A Practical Guide for a Bumbling Mystic


A little while ago I was contacted to see if I would be up for reviewing an upcoming book on the blog. Technically I refer people to books all the time, so I was at least open to it, if a little wary. But the project sounded interesting, so I decided to read it and promised to post a review if it could serve my audience in a practical way.

Going through the process of finding a publisher for my current book made me certainly aware of the herculean task of building some buzz around a project you deeply believe in. So I looked up the author’s company, Mindvalley, and looked into one of their new ventures, Soulvana, offering subscription-based spirituality courses by people like Thich Nhat Hanh and Eckhart Tolle. Fascinating.

As an English major, theology student, and teacher, the whole world of commerce and capital often seemed tainted, corrupt, driven by greed with the inevitable side effects of oppression somewhere along the supply chain.

Of course, at the same time, I own a computer, a car, tank up on gas, buy food at the store, have a gym membership and participate in the systems of exchange. Every book I’ve ever loved had a bar code on it. Part of my task as I now see it is to elevate my own level of consciousness both as a consumer, marketer, and producer of goods and services. And since my own life vision is to help move people and systems toward wholeness through practices that increase spiritual awareness, the author seemed like an ally. He’s basically Michael Hyatt meets the Urban Monk.

The book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani, though not a contemplative manifesto, does touch on integrating mindfulness practices that profoundly help us advance on our path, deepen our experience, develop happiness, and stay present in the moment.

Framed as a rags to riches story of the author’s move from Malaysia to America and back again along with some of the life lessons learned while growing an enormously successful business, the book articulates some of the practices and benefits of the mindful life, like:

  • How our beliefs shape our world
  • Assessing the cultural norms we’ve been programmed with
  • Staying open to the unmanifested
  • Kensho: growth through suffering
  • Feeling connected with all of life
  • Tapping in to our intuition
  • Staying present in the moment while carrying a bold vision
  • Being happy so that you can do big things, not the other way around
  • Developing daily gratitude practices
  • The power of forgiveness

The book throws in nuggets gleaned from some of the author’s running mates since the enormous success of his company: Arianna Huffington, Tony Robbins, Richard Branson, and so on. The occasional name dropping along with the informal tone and style certainly makes the book feel geared toward a more business-minded readership, but in a way, that’s precisely its appeal.

It takes concepts and practices that can feel esoteric or elitist and makes them accessible and applicable to the practically-minded. Though I confess: I’ve never been accused of being practically-minded. The book is like a chat with a very successful buddy about applied mindfulness.

But for someone like myself, the book has other benefits. It articulates practical steps for what to do with the sense of freedom and agency that can come about as a result of meditative or mindful practice. It’s great to develop boldness of vision (like spreading practices for deeper awareness), but we also have to execute that vision. The book helped me by:

  • Articulating the important difference between set points and goals
  • Identifying systems for 12 areas of balance (Love, Friendships, Adventure, Career, and so on)
  • Making a regular habit of upgrading our systems for living

People like myself often frame life as something to be withstood, a trial by fire. As if the only way to grow was through kensho. But we have a tougher time being motivated by joy, dwelling in enthusiasm. It seems suspicious. A put on. Something for shallow people only, or those darned extroverts one hears so much about.

In its essence, life seems to be a confrontation with suffering. But this posture, however honest, can practically leave us oscillating between what Lakhiani calls the negative spiral and the current reality trap. We may feel our only options are succumbing or withstanding.

Moving toward wholeness can also involve articulating, developing, and executing a vision. And that means developing healthy, dynamic, and effective systems. For some of us, that just doesn’t come naturally.

According to Trappist monk Thomas Keating, one of the core ego type humans struggle with is a desire for power and control. But in its healthy form, this desire transforms into the empowerment of others. That’s the place Lakhiani is writing from.

There are some great practical nuggets in the book about developing positive worldviews, examining our relationship to time, developing and revising effective systems, practices to increase happiness (and therefore effectiveness) like gratitude pages and mindfulness practice, and a very surprising section on the connection between forgiveness, Zen, and productivity. There’s also a six-phase meditation exercise outlined in the final section of the book, and a special section at the end collecting all of the book’s exercises.

Spreading awareness of contemplative practices is core to my life’s vision. I thought I’d do my best to frame that in a relatable, accessible, fun way in my own book, loosely based on Dante’s Divine Comedy about the soul’s journey home. After reading The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, it’s clear Lakhiani will advance that cause exponentially, helping reorient many many people along their way.

Now there are some potential minor objectionable elements in the book — a pretty quick if respectful dismissal of religion, the slightly offputting terms “unf*ckwithable” and “brules” (as in BS rules). Shakespeare this is not, nor is it meant to be. And if you’re open to it, there are very practical, helpful underlying concepts that can help us move toward that state which is the goal of all contemplative, mindful, or transcendent practice, yea, even of religion itself — that of wholeness.

I love books that motivate me to stretch, to grow, to deepen, to change, that broaden my view of the world. But sometimes, a simple, heartfelt book on what to do with that motivation and how to integrate regular practices that cultivate, develop, and pass on that change is exactly what’s needed.

For me, this book is evidence of what many of us have been hoping for and working towards for years. Vishen Lakhiani is not a mystic. He’s a practical guy who built a company. Along the way, he learned some things. He learned that mindfulness practice, honesty, compassion, and forgiveness change lives. And he’s passing that lesson on. When our business leaders sound less like Gordon Gekko and more like Thich Nhat Hanh, the needle is moving in the right direction.

Question: What books have helped you the most with practical break-throughs in life and work? Share in the comments section below! Share your answer on Facebook or Twitter

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