, you need to know what resources you have available to you as you step into the world. For example, when your batteries are full, and you feel fulfilled, confident, and present, you feel capable of doing many things and have greater capacity and resilience. When you're drained, you don't have that strength, and it's more difficult to operate in the world. Additionally, another part of this is if you feel lethargic, for example, having an understanding of where you are in terms of your internal batteries can help you calibrate.
First, there's the core battery. This is like your car battery and is filled when your basic needs – food, water, air, shelter, safety, and some level of companionship are needed to fulfill your core needs. Sometimes people have drains in those batteries. If you have ongoing trauma, you might have a serious drain in that battery. You could also have unprocessed trauma causing unhealthy patterns, which leads to a leak in the battery, making you feel anxious.
Then there are two ancillary batteries, which require energy but can be replenished. If there's an overflow in these batteries, that energy can be used to refill the main battery.
The second battery is for energy and activity related to self-expression and agency. Those activities can include being in flow, checking off items from your to-do list, making things with your hands, walking in nature, and other activities that bring you energy, and potentially replenish your inner reserves. Some of these things are so powerful that they can help sustain a dramatic trauma or wound, or a leak in the main battery.
When I think of trauma and this ancillary battery, I'm reminded of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, in which he mentioned logotherapy, which is essentially founded on the belief that finding meaning in one's life is the most powerful and driving force. My interpretation is that if you focus on meaning in life, the ancillary battery can be filled enough to enable a person to recover from significant trauma.
The third battery involves connection. When we are connected to other humans, we receive significant resources, and we can become more fulfilled the more we connect. We are looking to be received, accepted, and intimate with people. By intimacy, I mean the cumulative moments of vulnerability when you feel supported and received. There are other elements of connection as well. As social beings, our operating systems feel extra energy when we connect.
When you sense your body in your energy system, and when you're doing something and feel somewhat drained, explore and see how much energy it costs to do it. Notice whether your core body has a drain or leakage.