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Management Consultant at Accenture to Meditation Guru | Neomal Silva (Podcast transcript)

If you'd rather listen to this, go here. And if you want the video version, check out my YoutTube.


Sudeshna

Hi everyone, this is Sudeshna from The Abundance Psyche and you are listening to the not so corporate podcast. Today, I have with me Neomal Silva, who's an expert in stress management and a teacher of the Vedic meditation. He has worked as a consultant like many of us in Accenture before he spent his time in Europe, in Australia and has worked with big clients like Nokia. He holds a bachelor's from the University of New South Wales, a Master's from the UCL, he has taught and conducted research at Oxford, he has written a thesis on neuroimaging. So we are gonna get right into the matter here. Because if you know me, you know, I am a bit of a woo-woo person, I talk a lot about neuroscience and meditation. And of course, I am amazed that people from being former consultants end up being meditation teachers, which is why I'm really looking forward to this chat. So Noe, thank you so much for joining us.


Neo

Look, thanks a lot. Sudeshna. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Sudeshna

Yeah, it's such a pleasure to have you. So do you want to start off by telling us a bit more about your background, like from masters from your bachelor's, master's pieces? And then how did you land up in consulting?


Neo

Sure, absolutely! So I did an undergrad degree in electrical engineering. And I specialized in the final year, I specialized in biomedical and specifically, I wrote a thesis on neuroimaging. So this is kind of this will tie in later to some of the interests that I've had in meditation because I was studying some of the physiology, as well as some of the I mean, the impacts that meditation can have on the brain is something of a lot of interest. That's a lot of interest to me. So in a nutshell, I studied electrical engineering. I did my undergrad in that I actually went into industry afterwards. So I worked. I worked for a telecommunications mobile operator here in Australia for a couple of years, and then I'm revealing my age here. So then back in 98, I moved over to Europe, because I was offered a role with Nokia in Paris. And I thought, yeah, of course not. And so, that got me over to Europe, and I was working there as a consultant. And I worked essentially, I worked like that for a few years before then moving to London in 2001, where I joined Accenture and back then they had, you know, back then it was the big dot com craze.


So they wanted consultants like myself who had this industry knowledge of telecommunications and they wanted to integrate that into their service offering. So I kind of moved. I moved from university to industry then into consultancy and a world of PowerPoint presentations and the like. And then and then afterwards I then moved you know I moved then 2002 I then moved to Paris, back to Paris and I then for the next five years I worked with a French consultancy so that that that if you like my consultancy background it was the industry, to begin with, a move then to Accenture in the UK moved across to move across afterwards to France working for a boutique, smaller boutique consultancy there for about five years. And I suppose probably the burning question the way you introduced me, which was really nice, thank you. But the burning question is, so how did that all lead eventually to meditation? I learned meditation in January 94 when I was still at university, in fact, I've done my first of university. And then I'd actually been a nerd, I was a geek, but I actually failed a couple of subjects. And in the first year, because I went from this really, really selective, all boys academic High School in Sydney, really competitive, really selective to University, where, you know, where it wasn't all boys where, you know, suddenly there was much more of social life. And there weren't the same kind of pressures. And I didn't strike a balance between the two. And I ended up failing a couple of subjects. And for unknown, that's pretty much as traumatic as it gets, right? Like, I was 18-19 at the time. I grounded my identity and my ability to do exams and do them well. But I didn't turn up to lectures and stuff. So stuff fell, fell, fell to the wayside. I got through a lot of stuff, but couldn't wing it through that. And then and then, yeah, so that's kind of what happened was, I then was like, Well, what am I going to do? And I ended up at a party...


I mean, that whole year was filled with way too many parties. I ended up at another party, January 94, this guy, there was this friend of a friend, and he kept ducking out and I said, What are you up to? And he said, Oh, I'm meditating. And I thought this is really bizarre. Cuz, I mean, I'm a brown guy, I'd grown up my parents are Sri Lankan, I grew up going to Sri Lanka every year. And for me, meditation was something that it was something done by Buddhist monks in the village, it wasn't something done by a white middle-class guy, nor, in my case, a brown middle-class guy, right. So I was intrigued. And I thought, Okay, well, this is curious, this is interesting. And he said, Yeah, it's great. Like, it helps with your focus. It helps with Yeah, it just gives it helps with your sleep, it helps with the focus, it helps with your anxiety levels. It helps with just if you like being mindful, the ability to be present and to be mindful. And I thought I was intrigued. And I thought you know what, I'm going to look into it. And I went home, and I did what you did back in January 1994. When you are curious about something, I looked up the Yellow Pages. I looked up the phone book because there was no Google back in January. And, and, you know, I discovered that Yeah, there was someone teaching meditation, a couple of suburbs away, I went along to a talk about it, I heard about all of the various benefits, what it does to the brain, how it helps with focus, how it helps, it helps you, you know, it's not the technique that I learned, and that I teach is not a technique about giving up. It's a technique to help to allow you to refine certain skills that we all have, such as the ability to focus, the ability to be present, the ability to take in a variety of stimuli, a variety of information sources and to process it optimally. And I thought, wow, okay, if I can even get one or two of these things, if I can even just get better sleep, and better able to focus that'll probably help me get back on track academically. And it did. I mean, within weeks, I then had midterm exams. absolutely nailed them turn the results around, completely, ended up graduating with honours in the program. eventually went into a master's program at UCL. And as I said, did a bit of, you know, I did a bit of research later, later on at Oxford as well. So, you know, academically, I went from someone who had failed a couple of things to someone who did really, really well. In an area that frankly, like engineering, I did engineering, because I did really well at math like I was good at math at school. And I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. But I have South Asian parents and they said to do the practical thing...


Sudeshna

You have to be a STEM major. That's that?


Neo

That's right. That's it. So I took the E in STEM and That's what I did. But even when I was doing it, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. But, and this probably resonates with a lot of your listeners as well. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. But whatever I was doing, I wanted to do it well. And consistently, that's been the case, both University and through my career. I wanted to do it well, I wanted to ensure that my reputation is upheld and enhanced by this particular piece of work that I'm doing. And this technique helped enormously if someone who I'm actually much more even though I'm, I was strong at math, I'm more verbal. And you know, I'm good at writing stuff. For example, I've written recently written a book I've, I've done research as well. So written research and I'm better at the writing stuff, but I nonetheless was able to courtesy of the meditation technique, use the abilities I have, and really optimize them and do well. You know, the truth of the matter is when we are relatively stress-free, we're able to we optimize our performance. If you look at what holds people back in exams, it's not that they don't know the material a lot of the time. It's the even if they haven't come across this particular type of problem, let's say before that’s being asked in one of the questions. If you're calm, you can still draw on the set of things you do know, you can still present those cogently so that the examiner realizes Yeah, there is something good said here presented well, that reflects the fact that there is a baseline of decent knowledge and that they are making a couple of leaps here and you know, they're presenting something decent. If you're calm, you can do that. Because what you do is courtesy of the meditation technique that I learned in 94, and that I now teach, you turn down what I call that Woody Allen voice in your head, which is second-guessing stuff. And going, "Oh, should I do this? Should I do that? I shouldn't have said that in that meeting in front of the client" knowing the senior managers probably put a black mark against my name, and I'm going to get a poor review. A poor review at the end of this project, I'm sure of it. The truth is the moment you turn down that Woody Allen neuroses, you really are able to be present, to engage at the moment better to read the question in front of you or to understand what your client when they're querying certain, you know, certain data that you're presenting them, rather than you just trying to, I mean, you listen to what they say, which is crucial, rather than feeling freaked out, oh my god, they're saying this, then you don't listen to in that instance, you don't listen to all that they have to say. And what you instead end up doing is you stand for a response on them that you think will just hopefully shut them up and, you know, drown them with words and hopefully some something somewhere in there somewhere or other answers what they're after. Right. And so let me answer. Let me answer the crux of what you asked, which is, How did I end up teaching meditation? I have relied on this throughout my career. I relied on it even at university. It allowed me to make dramatic changes in my life, which is what many consultants end up wanting to do. I moved from you know, I did well, in a degree that's