Why does the madly successful tech genius turn to shamanism and insist on living in minimalistic apartments with nothing but a futon and a MacBook? Top tech leaders have been pushing their minds and bodies to the limits, from fasting to hiking mountains, in pursuit of success.
Shamanism has gained popularity in recent years among some tech industry leaders and professionals in Silicon Valley. The term “shaman” usually refers to spiritual healers, practitioners, or guides in indigenous cultures who are believed to possess the ability to communicate with the spirit world, perform rituals, and heal physical and spiritual ailments. Many CEOs and entrepreneurs are turning to these ancient practices in search of personal and professional growth, alternative healing methods, and new sources of inspiration.
The roots of today’s practices link back to the 1960s counterculture movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. That movement played a significant role in popularizing Eastern spirituality, mysticism, and shamanism as alternatives to traditional Western beliefs, offering a path to personal transformation, social change, and ecological awareness.
Is shamanism a way to clear the mind and focus on the big picture? Or is it simply a way to feel invincible in the competitive tech world? Whatever the reason, it’s undeniable that these practices have become synonymous with the tech industry. I wanted to check it out for myself, so I’ve spent three weeks digging deep into the who’s who of shamanification in Silicon Valley and studying their rituals. Here’s what I uncovered:
Through my research, I identified six top tech leaders who are using some or all of these ancient practices to tame the wild and unpredictable forces of their domains and stay on the leading edge. While these individuals may be some of the most prominent examples in Silicon Valley, they are by no means the only ones. Many tech executives and entrepreneurs are experimenting with various forms of psychedelic substances and deprivation in order to push the limits of human performance and achieve greater success in their careers, including:
It’s highly unlikely that you will see Elon tweeting and sharing his personal experiences with psychedelic substances. However, in a 2018 interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast he mentioned their potential value for sparking innovation and creativity. He alluded to the possibility that hallucinogens like LSD played a role in conceiving some breakthrough technologies.
Who knew that the secret sauce to LinkedIn’s phenomenal growth could be found in the ancient practice of mindfulness? Ever since he launched the popular professional social network in 2009, Jeff Weiner has made headlines for not just connecting a whopping 450 million members, but also for crediting his daily guided meditations on the Headspace app for his focus and strategic vision. He’s such a fan of the practice that he regularly shares the scientific benefits of meditation with his Twitter followers. In a Wall Street Journal interview, Weiner spilled the beans on how carving out time to be present and reflect can help bring clarity and prevent constant reactive thinking.
So, the next time you’re overwhelmed with countless work emails and meetings, remember to channel your inner Jeff Weiner and hit the play button on your favorite guided meditation.
When it comes to business moguls, Tim Ferriss is not your typical CEO. Sure, he’s an entrepreneur, author, and podcast host – all the standard fare, but it’s his unconventional approach to life and business that has made him a beloved figure in the tech and entrepreneurial world. Based on this, it shouldn’t be shocking that he speaks openly about his experiences with shamanic ceremonies and plant medicines like ayahuasca. Talk about thinking outside the cubicle!
Know how they say great leaders ask the simplest questions? Well, it turns out that billionaire tech entrepreneur Marc Benioff might be onto something. Benioff, the mastermind tech CEO behind SalesForce – which is worth a cool $97 billion, by the way – has been rubbing elbows with spiritual gurus in Hawaii and India. After his travels, he returned to the States with a newfound appreciation for meditation and now has meditation rooms scattered across his SalesForce offices. When asked about how this spiritual practice influences his leadership, Benioff replied:
In other words, he’s a Zen master running a tech empire. Who knew?
Hey, did you know that Steve Jobs, the guy who revolutionized the tech industry with Apple, was into Zen Buddhism? Yeah, apparently, he believed it helped him come up with all those sleek and simple designs we know and love. He was all about innovation and creativity, and he thought that a minimalist approach was the way to go. So, he travelled to India and Japan to learn more about the spiritual side of things. A legendary example of how mindfulness and technology can go hand in hand.
Skipping out on self-care can lead to burnout, and Arianna Huffington knows that firsthand. She incorporates meditation into her daily routine. She starts by taking a minute to breathe deeply and setting her intentions for the day before spending 20-30 minutes practicing her Zen. Plus, as she’s just an overachiever, she also spends 30 minutes on her stationary bike and practices yoga most mornings. It’s safe to say that her self-care routine puts the average morning coffee and Instagram scroll to shame.
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Well, looking at how many tech gurus have already jumped on the bandwagon, it seems these customs can help reach success. Whether it’s psychedelics, mindfulness, or communing with nature, they open a way of tapping into a deeper level of consciousness, where one can access ancient wisdom and bring it to life in the modern world.
If you have read this far, you are likely asking, “How can I get started and benefit from these practices?” So I’ve pulled together this little cheat sheet of the practices that seem the most power-promising and easy to tap into.
Unlike traditional shamans, tech self-shamanification starts with self-denial. It seems that Silicon Valley is on a never-ending quest for the latest and greatest way to deprive themselves of pleasures. First, it was intermittent fasting.
In general, intermittent fasting isn’t one of the biohacking innovations; it’s a dietary pattern that involves alternating periods of eating and fasting. There are several different ways to practice intermittent fasting, but the most common methods involve restricting food intake to a certain number of hours each day or reducing caloric intake on certain days of the week.
Some of the most popular types of intermittent fasting include:
Scholars who studied austerity discovered that intermittent fasting can have several health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and improved brain function. Yup — a typical tech CEO who graduated from Harvard University also needs a brain boost!
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But for Silicon Valley austerity it’s not just food that’s off-limits. Dopamine fasting is spreading like a virus, meaning anything that might actually make life enjoyable, like listening to music or even human interaction, are on the no-no list. The theory behind dopamine fasting is that by reducing exposure to pleasurable stimuli, the brain will become more sensitive to dopamine, which will lead to a greater sense of reward and motivation when engaging in productive activities.
There are limited advanced studies on the effectiveness of dopamine fasting, and some experts have raised concerns about the potential negative effects of depriving oneself of pleasurable activities for extended periods of time.
Is there anything they won’t do to be the most productive person in the room?
According to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, meditation can add to the tech CEO’s shamanic arsenal. He has publicly spoken about his own meditation practice and its role in promoting mental and emotional well-being. Many leaders have embraced meditation as a way to improve their focus, creativity, and overall well-being, including:
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Burning Man is an annual event held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, known for its unique blend of art, community, and radical self-expression. Many tech CEOs attend Burning Man for several reasons:
Some well-known tech CEOs who have attended Burning Man include Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google), Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook), Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX), and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon). Many participants report profound spiritual experiences and personal breakthroughs, which they believe can inspire innovative ideas and strengthen professional relationships.
A growing number of CEOs are turning to practices like yoga, martial arts, and other physical disciplines as a means of achieving mental clarity, physical health, and personal growth. These practices can help them manage stress, increase focus and productivity, and cultivate a better work-life balance.
Some CEOs who have embraced yoga and other physical activities include:
Other tech CEOs like Arianna Huffington, Jeff Weiner, and Tim Ferriss have also spoken publicly about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for their success in business and personal life.
Some Silicon Valley CEOs embark on retreats and pilgrimages to places like Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal in search of spiritual insights, personal development, and connection with nature. These experiences can offer opportunities for self-reflection, personal growth, and connection with others. Some of the benefits include increased creativity, productivity, and well-being.
Several notable tech leaders have spoken publicly about their experiences on such journeys, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Benioff has cited meditation and mindfulness practices as key components of his success, while Hoffman has participated in meditation retreats and Ayahuasca ceremonies.
High-profile tech leaders seeking spiritual growth or transformative experiences look for quality programs including these popular alternative options:
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