Ben Tauber is the former CEO of Esalen Institute and a Founding Partner at Velocity Group (executive coaching firm for startup founders and Fortune 500 execs). His frameworks for mentorship and facilitation allow pioneers across domains to fulfill their individual human potential, and to connect to accelerate the collective potential movement.
We talked about…
- His entrepreneurial background and the science of addiction
- The cost of existential stress
- His awakening moment and spiritual journey
- Emotions are physical sensations in the body: anger, fear, FOMO
- His mental model of belief system
- How to manage with compassion
- And much more
CK LIN 0:00
Welcome to noble warrior you are here my friends because you believe that expanding your mindset in service of your highest purpose is what makes life meaningful. Our goal with the show is to introduce you to leaders and entrepreneurs and ideas that will accelerate your self-actualization. So if you want to continue this conversation, or ask any further questions, go to noblewarrior.com/group. All right, let’s get started.
Today I’m really excited to have my next guest with us, Ben Tauber. He is the former Executive Director for the Esalen Institute, one of the founding place of the human potential movement. And he and I, we met at speaker dinner at the awakened futures conference that talks about the intersection of technology, meditation, and psychedelics. So you had a quite a fascinating story Ben. you started as an entrepreneur and then You became this Executive Director for the Esalen Institute. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey from entrepreneurship to where you were?
BEN TAUBER 1:12
Yeah, I’d be happy to and CK thank you so much for having me on your podcast. it’s a pleasure. I’d like to just appreciate your journey and creating this forum for people to, to learn, and to be on their path, really, of having an impact in the world in a meaningful way. I think that’s what really inspired me to have this conversation with you was learning about what it is that you do and sharing a little bit of a kindred journey here.
Why don’t I take you back a little bit in time? So if we rewind to 2009, I’m working in, in SOMA, San Francisco with two co-founders, one a dear friend from MIT and other from Oxford, and we’re all computer scientists. And we set out to build the next Google. And this was right after the financial crisis. And we’re trying to raise money, and we’ve launched and it becomes this big thing. And suddenly, we’re on this rocket ship ride, building a product called scooper. And we had launched what was called a first real-time search engine. And at the time, Google would only deliver you results that were updated once a day, and we were doing in real-time, and we were indexing a service that had just become really large. And that was called Twitter, with Twitter and all these other real-time sources. And so you could see what was happening right now images, videos, and links for any sort of breaking news, but it was reported by all of us as a novel idea.
But if you play that out a few months, what gets interesting is we realized this is not what we thought it would be. It’s not going to be in the next Google size thing. We go through some twists and turns. And we end up selling the company to Google, which was a fantastic outcome. And I find myself at Google and working on a team called the engagement team. And so it was myself and a handful of other product managers. And we had 30 Ph.D. statisticians that we’re working with. And together, we’re all working to figure out how to draw people back into Google products, Google Chat or Hangouts. or Google social effort at the time was called Google Plus.
Right. And so I am doing what I always thought would be my dream. I’m working at scale with 10s of millions or hundreds of millions of users and running all of these tests. And I’ve got all this money in the bank and amazing intelligent people surrounding me. And yet I was feeling empty inside, right. I hit all the standard targets that one could hit and I’m feeling empty. At that time, there was really no one that I could turn to, to, to have this conversation with, but it felt like there was something more. And I was fortunate to begin dating a woman at that time, who was interested in a similar path to me and we began going to meditation retreats, and I remember this. I think this relates to sort of our pre conversation. we go up to a place north of San Francisco called spirit rock. And it’s a Buddhist retreat center. And they do a day long retreats. And I remember, we did a day of Qi Gong and meditation. And so these guys are sitting up there and a little platform and they’re explaining the meditation and I’m an engineer, and every time they talk about energy or spirituality or something like this, my little bullshit meter goes to 11. But when we sit and we do the meditation, or I do the little Qigong practice, what I can’t deny to myself is that I feel something different. There was a sense of peace that might emerge or just there’s something that was right about that. That I wasn’t getting from the other side of my life from the adrenaline-driven experience of being inside of a Google or a fast-moving startup or money or going out at night and bottle service and all this sort of stuff. I wasn’t getting that. From all the things that we’ve been told this is what life is about. And yet my bullshit meters still hitting 11.
So it was around that time I took a trip on New Year’s, we planned a seven-day retreat, and we went down to this retreat center at Big Sur, which for those who haven’t been down there, it’s gorgeous. And one of the most beautiful places and in the world, I think we were talking about it right. And you’ve got the rugged coastline there with these incredible cliffs just dropping off into the crashing waves and certain times the year. You have whales traveling up and down dolphins jumping and while the sea life but then beautiful hills and everything. So we go to this retreat for seven days and do a massage and meditation course, which I recommend to anybody.
And I think as is typical of bright minds not to say that I’m bright, but I certainly think a lot. So there’s always sort of at least one talk track. At least that time there was one talk track going on in my mind at all times, whether it’s with someone or alone or whatever, something’s always going. And I remember we got into third and the fourth day of the retreat and just there was no cell reception there so phones away from me, and everything sort of calms down. Then I had this moment, just standing there, locking the door to my room not doing anything profound, not sitting and meditating. And I locked the door and I remember turning, I look out and there’s this beautiful garden and it rolling grass that takes you down to the cliffs and then the waves and the setting sun and all of that. And that moment all my thoughts turn off this profound this just this, this quiet emerged for the first time and I remember hearing the sound of the birds chirping and it was just someone took like the volume control and turned it way up and you hear the bees buzzing. And then someone took the gain knob on one of those old TVs turned away up and the colors get real bright. And I looked down and I can’t figure out where my body ends and the world begins. What was interesting about that experience, along with this feeling of connection is it also it just it felt true. In a way, like we know we have those moments where it just it, there’s a feeling where you’re like, Oh, this is, this is what this is really about. And it doesn’t need to be that sort of thing. It could be cooking a meal with your friends. It could be a flow state when you’re painting or drawing or I used to Yeah, I’d have moments not quite like that, but not too dissimilar riding a motorcycle, just get this feeling of being Superman, flying through a canyon. But that one, that that connection, that sense of truth. I went, Oh, there’s something here.
And that moment of clarity, I was able to reflect on the work that I was doing at Google. And I realized that what I was doing with that team of Ph.D. statisticians. Is that we were studying the science of addiction. I knew from the work that I’ve done exactly what color, what image and what words would get you to click and make you think that it was your choice. So in that moment, I had the words of one of my mentors come to me. And she, she used to say to me, Ben, don’t push back, push forward. And so I thought about that I went, I can’t push back inside of, of this engine, that all of the incentives of the organization are designed to draw people back and make more dollars in that way. And I mean, it’s not it. And I did so many dear friends all say at Google, and they have amazing intent and strong ethics and yet, the incentive structures at scale are organized for us to do this sort of work. And so I realized I had to leave. So I packed my bags and left my contract halfway through and traveled to Southeast Asia, and to learn to meditate and to do yoga and learn to breathe.
CK LIN 11:22
Now, before you go into your own journey about the yoga, the breathing, the meditation, tell us a little bit more about that emptiness that you felt the lack of color that you felt because I wanted to share with people who are listening to us. who may not be aware of what that state feels like how do you share with someone who was not aware of awareness? Right? It’s actually a quite a meta meta, difficult challenge. So since you live through that experience, love to hear a little bit more about what that mental chatter feels like. What that emptiness feels like
BEN TAUBER 12:01
such a fantastic question. And I think that’s an entry point to me to the deeper part of the discussion I do hope we get to. So if we rewind a little bit. when I was 22, fresh out of college with my engineering degree, I went and got a job at Adobe, you have to imagine that I had grown up wanting to be a graphic designer. If you’re a graphic designer, especially in the 90s and early 2000s, you’re using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator you’re using their whole suite and to walk into that building. Now as an employee was this dream come true. Oh my god. Here I am actually working on the software that I’ve always used as, as a kid. and I had this incredible drive to achieve inside of me might also be interesting to talk about where that drive came from.
But to answer your question, I would go home at night and I would have the felt experience of steam more coming out of my ears. I felt like I don’t know a wily coyote or something likE that image of, of a Looney Tunes where it’s just literally I’m overheating because I’m thinking so hard. I’m trying so hard. It began to affect my my health and weird ways I couldn’t sleep at night sometimes mind chatter was going constantly. I was unable to be alone. If I was alone, I was always texting to arrange Something. sometimes at night I would have this compulsion I just got to go out, and I would go out and meet up with friends would go to a bar and, and drink I actually never drank that hard but there was just this compulsion to do stuff where I was feeling physically uncomfortable when I reflect on that you can sort of tune in and that in a feeling that and this is an important thing because I actually didn’t understand this for most of my life, and might be completely obvious for some of your listeners and then some of them not so much as is our emotions are physical sensations in our body.
CK LIN 14:46
Say that again
BEN TAUBER 14:47
emotions are physical sensations in the body. So if you are feeling anger and you tune in you can begin to become aware and ultimately describe exactly the set of physiological sensations in your body. So anger for me, is experienced as heat, tension and vibration in my forms and hands. It’s frequently accompanied by tension also in my throat, along with other heat. And that’s often there’s something that you need to say that you’re not saying. Fear for me, I noticed that my solar plexus there’s, there’s a tension that comes there that feels like there’s a vice. Again, another sensation. It’s not. I don’t have a good word for it. But when you feel like you’re missing something, or someone’s going to get you I have the sensation like I’m about to get punched in the side. Now, this is after four or five years of intentionally working out this one Every day and sort of moment by moment, trying to, to describe and become more articulate of what what is my felt experience of an emotion. The reason this is this is important right is because this is what drives us emotion right out of motion. that’s the Latin root. that’s what moves us and pleasurable things we want more of we move towards the negative things we want less of we move away and that’s literally it’s just the body sensation
CK LIN 16:37
thanks for sharing that. there’s a quote that I really really love in this is attributed to Gandhi says our thoughts turn to our words, our words into action, become a habit, habit becomes a result. Right and then it’s like ultimately leading to your destiny. But I think there was a little bit of missing there and missing link is emotions. Our thoughts, actually lead to our emotions and our emotions, the felt experience that leads to the action that we take towards positive sense of emotions, or being away from the negative one. So part of my own journey in doing Vipassana part of it is to, to be more aware of the bodily sensations throughout the of a Vipassana meditation experience. And in my eyes, I’m an engineer by training as well. So in my eyes, my mental model is ok. So in the beginning of a very gross resolution fidelity, I have a rough idea. The area of my head hurts but exactly where I can’t pinpoint exactly. But to practice, the resolution increase, I’m still in the process of increasing that resolution. So do you have any suggestions for people who are curious now based on your experience, Any books or person or a practice or seminar that you can point them to, to really think about increasing the resolution of bodily awareness?
BEN TAUBER 18:11
Yes. So I let me answer that first. And then I want to go back and provide a little bit of a loving challenge to both Gandhi and yourself. So in terms of practices there, there are a few that I think would be really helpful. So one is somatic experiencing. So okay, so Peter Levine whose work I deeply recommend has been teaching at Esalen for, I think over 40 years. And the core of his work Somatic Experiencing is this notion that underneath what makes us human, we are all Animals. So if you look at at prey animals, a lot of times after they’ve been in a traumatic event or the tackled by a tiger or something like that, they go into fight flight or freeze, right? So they might freeze in there. And there’s some biological theories about why that is sort of, you disconnect. So if you’re being in it’s not hurtful, but also even they might let go of you and some sometimes they let go and you’re lying there and then you get up and you run away. But what happens at the end is really interesting. They’ll go in the corner and they’ll, they’ll shake, right and they basically move out all of that might call it energy, or what tension or whatever was there so that they can move on.
Now, what we tend to do as humans as we shut that down, we want to look strong and I Remember, there’s actually a great example of this I was following a friend were driving cars through countryside and I was behind him and my own car and he went around a turn and lost control and hit the wall. And I remember coming around the turn and his car was in the wall and the rear was up in the air the both wheels were up in the air and landed and I stopped, and he gets out and he walks around the back of the car and he goes, Oh my god, and I watch his legs go all wobbly. falls over and it’s just his body shaking that energy up. A lot of times will shut that down. And so that energy gets stuck in the body. And so Peter’s work is all about how you sort of tune into those energy and that those feelings and release it and actually helps to release a lot of traumatic experience without talking about it. So that practice helps develop awareness.
There’s another practice called hakomi. Don’t ask me to spell that. Google can help us with that one, which is a therapy practice that is based in part around that, of developing that awareness. And the final point that I would make just around my own is, I was working with an executive coach who was helping me to develop this. And I would say something like, Oh, I feel so frustrated, or I feel really sad about this thing. And she would say, Well, where do you feel on your body and I would go here: somewhere between the top of my head and the tip of my toes. And so through this process of tuning in and tuning in and tuning in, you can begin to get clear and you go, well, what’s the shape of it? Right? There are some boundaries. What’s the temperature is our temperature is there A sense of movement. Is it a vibration? Is it a pulse? is a wave? Mine? Is it rough? Is it smooth? And so you start noticing all the different qualities and you’re developing proprioception. I mean, there’s no scientific basis for this, you can develop internal awareness. this is getting sort of weird, but I can feel that shapes of internal skeleton, parts of my skeleton I can actually feel things on the inside of my spine now, example. And you’re sort of like, Well, why would you want to do that? But when you can notice that you’re holding tension there and you can invite it to release. Or you can tune in and say, Well, is there and there’s a strong connection between body and mind. is there any thought that goes along with that? That process of inquiry becomes incredibly powerful.
CK LIN 23:02
It’s not weird at all This is great. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah. I mean, ultimately, here’s here’s the thing I say to people. believe whatever you want to believe. And ultimately if, if if that empowers you to to live the life that you love. Yeah, hell yeah. Yeah. So that’s totally great. And then if there’s scientific data to back it up even better.
BEN TAUBER 23:24
Yeah, right. Exactly. Yeah. Exactly. And then and so I want to get back to the loving challenge. So my mental model, which comes out of we didn’t get to this part of my journey, but in 2014, I started an executive coaching firm called velocity group. And through velocity we coach tons of CEOs and and C suite executives in Silicon Valley for startups all the way through fortune 500. We started in Silicon Valley. Now we’re in New York and London and Australia. So my work with with founders around helping them to make meaningful change in their belief structures and develop skills and abilities to be more effective in their work and give their gifts to the world helped me to build some mental models around how our minds work. And what I would say is, is my experience is that this engineering term, but it’s sort of recursive, right? Things can sort of call themselves so you can have a thought, like Gandhi says, in that can generate an emotion. But you can also have an emotion generate a thought. Yes. So it can go either way. And then that’s the interesting thing. And then one thought could generate emotion which generates a different thought which generates a different emotion. All of these are filtered through the structure of your belief system. If you want it, we could go into my functional model. Okay. So the way that I think about this, and again, I say this, this is at a functional level. Right? So my basic view is that all models are wrong. Some models are useful. So let’s consider this sort of a useful model that we can agree is wrong.
CK LIN 25:32
Yeah. It’s not about the absolute accuracy of the model. It’s about effectiveness. Yeah. How it lends to a particular desired outcome.
BEN TAUBER 25:41
Exactly. Yeah. So the way that I tend to operate in the work that I do is that we take in raw data, some raw data that might be through the eye, through the ear, through a sense of taste or touch or other things, right? And then that data goes through the structure of our beliefs. Right? And so it goes through that filter and it and it’s colored. And then that data comes out the other side and other things get generated. It might generate a thought it might generate an emotion, right? It might generate a course of action, right? But each of the things that get gets generated in turn becomes data that goes back in. And so oone little input. And I mean, you can, you can, a good example is you’re walking along. You’re on the street and you look over and there’s a bouquet of flowers and it’s the favorite flowers of your ex-girlfriend, right. So raw data comes in, and pink roses. And then that goes through a set of beliefs. Right around what those roses mean? And then it generates, in this case, a memory. And then that becomes data that comes in, and then it filters through those beliefs and then on and on and on, and you start to chain these things. And so we’re rapid-fire running this process over and over and over, through the entirety of our lives. And so that to me, is this the structure that’s, that’s going on at every moment? And then what gets interesting is how you start to unpack that and where you want to make shifts. Right. So do you want to make a shift around what those roses mean? Or do you want to make a shift around maybe how you feel about your, your ex-girlfriend? Oh, I never got her enough roses, right? I’m a failure. Now, I did everything that I could, or we have a great relationship or had a great relationship so you can start to work on those individual beliefs and start to change the emotions that you hold around them. And it begins with the awareness practice.
CK LIN 28:03
So how far upstream Do you go as an entry point? When you talk to your clients as an example. in the case of seeing a rose to you immediately go to how does the rose make you feel? Or do you go to the interpretation, the stories and then follow the thread as upstream as possible.
BEN TAUBER 28:25
I haven’t had a conversation with a client that begins with the rose. Usually our work, we structure it around specific goals, very results-oriented and in a business context that that tends to make it easy because there’s a lot of pressure to perform. That’s a strong clarifying function. So might begin with, we need to hit this goal. Yeah, right. So that’s sort of the overarching context is we’ve got to hit these numbers or metrics or whatever in order to move the organization forward, but then there’ll be some presenting problem like my VP of sales is fucking up. And that will be the entry point. So there’s usually a presenting problem, there’s something that they want to have happened and the reality of their situation is different and they’re experiencing some suffering. And that becomes the entry point and the inquiry into both their own experience and relationship with it. And then how do they make shifts in their beliefs or capabilities or behaviors in order to get more of what they want.
CK LIN 29:51
Viktor Frankl wrote a beautiful book, Man’s Search for Meaning. And one of the most memorable sentence I got out of the book is: Between stimulus and response, there’s a space and in that space lies our growth and freedom. So if I’m hearing you, as a way you coach your clients, as in bringing awareness in between that space, like, hey, why do you say that your VP of Sales fucking up? Like, where’s that coming from? How do you feel? And then you start to kind of unpack that space. Is that an accurate way to describe or give it back to you what I hear?
BEN TAUBER 30:37
That is that is part of it. I think the other part is, is what is the understanding, sort of drawing the waterline down on the subconscious and revealing more of the subconscious set of beliefs to discover why they’re choosing to to extend experience their VP in that way, right? So this is the difference between fact and story. I don’t know if that’s a familiar concept, right? But a lot of times what we relate as a fact, and our VP is fucking up is a story, right? that’s a narrative. He may or may not, or she may or may not agree. Right? Now, facts are things that a camera can record. So the VP missed his numbers. That would be a fact. Right? Or I feel angry. That’s a fact. you can’t there’s nothing debatable about facts, right. Now, but just to simplify this example, so the VP may actually have screwed up, right. There was a big deal. And he didn’t wake up, right? And he missed the deal and lost it. And that’s why the numbers were missed. And or it could be market conditions you don’t know, right. And so what we’re doing is we’re constructing the narrative in real-time, all the time around these facts. And so it’s starting to unpack those. And then shifting to more empowering beliefs that generate more empowering narratives.
CK LIN 32:30
Can you umpact the word “empowering” from your point of view,
BEN TAUBER 32:33
you get more of what you want, and less of what you don’t want.
CK LIN 32:36
Gotcha. Thank you for that.
BEN TAUBER 32:38
And you tend to experience more happy and positive emotions and negative emotions.
CK LIN 32:45
Cool. So one of the impetus that I like to do with this particular podcast is to also give people not just an intellectual understanding in theoretical terms, but also I mean a mental model and actually serves them but also something tactical. So they can actually try it out for themselves. Hey, I was inspired by Ben story. Yeah. Let me try on some of his tactical disciplines. So how do you as a way to for yourself help increase? Was the word use the probabilistic? No you didn’t use that word as my word, the effectiveness of your beliefs?
BEN TAUBER 33:28
Well so one way that you can investigate them is a this is another Esalen faculty Byron Katie’s work. She has a series of questions and I won’t elaborate them here. But let’s say you have this example VP is screwing up. The first question is: Is it true? And like, Is it absolutely factually true? And that part’s debatable. Now a lot of people, when they have sort of fixed mindset, they’re like, yeah, they’re totally fucking up. But here’s the interesting question is How is it that the opposite of your story might be as true or truer? So in this case, you would put to put together the mirror opposite of that. The VP is doing a great job, and then trying to come up with evidence, a few different points of evidence that they are doing a great job. Now, what I find is if you’re looking at something objectively, then you can see both sides of the coin wit and window this. How do we know this? frequently when we’re when we’re giving friends advice, right? We’re not as invested in their outcome. We can see those one side there’s another or if you think about a couple of things. can see what her perspective and I can see his perspective. But suddenly, when we’re one of the two parties involved, right, there’s only one perspective. That’s right. And it’s our perspective, right? So if you’re trying to be right about something, chances are this is a good moment for you to investigate the beliefs that are holding. And so if you’re able to come up with that alternate narrative, even if you ultimately still hold your point of view, there’s more trust embedded in that because you’re able to see both perspectives and start to view things more objectively.
CK LIN 35:41
Beautiful, thank you. Any other disciplines in as a way to train yourself train your brain to live in an empowering context? Because ultimately, the outcome is people use as you said, I love that definition. You have more of what you want. That includes the things that you want the success that you want, and as well as the internal emotions, the joy, the bliss, right, everything that people want more of. So how do you train yourself to live in that empowering context?
BEN TAUBER 36:16
Well, I think there’s sort of two parts of this. In my view, there’s sort of absolute truth and relative truth. So in the Absolute Truth sense, This to me is sort of the spiritual work.
CK LIN 36:34
What is spirituality for you just define that for a little bit. So that way people can… We are going meta meta, yeah.
BEN TAUBER 36:43
That’s good. I I’ve never actually tried to define spirituality for myself. I think it’s it’s the sense that there there’s something more whether you call it consciousness or the universe or God or whatever but that there’s something more here then the materialist perspective. And I strongly separate that from religion. religion has specific mythology and rituals and structure around its dogma.
CK LIN 37:25
I love Bruce Lee’s quote yes his religions a lot like the fingers pointed in the moon. look at the moon don’t look at the finger.
BEN TAUBER 37:33
Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah, there you go. I like that one. so that’s my definition and when we talk about absolute truth, my own pursuit is to see through the delusions of my own psychology and realize that it’s in the Buddhist tradition it’s the grasping for things and aversion to things that is the cause of suffering. So part of the work that I’m doing is supporting people and coming into rapport with reality. Right? We’re seeing things as they are accepting them, as they are no more and no less. But it doesn’t mean it can’t come with decisive action doesn’t mean that we can’t work super hard, be exhausted. We don’t need to go off and be a monk upon on the hill. But so that’s the absolute reality side of things is still as to let go of the grasp and aversion you can still have strong intention. You let go of that. So that’s, that’s spiritual work. And along the way, there’s still plenty of psychological cleanup, of holding beliefs that allow you to experience more positive states or more positive emotions than the negative ones so if we get back to it at the end of the day. And that’s where we start a conversation. It’s our emotions that are truly driving us. If you look at…to give you a concrete example, the belief structure I’ve seen for the majority of entrepreneurs is a fear-driven structure. very complex train chain of beliefs that essentially says like if I IPO and have enough wealth and enough users, then I will be worthy of love.
CK LIN 39:42
But that’s not where you start, right? You don’t tell them the answer. do you I mean, I’m curious.
BEN TAUBER 39:50
Sure, but it does. That’s the thing is until you know it. Until you deeply know it in your bones and that’s what it doesn’t Make a difference. Right? It’s true. It learning these things. It’s like riding a bike, if you’ve read all about riding a bike, but you get on the bike and you fall over, and you don’t know how to ride a bike. Yeah. And so the way that relates practically here is, until your decision making moment by moment by moment looks like you riding the bike you operating from this, this place of not having grasping or aversion to your current experience. You don’t truly know it, you may understand it, but you don’t know it. And so this is why I think there’s there’s some very simple absolute truths and it gets very complex on the psychological side with all of these beliefs because they show up in so many different contexts. Your family, your relationship, your views on your body, finances, what types of activities you enjoy doing it all. it’s a small set of truths showing up in various different contexts. And then how do you actually shift those beliefs to be more aligned with a deeper truth?
CK LIN 41:23
This actually may be a great segue to so Confucius, he said. Self-mastery, family, country, world. Right. So we had talked primarily a lot about the self-mastery aspect of it. Doing the day to day between stimulus-response, how do you respond, Train yourself, so on so forth. As someone who were who was responsible and the executive director for the Esalen Institute, you were responsible for your team for your organization, you build companies before someone who is who was responsible to bring forth The mission? How do you navigate the zooming of in and out of holding your value? In cultivating that culture, and then making that broader impact that you wanted to make in the conscientious space? Let me see if I can ask the question in a better way. It’s challenging enough to manage your own stimulus and response in that space, you have infinite choices. Yeah. Now, you’re now responsible for making a decision for your family, for your organization. I would say it’s perhaps infinitely more difficult because now you got to think about a lot of other ramifications. So as someone who headed the Esalen Institute, right. Well, how did you navigate that space?
BEN TAUBER 43:11
Good question. The spiritual side of me wants to ask you, is it really more difficult? Or is that a construction of the mind? Right? So at one level, you can look at that as another belief. And sometimes we tell ourselves This is hard. This is difficult or this is complicated. Sometimes it is, but not always. There’s a couple of simple models that I use, and I mean, the big caveat here is that I believe we’re always learning. And there’s a lot of decisions that I made where I learned a lot. Right? I don’t think I always got it right. Definitely not. Yes, welcome to being human. But one is as as a leader, I believe our responsibility is to not just model what we want to see in the world but embody it. So it does start with doing your own inner work. Totally agree with that, and that what my practice looked like, while I was at Esalen was an hour a day of meditation the morning, exercise daily and usually half hour an hour of meditation at night. And part of this is the context for six months. The first six months in my role we were in crisis because we’ve had experienced massive landslides that cut us off and effectively turned Big Sur into an island, cut off from the rest of the world. And we were, I was working to stabilize us financially and organizationally and all this stuff. So I needed that to just get myself through. But one model that i really like comes out of the work of Fred Kaufman. So he’s another great executive coach, and I love his book conscious business where he very pragmatically applies a lot of these principles around consciousness to very specific business conversations. This would be a general recommendation. It’s like here’s how to have a hard conversation and make agreements and here’s what to do when those agreements get broken. Things like that. So one of the guiding principles for me was what he called circles of compassion. And the way that a circle of compassion works essentially tends to myopically focus on the very specific instance of whatever the issue is that’s presenting. And he’s saying, Hey, take, take your compassion around what’s going on there and start to expand it. if it’s between you and a particular person, think about the impact to the team or to the organization, or to the customers or to the mission or the world at large. And sort of zoom in, zoom out through the circles of compassion, to try to navigate and it’s interesting because as you start to zoom out. oftentimes what feels Like the right answer, what is the most compassionate thing to do becomes more and more clear.
So a good example might be you have a staff member that’s not performing. Like Joe’s not performing. Right now, obviously, you start with Joe and can you have a conversation about it is do they need support? How can we support Joe and doing his best work? Right? But let’s say because not everyone’s open to that you run in a circumstance where it’s like, oh, actually, Joe is not a fit for this role. So one year you can be compassionate there if that is the conclusion that you reach. We’re not setting Joe up for success, but a lot of people are like, Oh, well, we can’t let go of Joe, because he’s got a family. Right. he needs to earn money and support his family and all this well, what if Joe is like a surgeon? He’s bad. People are getting hurt. My customers getting hurt, see, which now expanded the circle a little bit. Right then it shifts? No, he Oh, well, actually what we’re not supporting Joe and doing the best work of his life and people are getting hurt by it. Maybe it’s less dramatic than that he’s a sales guy. Well, he’s missing his numbers and that’s bringing the team down, they’re not able to thrive because he’s not doing this his work. And that team going down means that now the company is missing their numbers. Now the company can’t deliver on their mission. And maybe they have a great mission like Esalen, which is to advance human potential. And so when you start to expand out the circles of compassion, the answer can become more clear. Right now, what I’m always interested in, just to go back to our theoretical Joe is how can I support Joe and giving his greatest gift? So the conversation is really around that it is why is he not performing? Are there other factors or other things that we can sort of shore up or get him the support to do that? Or is there another role that puts him into a zone of genius, alright, so that he can do the best work of his life. And sometimes, though, that may not be inside of the organization.
So one of the things that I learned sort of a beautiful way I was I’ve always been interested in growing companies, and that’s what I do. When I stepped into Esalen we were in crisis losing a million dollars a month with no eta on when we could reopen. Our fate was not in our own hands because we’re waiting and waiting for government organizations to rebuild roads that are active landslide zones. So we had to make some hard decisions. And one of the first things that I had to do was laying people off. And this was terrifying for me, much harder for them certainly. One of the fears that would come up in me at night and keep me up is what if that person can’t find a job or make a living or things like that? And I can’t tell you how many times individuals would call back. We have a team that tracked everyone that we had to like go to provide them support and they would give me so much feedback around so and so sort of, had been afraid to leave and were sort of ready for the next step of the journey and they’ve been afraid and number one woman I spoke to. Within a week, she found a house in the town that she always wanted to live in, and then got her dream job. And here I’d been holding the story that I was harming her. And in fact, it empowered her to thrive. Another good example of how the opposite of your story might be as true or truer.
CK LIN 51:24
Beautiful. I know that we only have a couple of minutes left. So I wanted to.. one of the thing that really inspired me during your talk doing at our dinner series was the idea of moving from human potential movement to the collective potential movement. So maybe we can give people a little sneak peek of the next conversation. So what do you mean by the collective potential movement?
BEN TAUBER 51:51
Thank you, CK. So, this thesis sort of born out of the history of Esalen during my time as executive director. in the 1960s Esalen birthed the human potential movement. It was this idea that we are individually but collectively, much more than we think we are. We’re only limited by these false beliefs that we hold about ourselves and, and the world. And those beliefs get instilled in us sometimes by our family or by education or religion or our nation, things like that about what’s possible and that we need to break through those false beliefs to realize our full potential as humans. One of my favorite examples of this is Roger Bannister, right who broke the four-minute mile and you probably you’re not me this story, but I’ll briefly describe it just to illustrate the point. There were there was a time when it was understood that Running a mile in four minutes was the limit of what human physiology could do. and if you run faster than four minutes, you would die. And Roger Bannister was getting close to this mark. And he said, Hey, I’m going to run the four-minute mile. And there was press there. And there were doctors there, right? I mean, they were ready that when he broke this record, that he would just collapse and they would have to resuscitate him and what does it put on the electrodes on him and restart his heart and all this. And, amazing story. He breaks the four-minute mile, and he doesn’t die or collapse. And that’s fascinating. But to me, what was more fascinating is that in the months that followed 10 and 20, and dozens and hundreds and now thousands of people have all broken the four-minute mile What happened? Did he unlock some hidden ability? No, I mean, it’s all within all of us. And what was what’s holding us back was that narrative that limiting belief that we couldn’t run faster than four minutes.
So built on this idea of breaking through the limiting beliefs Esalen, tried to create a safe container where the pioneers who are working way beyond the limits of what was thought to be possible. And at those times that was, in a sense, being a bridge for a lot of the traditions from the east around things like yoga, and meditation, but also in the West, bringing in new forms of psychology, and neuroscience or bodywork, all these different things and creating a safe space for these pioneers to come together and actually explore at these frontiers of human potential. Now, if you look at the last 50 years The majority of that attention has been focused on the individual. And that’s one thing I’m passionate about, and you’re passionate about. And we’re the product of this and ways that we know and often don’t know about.
However, when you look at the challenges that we’re now facing, and the opportunity, I should say, because I’m incredibly optimistic about humanity, I think we need to tilt the focus from the individual into the collective, and what I believe, will be called the collective potential movement. And so now, part of the work that I’m doing is gathering those pioneers that are on these frontiers of collective potential that are doing work in groups, in organizations, in communities or hopefully one day, nations that are operating beyond the limits of what we think as possible. starting to bring those two those folks together to cross-pollinate ideas and the support each other, and in bringing us into a future that an individual level allows us to give our greatest gifts to the world and on a collective level allows humanity to thrive in the universe.
CK LIN 56:17
Yeah. That’s beautiful. Thank you. So I’m one of them. I’m inspired. I want to contribute. I want to be a part of this. Is there community you are building. Is there a website you are sending people to? Are you publishing a book creating a seminar? What are you doing?
BEN TAUBER 56:33
Yes. so right now. For me, I’m in discovery around this. The collective potential movement specifically. if people want to become involved, they can reach out to me through my business email that’s email@example.com. It is where we do our coaching. If you’re a pioneer and you want coaching, or what I’d sort of jokingly called Jedi training, and meet some other Jedi, you can reach out to me there as well. And I curate some small dinners and events bringing together different collections of these pioneers and as we go forward, I think that will expand out and in scope.
CK LIN 57:24
Please do keep us in touch for the sake of the collective potential. Thanks so much for being here.
BEN TAUBER 57:31
Yeah, it’s an honor.
CK LIN 57:33
Alright, listeners. Thank you so much for listening. If you have any questions about what we discussed, anything that needs to be answered, please go to noblewarrior.com/group I will be happy to answer those questions there. Take care now. Bye
Ben Tauber is a speaker, coach, and gathering organizer in the fields of human and collective potential. His frameworks for mentorship and facilitation allow pioneers across domains to fulfill their individual human potential, and to connect to accelerate the collective potential movement. Ben is former CEO of Esalen Institute and a Founding Partner at Velocity Group (executive coaching firm for startup founders and Fortune 500 execs). He was an engineer and product manager at Google and Adobe, and co-founder of Scoopler (acquired by Google). Ben holds a B.S. in computer science from UC San Diego.