WHY I MEDITATE : Paola R. Shah
Entrepreneur, travel-lover, and mom, Paola R. Shah was born in Colombia and has lived in places such as Paris, London, Los Angeles, and New York. She currently calls Boulder, Colorado home where she is the founder and CEO of Tucketts, an athletic sock brand with an environmental and social mission to promote peace.
Where is your most favorite place on earth?
The mountains. They make me happy. I love to climb mountains, I love to go up. And now that my daughter is able to hike, the mountains are a favorite place to go with her.
What does meditation look like for you?
When I started meditating while living in New York, I only went to one place. I did Zen meditation, so more of the Japanese style meditation which is silent meditation. Since leaving New York, I haven’t gone back to a center, but my practice is still ongoing.
Every morning, now that it’s winter and it’s dark, I wake up, I go to the bathroom, and then I don’t leave my bedroom without sitting on my cushion. And maybe my daughter is still in the bed, maybe my husband is there too, and even if it’s dark, I still sit. I put a timer on, and I try. Even if my mind is sometimes thinking of the long list of things I have to do for the day. I try to be consistent. If I leave the bedroom without doing it, I know that I probably will not meditate for the rest of the day. Sometimes I do 5 minutes, sometimes 20 minutes, but I try to sit every day in the morning.
When + why did you first start meditating?
Before I started meditating, I knew that my mind was my biggest enemy. I was always looking for, you know, something. My background is Catholic, and so I really didn’t know anything about meditation. When I became a mom, I started having challenges with just being present with my daughter. There were certain behaviors in my daughter that were actually not about her, but it was just something in me reflecting on her. One day when she was sleeping, I just looked at her, and I said, “Of course…. This is not about you, it is about me, and you are trying to tell me something.” So I just knew I had to go look for a meditation place. One day I was walking on 17th street between 5th and 6th, and I just saw a sign for the meditation center Still Mind Zendo. The next Tuesday I went, and for the rest of the four years that I lived in New York, I went every single Tuesday. I was looking for a place that was clean and had white walls. I come from a Catholic background where the churches are extremely busy and heavy. They are beautiful, but it doesn’t bring me that kind of peace like this place did. I like rituals, and with Zen, you enter, you bow to the Buddha, remembering or acknowledging that peace and discovery are important. Then you bow to your cushion, where you are going to sit, which means you bow to yourself. For me, that translates into: I’m giving love to myself, and the importance that I deserve, allowing me to be a priority. And then you bow to the sangha, the rest of the community, which you also need for support. These three rituals were so important for me.
how has meditation impacted your life?
I confess that until I started meditating, when I was 36, I came to realize I never loved myself before. After I started meditating, I started to love myself. It was like I removed a cover that I had on top of me.
My head was straighter, I wanted to show my face, to own and be proud of who I am. I also felt more confident with my body. I have very slim legs, and coming from Latin America, being on the slim side was unusual. I grew up feeling very uncomfortable. So when I was 36, I starting wearing miniskirts! I wanted to show my legs! It may seem vain or silly, but it’s not. It’s not about showing my legs, it’s about being comfortable with who I am. Those small changes came about because of my practice.
Meditation is not about having a blank mind. It’s about awareness and letting your instincts flourish. And now, this is how I am able to run my company, despite all the issues that come up, it’s about being aware that my thoughts are not the reality. Something as simple as judgment: when you are aware of the inner dialogue, when you are looking at someone. Like once I was walking in New York and there was this lady wearing a red top, green pants, and yellow shoes, and that day instead of me saying, “Oh my God, she doesn’t know how to combine colors….” Instead in my mind I said “Huh. Yes. Someone is wearing a red top, green pants, and yellow shoes.” And that made a whole difference in my day. Because when you judge, your stomach contracts, your whole body contracts. The same thing happens when you are judging yourself. So that awareness is growing all the time. This is why it is so important to meditate everyday. We have thoughts every day.
And then there is intuition. What I discovered in my mind is there is a thought that comes from intuition, but then a big cloud of thoughts comes in and covers up the intuition. When we let that cloud grow and stay there, we are just putting away our intuition.
Our intuition allows us to know what to do. We know what the right and wrong decisions are if we are able to listen. But because our mind is full of trash, we cannot see it.
Since I started to meditate, I have become more intuitive. Even in running a business, intuition is very important. It’s not going to solve all your problems – of course you need data, and there are many other variables -- But when you run a business, you need to be satisfied, you need to be sure. You have to be happy with who you hire and your decisions. Sometimes you can hire someone from their CV and because you have all these dreams in your head, your mind is like Oh yes, this person is going to help me grow my company in these ways. But you may have had that feeling right at first like oh, that wasn’t the right person. Sometimes we can completely ignore it, and later on you know they were not the right fit.
If you could give advice to first time meditators, what would it be?
I would say, find a timer and find 5 minutes. Sit. You don’t need a cushion. If you have a cushion, even better, but you know you can be anywhere to sit. Make sure your torso is straight, and then just start to pay attention to your breathing. When you see your thoughts coming, and you realize that you are having thoughts and you realize you’re supposed to be paying attention to the breathing, then go back to the breathing. Bingo! Awareness came right there. You realized that there was a thought coming and you were being a part of that conversation. And do it every. Day. Those five minutes are going to change your life.
If you could change one thing about the world today, what would you change?
Deforestation. Forests keep balance between animals and humans and all species. I think nature already preselected what should be where. But as humans, we feel like we own everything. For example, you see now how we humans are changing the course of entire rivers with terrible consequences. Humans are not just killing trees; we are killing whole ecosystems and causing a complete imbalance. Only nature can do what ever needs to be done, but deforestation is killing animal habitats and wiping away their existence.