Jagah Retreat — The pursuit of a conscious entrepreneur

Abhi Ballabh • Published on November 9, 2023

This post is a reflection of my learnings & observations across 2 Jagah retreats in Bangalore https://kshemavana.com/ organized by the Jagah initiative. Jagah is a community project tailored to help founders cultivate self-awareness, inner silence, and a deep connection with their true selves while addressing the unique challenges entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. Highly recommended by me as a founder who has immensely benefited from it. It also is some of my self-reflection on my ever-evolving pursuit of becoming a conscious entrepreneur. Believe me, it’s super tough but extremely rewarding.

The slow & steady mindful tortoise — Kshemawana, Bengaluru

It took me many months to write this post as I never knew how & what to write. Writing about a mindful & spiritual experience is something I had never done. I had an immense imposter syndrome writing about it. However, the experience post this Jagah retreat has been profound; it has made me apply some of these learnings, thereby giving me the courage to write finally. My apologies to my friend Sehar for breaking the promise of not writing this earlier; I tried but surprisingly could not. Finally, Sehar, I am here & now 🙂

In 2021 during the heated 2nd wave of COVID-19, I lost my Dad to this deadly virus. He was, simply put, my anchor in life & more of an amazing friend & my philosophical guide. At the same time, we had also raised a fresh VC round for my startup ExtraaEdge so there was a lot of work to be done. My mind & body were engrossed in the battles of building the company; however, my inner self needed better medicine. It was a constant period of silent grief, battling my inner demons, days like an execution-focused zombie and at the same time maintaining the VC-backed pace of building the company. Something was missing in this constant race. I needed an anchor.

The Noisy Mind — The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is one of my favorite movies of all time. It talks about an American war veteran Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise in one of his best acts) who fights battles all his life. Once he becomes a prisoner with the Samurai warriors, he starts to learn the way of the samurai. One of the seminal moments is a sword duel between Nathan & another Samurai, where Nathan is getting beaten every time. A friendly Samurai, Nobutada then whispers in Nathan’s ear these million-dollar words —

“Nobutada : [smilingly] Too many minds

Nathan Algren : [puzzeled] “Too many mind?”

Nobutada : Hai, mind the sword, mind the people, watch, mind enemy — -too many mind. Nobutada, No mind.”

Courtesy — The Last Samurai

At this moment in the movie, Nathan Algren transcends from a mindless fighter to a peaceful warrior in those few seconds. A lesson every entrepreneur needs to learn who is at times mindlessly fighting the fight & chasing another milestone.

Mr. Guglani — Consciousness & Entrepreneurship

Sameer Guglani is an entrepreneur, community leader & investor. He is collaboratively building Supermorpheus — a movement to support the evolution of consciousness in the Startup Ecosystem. More than anything he’s an excellent teacher & mentor to many entrepreneurs like myself in the pursuit of conscious entrepreneurship.

Courtesy — Google on the definition of “Conscious”

I heard the word Conscious used in building startups from Mr. Sameer Guglani for the first time. We were in the beautiful summer in Goa at the SaaSBoomi SGx Annual events in 2021 & he was speaking about this to a bunch of founders.

Sameer believed entrepreneurial aspirations are growing to build big businesses and create wealth, but with consciousness.

This is the first time I heard someone talking about the mental side of entrepreneurship & the impact of the founder’s mindset on the future of the enterprise. It further triggered me to dig deeper as I felt I needed some of it myself. The word Consciousness consistently rang in my mind & what it meant in the context of being an entrepreneur. I had again no answers.

Jagah Retreat — The experiment with mindfulness

Avinash is one of the founding members of Jagah & also a veteran startup executive in the Indian ecosystem. More than anything he’s the secret enabler, facilitator & catalyst in the success of many startup stories in India. He has also been a friend & mentor to many founders like me in the journey of building companies.

Avinash Raghava is a kind man. Anyone who knows him will talk about how he at some or the other point in time has touched your life for good. He asked me if I would be interested in the retreat & immediately said yes.

A bit of context on the retreat that I finally attended. Jagah is an Integral Growth Retreat tailored to help you cultivate self-awareness, inner silence, and a deep connection with your true self while addressing the unique challenges entrepreneurs face.

As it’s one of the creators Pankaj Mishra eloquently said —

Let’s be honest — being an entrepreneur is a wild ride. One minute, you’re on top of the world, and the next, you’re questioning every choice you’ve ever made. It’s like a rollercoaster with no seat belts, and let’s face it, sometimes it gets lonely at the top — or at the bottom. But what if you didn’t have to go it alone? What if there was a place where you could share the good, the bad, and the ugly with people who get it? That’s what we’re building with Jagah — a space where your experiences, yes, even the failures, are gold for someone else walking the same path.

Breaking the Jagah experiment down

3rd Jagah Inner Peace Retreat Cohort at Kshemawana, Bengaluru

The sessions were led by Aneesh Reddy ( CEO — of Capillary ) & co-led by Phani Sama (ex-CEO — of RedBus) & along with an expert Yoga teacher & an Advaita Yogic teacher. A special mention to Jubin for introducing us to the initial tenets of Advaita & Shri Raman Maharishi.

Aneesh led these sessions in a very practical yet simple way explaining to us the benefits of wellness of mind-body in the journey of a startup entrepreneur. Mostly through his own experiences which made it even more powerful.

A bunch of founders ended by practicing the following in this 3-day camp which took place in 2023. Our daily at times rigorous routine went like this below —

  1. Daily morning Yoga at 6:00 am
  2. Lessons on the practice of silence & self-awareness
  3. Mindful eating mostly fruits
  4. The art of self-observation & breathing
  5. Short talks on the experience of Vipasanna, founder grit stories & theories of mental awareness
  6. The movie Peaceful Warrior screened for us

My lessons & learnings from the Jagah Retreat(s)

After this retreat in July’2023, it’s been around 4 months & I have been actively practicing silence at work, and home, guided meditations a few times a week, & also conscious mindfulness. However, my learnings from the Jagah retreat go deeper. Here are my top lessons from this retreat which founders may find useful.

Lesson 1 — Silence of the Heart / Mind

I came to understand that the first step in this path towards mindfulness & awareness is the ability to practice silence consistently. One of the things we learned at the Jagah Retreat on Silence was –

Silence is the language of the heart, the language of your innermost soul & possibly the most simple intuitive experience. Silence is peace. The silence that you enjoy during your deep sleep gives clues to the existence of that ocean of silence.

Lesson 2 — Understanding Mindfulness 101

A consistent practice of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context & perspective.

When you are mindful, rules, routines and goals guide you; they do not govern you.

Lesson 3 — A Mindful Mind = Focus + Awareness

Focus is the ability to concentrate on what you are doing at that moment. The here & now.

Awareness is the ability to identify & recognize all of the distractions, both internal & external, as they arise.

In simple words, focus on the current task at hand & recognize the internal & external distractions that come your way.

Lesson 3 — Building Resilience & Embracing Pain

As founders, we experience failure on a daily basis, and it becomes our true nature. By having a widened self-awareness, we build cognitive intervention. Research has shown that major setbacks trigger flight & fight mode ( Amygdala’s hijack ) & the key lies in how quickly we are able to recover our pre-frontal cortex from this hijack state.

The answer to building resilience lies in training your brain via mindful exercises to get back quickly from the emotional hijack.

Lesson 4 — Cultivating Impermanence permanently

“This too shall pass”; these magic words teach us the power of impermanence. The basic idea of these words is to remind us that whatever situation we are currently going through in life is temporary and will change.

“This too shall pass”;

Lesson 5 — The miracle of balanced Diet & Yoga

The practice of Yoga & a well-balanced diet are two of the most underrated hacks for a healthy union of body & mind.

The average human being has a multitude of thoughts, emotions, and energies that are often discordant. Yoga is the method of self-integration.

Lesson 6 — Surrender & the subtle art of letting it go

You must learn to let go. Release the stress & stop fighting the universe. You were never in control anyway. Approach life with an open mind & stop labeling things happening in your life.

Do not mistake it for living life passively; it’s not; it’s giving your best and not trying to control things outside your realms of influence.

Investing in yourself is the best investment.

The brilliant Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto in The Last Samurai

As a Founder & CEO, one of the best investments you can make is in yourself. This includes your mind, body & heart. The Jagah Retreats allowed me to reflect on the integration of all 3 & helped me find gaps in my worldview. It’s a consistent endeavor that I will continue to do all my living life.

The path of a conscious entrepreneur is a pursuit & not a destination. The fruits are there in the journey, friends you make on the path, lessons you learn, patterns you unlearn & habits that you carry for life.

Let’s Journey Together

If Jagah’s purpose and mission resonate with you too, and you wish to contribute in any way, be it with your time or resources, please get in touch with the team at space@jagah.org, or directly contact Sehar Dabur, Pankaj MishraAvinash Raghava or Matthew John.

Written by Abhi Ballabh