Presence and mindfulness: applying them to running a business

Managing a business or even preparing to start one often pulls you from all directions. Even if you have a business plan in place or a team to support you, it is the day-to-day needs you must attend to that often get overwhelming. It’s probably high time that you face the challenges and the demanding lifestyle of running a business from a position of focus through presence and mindfulness.

Omar de Silva co-founded The Plato Project, a new business school driven to foster entrepreneurship and business leadership that unlocks both commercial and social value. In 2015, Omar became an Ambassador of the G20 Global Entrepreneurship Week and in 2016 worked as a Sherpa with the G20 Australian Young Entrepreneur Alliance.

Imagine this scenario. There you are in-between meetings, rushing to your next appointment, and you get a call from work regarding some fire to put out or an important decision to make. You are a little short off target, and there are staff and suppliers you still need to pay. Then, you have some personal responsibilities back home, along with a heavy feeling you’ve been carrying with you every morning. All these things running through your mind can often get the better of you. Before you know it, your energy is exhausted, you feel burned out, and your interest in your business is waning.

How do you go from there? Do you turn back, or do you move forward? Before you make a hasty decision at this crucial juncture of your entrepreneurial journey, you need to look at a few things. Instead of choosing which direction you should take, you probably need to look deep within yourself and sift through your emotions in order to have a different perspective – a clearer one, at that – on the same scenario and then approach it from a new standpoint.

On WeTeachMe’s Masters Series talk on Meditation and Happiness, Omar de Silva of The Plato Project zeroed in on the topic of presence and mindfulness. These two concepts have helped him through various struggles in his life. What frustrates him, however, is how meditation and happiness have become absolutes: you’re either there or not; you either have it or don’t have it. He clarifies that it doesn’t have to be so and you don’t need to master it instantly. Allow it to develop within you over time. Pick up a thing or two from this article that can help you with that.

Observing things around you

Omar opened his talk describing what he observes around him. “Whenever I walk into a room, whenever I’m walking down the street, whenever I’m driving or how it might be, I try to observe things as I possibly can,” he states. When it comes to the topic of meditation and happiness, he relates it to being present in all he does. It is more of becoming aware of his surroundings and his feelings or reactions towards them.

It is a good exercise to start your day. What are the things you observed this morning as you were sipping your coffee? What do you see around you as you were driving to work? Bring yourself to observing the expressions of your staff or your customers. How do you feel towards everything that you have seen this day? How do you feel doing what you are currently doing?

Shifting your focus and purpose

During his early years, Omar was an annoying and disruptive child in school. Not knowing what to do with him, the school assessed him and found that he was, in fact, a gifted child. The school then placed him in their gifted and talented program where they taught Omar and the other children how to play Stock Exchange. It was Omar’s first taste of making money, albeit a fake one, but that ignited in him the desire to earn real money, which he eventually did. At some point, he asked his father to invest his money in stock market, which earned him more without having to do a lot of hard work. As he was chasing his dream of becoming a professional golfer, he got into the amazing party life that made him spend a lot of money left and right. Long story short, he went into a huge debt at the age of 20.

A life-changing trip to Sri Lanka opened his eyes to his father’s early beginnings, which was all about struggles in life. From that, Omar worked towards earning money to get himself out of the hole. It was a shift from making money to support his lavish lifestyle to making money to pay off debts and start anew. His purpose has become something more meaningful to him.

If you put it in your situation right now, assess the things you do and what is meaningful to you. To find your purpose in life, Omar shared the Japanese framework of Ikigai or a reason for being. It has four components:

  • what you love
  • what you’re great at
  • what you can be paid for
  • what the world needs

When you use this framework in finding your purpose, Omar suggested that you do this exercise while bearing the following things in mind.

Be Honest

Remember that this process is intended for self-discovery. You have to honestly state what you believe is in your heart under the four components above. The result of your own Ikigai is for your own good, which you can use as your guide in future decisions you make.

Be Pragmatic

Omar looks at the net positive effect of every decision he makes. “The reality is we all need to make a buck for our needs,” as he puts it. So, pay attention to the third component and consider that part when you do your Ikigai exercise as it plays a huge part in your entrepreneurial journey.

Be Sustainable

While you may be looking at your current state when you do this exercise, also think of the long-term results. As you put your answers under each component, try to think of them as something that will still be applicable several years down the road. What you want to do after that must be something that you can sustain as you go along.

Developing the mind to meditate

The whole Ikigai exercise does not need to be done in one sitting. You can use this process of Ikigai as your starting point in developing your mind for meditation. For Omar, there is nothing mystical about meditating. Although he attended classes on meditation, went into group sessions, and did other activities that promote meditating, he has his own method that he made his own.

“The notion of meditation for me is something around understanding where I currently am. It is about the present state of awareness. It is about understanding the processes that my mind is going through. And it is about being aware,” Omar shared. He stated the regular things he does that helps him in meditation and in a state of mindfulness.


Writing helps him quiet his mind. More importantly, it helps him understand the thought processes that go through his mind because they manifest in the things that he writes.


The things he mentioned in the earlier part of the article about observing; those little things he sees are tiny forms of mindfulness and little forms of meditation that he embraces on a daily basis so he can take control of the anxiousness in his mind. It is something he uses in developing the concept of happiness within him.

Acknowledging various kinds of emotions

It is also important that our mind does not only look for happiness. “If we accept that we have different kinds of emotions – we own them, we acknowledge them and we deal with them – instead of trying to pretend that we must always be happy, I think it’s a good way to go,” he opined.

He encourages beginners or those who are not yet into meditation to find any form that allows you to get into a present state of awareness, to understand the processes your mind is going through, and to reflect. Then use the outcomes in building towards the future where you get to achieve your goals or whatever your definition of success is.

Moving Forward

As you become mindful of your present state when it comes to your business, you can be aware of the things that pull you down as well as the things that get you excited. You may still have the same goal in mind, but you can have a new method or track of how to get there. Or, you may still be doing the same thing, but you can approach it in a new perspective.

If you need to redo things, take note of the differences between:

Failed attempts vs failure

Failure, according to Omar, connotes that you have given up and have decided not to learn from it. On the other hand, failed attempts are those mistakes you make where you learn from them and you use them towards achieving what you want to do.

Embracing the concept of quitting vs giving up

There are things which become more painful if you continue with them. It is this kind of scenario where you embrace the concept of quitting. However, it is more of ending something that does not work, but it never means you are abandoning your goal. It just calls you to take a different track rather than to give up entirely.

In parting, Omar quotes Richard Branson when he said, “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.” When you start being present and you begin to see the wholeness of what you are doing, it becomes a useful step towards achieving whatever happiness means to you.

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