As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Conway Chisenhall, the Co-Founder of DeRose Meditation.
Chisenhall opened the first certified DeRose Method entity in the United States and is a sought-after leader in the field of meditation and mindfulness. Chisenhall has been teaching the DeRose Method since 2007, initially in Argentina and now New York City.
Thank you for joining us John. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path? Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
For starters, to start my path I had to learn two foreign languages in a foreign country to acquire the information and skills I needed to launch and build my career. I really had to start from scratch in every aspect. To give some context about how I got there in the first place, after completing an economics bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University, I was working at a mid-sized automotive performance company, Vintage Air, to improve the manufacturing processes. I was able to live with my parents and save most of my money. I always knew I wanted to travel before I got too settled into a career. I wanted to get exposure to different ideas and ways of thinking. I knew that wouldn’t really happen with more traditional schooling, so I challenged myself to learn to live in a foreign Spanish speaking country. I had studied Spanish through high school and college but still could not put a sentence together, so I decided to travel to Argentina to learn Spanish and then save the world with economics. After three months outside of my USA bubble, traveling through Latin America and another three months settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I felt like I had come to a dead-end. I wanted to make a positive impact on the world and live a good life but without that support structure I had in Texas I felt powerless, unfocused, and dejected. I needed a change of pace, so I decided to check out a meditation spot next door to where I was taking Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires. Before I knew it, I ended up making a completely unexpected shift in my life, and eventually career-shift, when I discovered DeRose Meditation.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Be kind. You’ll get a job for your resume, but you’ll get a promotion at a job you love for your relationship skills. Surround yourself with people and ideas you admire. Spend more time building and polishing your process. Be clear and open to yourself and other about your values. Be clear about what true success feels like and looks like to you. Spend less time thinking about goals or trying to anticipate the future and let life surprise you. Spend most of your energy making the most of the present moment. Sometimes that just means taking a nap, and other times it means doing an all-nighter and forgetting to eat while you build your project or write your novel. No career or job is designed to fulfill you. A job has its purpose, and you have yours. Make sure you can find some common ground between your purpose and the job’s, but they will likely not be the same unless you start your own company. Be willing to negotiate. Take strategic pauses to unwind. If you feel unmotivated or burned out, yes, it’s possible you should change companies or careers, but quite often the discomfort is more related to the personal process being out of sync. Always try to take full responsibility for your situation, and from that stance, reflect on the best direction to take and take that first step forward understanding the path ahead will only reveal itself while you are moving forward. Since college, I’ve repeated the self-affirmation, “If any other human has ever done what I am setting out to do, then I have a chance. If not, I know that every day something new is being achieved for the first time somewhere in the Universe”. More often than not, the ones who make it through the difficult times are not the smartest, or the most gifted and talented; it’s the ones who don’t give up on their mission, their values, or their purpose. Burnout happens when people disconnect their daily activities from their life values.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
It might seem boringly obvious, but for people to be engaged, productive and creative, they need to have a clear vision of how their work with your organization fulfills their deepest calling, which is linked to their values. Regardless of the tasks, if they get the feeling that their work satisfies their essence, activating their deepest life values, you will see the true power of the human species. Make sure your team is taking care of their physical, emotional, mental well-being, and know enough to recognize when one of these areas is being malnourished. It might seem a bit cliché, but I’ll take someone with a clear sense of mission over technical excellence any day. I think this sentiment was expressed well when General S. Patton Jr. said: “Give me an Army of West Point graduates, and I’ll win a battle… Give me a handful of Texas Aggies, and I’ll win a war.”
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
So many good books positively altered the course of my life. Still, to name a few, I’d say The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Cartas de un joven bailarin by Maurice Bejart, and a small and unsuspecting historical fiction called I Remember, by DeRose. All very short yet powerful books. They all incite a childlike imagination. I spent more time day dreaming about them than actual reading. I would read and re-read the lines just to feel the sensations they produced in me. They would awaken images in my mind like a lucid dream. I could visualize details beyond the words and explore between the lines.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each?
In my experience, the best approach to managing uncertainty is to turn my energy towards the things I am certain about and take responsibility for the things I can control. Such as how I perceive or interpret things, and how I respond to them. I like to compare feelings such as anxiety, fear, or loneliness to an alarm clock calling my attention to something that must be addressed. When I notice this internal alarm system goes off, I begin to reflect on what it means for me. I focus my energy on deciding the response I consider to be constructive towards a satisfying result. I learned a valuable lesson from my mentor, Professor DeRose, when he told me that I have control of 2/3 of my destiny, using the example of an archer, explaining that, first, I can choose to leave the arrow in the quiver or take it out. Second, if I take it out, I can choose the amount of tension on the bow and the direction to point the arrow. Third, once the arrow is shot, I can not take it back. I have control over the first two moments and I’d say having two-thirds control over my life is pretty good, and the one-third that is out of my control is an excellent learning opportunity.
Managing anxiety, fear, or loneliness is often very personal, but what I have seen work without fail is the strategy of focusing on the things you can control and accepting the things you cannot. This takes practice, and is not perfect, but doesn’t everything work that way to some degree? This doesn’t mean accept the things you don’t like; what it means is focus on changing the things you can control in a way that has meaning for you. If you can do that, I’ve found that the tendency is for things get better quickly. If not, the real issue has not yet been identified or addressed. Our perception of good and bad are continuously shifting throughout life. Losing a job today sucks, but it also gives you the freedom to find different work and before you know it, you’ve constructed your dream life scenario. Summarizing, I consider the feelings of anxiety, fear or loneliness as internal alarms that cause discomfort to inspire me to make adjustments and build the life that fulfills me (not my partner, my friends, my mother/father, or my son/daughter).
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Here are some steps that I recommend to support those around us who may be feeling anxious effectively.
- Be a good listener. It’s as simple as that. Just lend a friendly ear. More often than not, the answers are already within them, and sharing their concerns with someone like yourself makes it easier for them to process the information and discover a solution themselves. A supportive listener doesn’t need to have all the answers. Don’t minimize their concerns or assume you know what’s best for them. Only offer suggestions once you have 100% confirmed they asked you for one.
- Invite them to participate in meditation, breathing, or exercise session together. At DeRose Meditation, we offer diverse classes with some or all of these options.
- Make a meal together, watch a movie and/or read a book together. Whether you are living in the same household or not, we all have to eat and nourish the mind. This can be a fun way to focus the mind on some tasty foods, re-watch that funny movie from childhood.
- Encourage them to use positive affirmations to substitute negative or discouraging feelings. It takes just as much energy to imagine the best-case scenario as it does the worst-case. Something good can come for any situation. I often remind myself of a quote from Professor DeRose, “evil is the name given to the seed of good.” Something good eventually comes from what today we might call evil or bad. Find the good, and nourish it with your thought, attention, and actions, and maybe even see to its fruition yourself!
- Turn to professional support. If I can recognize I need professional help planning or implementing my company’s advertising campaign, I should have the same attitude towards turning to professional support regarding psychological or emotional well-being.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
- Maintain your pre-quarantine routine, especially the sleep schedule. The routine keeps the body and mind occupied. When we lose our routine, our body’s cycles are disrupted, making it easier to fall into unfavorable states like anxiety and depression.
- Make time at different intervals throughout the day to connect with people, updating yourself on family and friends rather than the news cycle. We are all in a similar situation of isolation. I suggest doing a little bit of everything: text, call, video chat and email. Organize a group to watch a movie or series together or coordinate a book reading group that meets once a week to discuss.
- Nourish yourself well. Feed your physical body with rich and healthy foods. Feeding your emotional body with pleasant emotions, nurturing bonds with loved ones and replace any negative emotions with recognizing something you can be grateful for. Feed your mind with positive information. Don’t stay connected to the news cycle all the time.
- Join daily DeRose Mediation practices and workshops. Our sessions include breathing, body movement, lucid relaxation, meditation, and more for a well-rounded mind and body self-care routine. Our workshops are not lectures, rather more about self-discovery within a supportive group of people just like yourself. Any takeaways from the workshop are designed to be put into practice and soon enough you’ll reveal an incredibly powerful personal map for success and self-fulfillment. Visit www.derosemeditation.com/start to get started now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Obstacles and difficulties come with life. And life is the art of overcoming them,” Professor DeRose.
This speaks to me because I genuinely believe life is what we make of it. Quite often, it’s in these obstacles and difficulties where we find the opportunity to define ourselves and become something we perhaps never imagined possible. Our legacy shall not be determined by the specific details of our struggle, rather the way we danced through and around the struggle. Each difficulty is a new opportunity to take a step closer to being who each of us desires to be. Challenges are a great gift. Find the challenges that build the staircase to your podium. I also like this anonymous quote, “F-E-A-R has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would start a self-knowledge movement that is focused on self-realization and self-sovereignty. I think this is the fastest path to reducing conflicts among people and nations. Conflict occurs when we feel threatened. Once we are self-realized, self-secure and self-sovereign, we will have no reason to feel threatened. Serious conflicts will likely be few and far between because they become too costly.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Visit us at www.derosemeditation.com and follow our @derosemeditation social media accounts such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn.