I had the privilege of meeting Annelies Richmond, an international teacher of personal development, meditation and leadership programs earlier this month. A dynamic lady, she pioneered the initiative to bring mindfulness, yoga and meditation programs into the public school system in New York City in 2005 through the non-profit IAHV (International Association for Human Values). Her heart lies in empowering university students to stretch their capacity and vision. Over the last 15 years, Annelies has uplifted thousands though wellness and meditation-based leadership programs. I wanted to understand from her how every individual could tap into oneself to bring out one's best and become happier, more successful and free.
Q. How can human potential be tapped? Are there ways we can dig into ourselves and move beyond understanding of our own capacity?
A. Most of us have a small vision of our capacity or potential. By having a definition on it, we limit our self. We have concepts about it, yet in reality it is so much huger than we think. We can only find out what our capacity is by testing and stretching it. Instead, we put a barrier saying, "I believe this is all I can do." And we actually believe it! We don't push or stretch ourselves. What holds people from believing and expressing their unlimited potential is mostly stress, unwanted thoughts and negativity that occupies the mind most of the day. In such a scenario, there is not much room for us to think in a different way. I have seen people moving into their actual potential by practicing Sudarshan Kriya. This breathing technique in itself removes concepts stuck in one's mind and allows them to experience more power. The skillful use of breath through pranayama, meditation and Sudarshan Kriya increases the life force energy in our system. Several studies suggest an overall strengthening of the mind-body system with Kriya and meditation. When energy is low on a given day, we have a lot of doubts but when energy is high and a challenge comes, there is a different atmosphere in the brain and we feel more confident and willing to push past boundaries. We are able to be 100 percent in relationships, excel in career, do more of the things we want to do and also volunteer time.
Q. What is the meaning of freedom? How can one become freer?
A. True freedom means being happy in whatever comes to you. It means maintaining that inner happiness, contentment and stability when pleasant or unpleasant things come your way. We may change a part of the world but life will give a combination of good and bad, success and failure. Yet, if we are able to maintain our smile amidst the highs and lows, that is real freedom. Then our mind is not wrapped up in the chaos and challenges. We remain centered, peaceful and also maintain dynamism.
However, to be such a state of mind and sustain it, practices such as meditation and yoga are needed. These are tried and tested for thousands of years and make the nervous system so strong that one can handle all kinds of situations.
Our mind is our most valuable instrument that helps achieve - or not achieve our full potential. If we can learn how to manage the mind, then our potential will blossom. A lot of life is about skill and we put thousands of dollars learning so many skills yet mind management is the most important life skill.
Q. How do practices like meditation and the skillful use of breath help one achieve success in the world?
A. I have observed that people who do these practices and use the knowledge of the mind are more successful in life. Our culture right now is of instant gratification. Becoming rich quickly, being beautiful in an instant or losing weight quickly are often called out as successful outcomes. This implies that if you are rich enough, thin enough or beautiful enough, you will be happy. Since you are achieving success in the world (outside), it will bring happiness to you. But where does happiness really come from? True happiness comes from inside. Success is not just what's happening in your world outside but also what's happening in your world inside. It's important to remember that whatever is manifesting in our life starts from inside. There is nowhere else to start from! It starts from a thought or a feeling inside. The instrument we use to achieve worldly success is our mind. If we take some time to take care of our instrument, then we can experience success many times more on the outside. The intelligent one takes out some time daily to meditate and become more effective.
Q. How do spirituality and materialism work together?
A. I believe that those who practice spirituality or even the explanation of mind and meditation are able to manifest things in the material world better and faster. We hear more and more about successful professionals who meditate regularly and today many companies encourage their employees to meditate. Spirituality is simply taking us back to our essence--and the essence of what runs this universe. When we are in touch with the essence, then manifesting things on the material level becomes easier. Before things begin on the material or physical level, they begin as a thought at the subtle level. Therefore, if we attend to the realm of the subtle, naturally the realm of material becomes easier and more achievable.
Q: How can we make our happiness unshakable?
A: Life is a balance of the external and internal worlds. We put most of our attention on the external world - home, job, family, commute, parties et al. And then there is an internal world of our emotions and thoughts. If you look closely, everything we do in our life is so that we can be happy. You want to make more money, get a promotion, drive a nice car, be in a relationship etc. to become happy. But if you look between the external and internal worlds, happiness comes from the inner world. If there's a way we can be happy and then achieve these things, it is even better because when we depend on these external things, then our happiness changes as they change. It goes up and down - because in the world outside, things change all the time. Today you have a good job but tomorrow you might not. Today you are in a great relationship, tomorrow you might not. If happiness is attached only to material things and outside world, it is very shaky. However, if we recognize that happiness comes from the internal world and we take some time to attend to the internal world, everything gets better.
Research is also showing that a happy and a positive person is more productive. Therefore, the more intelligent is the one who can address the internal world by spending a few minutes with it every day to energize and clear it.
Q: How does the knowledge of mind and meditation help us enhance relationships?
A: The relationship that will last is the one where you can be happy on your own - where you take responsibility for your happiness. If we have a tool to manage the mind and take responsibility for our happiness, then the relationship is much more fulfilling and smooth for both parties. When we are able to do practices like pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya and meditation, we automatically let go of our old stuff. Without making much of an effort, our mind is able to let go of the negativity. Usually what gets in the way of any relationship - be it a personal or professional is that we are holding on to old things......even if we are not expressing it, they are in our mind. This gets in the way of harmony of our communication. And the whole relationship is based on communication. When we are holding on to old things, we can't allow an individual to be the new person in the present moment and that keeps driving the relationship down. The mind is so stuck with the past that we can't allow new possibilities in this moment. However, these practices allow us to let go of the old and entertain new possibilities in the present moment. There is nothing more refreshing for a relationship when you can let go of the negativity that has already happened and start on a clean slate.
Q: How do these practices enhance leadership skills?
A: The secret of being a leader is to maintain one's own energy and boost the enthusiasm of others. A good leader is an enthusiasm booster. Leaders keep the enthusiasm up in others and inspire them. And the way to do it is to be consistent with these practices which allow you to tap into an infinite well of energy!
Additionally, a leader is able to listen to others and consider others' perspective. A leader is able to be open-minded and see through his own ego and not be ruled by it. The more you meditate, the more you recognize your ego and learn to use it consciously. This is healthy use of ego. The practices make the ego transparent and usable. The practices allow you to gain the ability to observe yourself more and more so that you can make changes and polish yourself.
Join Annelies Richmond live here for an engaging conversation on practical tools and wisdom to create a life of more happiness and success.