Sunday, January 3, 2016

Walden Pond - Envisioning a New Year -2016

This is my first post in a long time. Sometimes a respite from an activity brings you back to it with heightened awareness. I recall when my children were toddlers and started to learn a new skill, all of their focus would be on it, and they would regress slightly in other areas of their development, until they perfected their learning of the new skill. I suppose to some extent that is what has been happening with me. Over the past few years, even as I have been zealously advocating for my clients worldwide at KLS, from ensuring distributions and recovery for defrauded investors, to litigating against the government or developing cases and companies for many different clients, I have been mastering the area of biotech, creation of a management team, implementing a skill set as a CEO and Chairman of a therapeutics' company, with pre-clinical and clinical development of molecules to help humankind treat a number of rare and chronic diseases.

Today, on this 1st day of 2016, I took a walk around Walden Pond, not so far from my house in Cambridge down a few highways on this crisp, cloudy winter day. I was surprised and also not so surprised to see that others had the same idea to walk in the footsteps of Thoreau on the woodland terrain surrounding this inspiring pool of water to connect with the mystical, real, and sacred philosophy of being. When I got to the parking lot gate to park my car, a bit of a queue had developed because a machine replaced the regular attendant at the gate. The machine indicated I could pay $8 for this visit or $60 for the annual pass. Since I had tried to partake of the natural beauty of the pond several times the last year to no avail, because of long lines to the parking area, I decided to opt for the annual pass... in 7 walks, I will have made the pass worthwhile... and that would be incentive to come back I thought! A New Year's resolution in the making - nothing wrong with a meditative walk once a month!

I changed into my hiking boots putting my running shoes in the car, and kept my hands free to carry the shiny crotchety dark mahogany walking stick I had acquired over the summer at Zion National Park, and a thermos of hot coffee... and I was on my way. I found myself enthusiastic, smiling most of the way to the beginning of the trail - to have the smiles joyfully returned by most passersby, including small children, with a chorus of 'Happy New Year.' There were a good many young couples from other places on the planet, Russians, Japanese, speaking in different tongues. All were friendly.

I crossed the road, stepped down the incline to the start of the trail. And then, there it was, the pond... I took it in - a wide and deep looking pool of dark grey (because of the clouds) surrounded by a fair expanse of sandy beach in the parts closest to me. In Kashmiri, it is a 'nag'- a small body of water that has an eerie depth, evoking a spiritual reverence. I saw people mostly in twos walking down below on the beach - no crowds and lots of distance between the couples. They were coming toward me and walking clockwise. I am always reminded of temple when I walk like this around an object - it is a kind of prakram - a prayer meditation worshipping nature. I stayed higher up on the marked trail covered by slushy snow setting out counter clock-wise. I focused on breath and taking one step at a time - put one foot out after the other and grasped the slush with my hiking boots. It was easy walking, and so I could drink from my coffee thermos, and keep pace with the walking stick. It was cold enough to need the gloves and the hat - I assessed that I was adequately dressed for the weather as I peered out over the water, and sand below me. I was enveloped by the woods and felt no wind. But the tops of my thighs were feeling the cold, and I appreciated this feeling because I wanted to be refreshed and connect with the elements. I was outdoors after all - what was the point if I could not feel the outside.

I glanced to my left and noticed something strange. I was walking around the pond. But I realized, I could not see all of the water. In fact, even if I faced the pond, and looked to my left, a forest covered tract of land had obliterated most of my view of the pond. Over half of the pond was no longer visible to me! I was facing about a quarter of it now - the part that had a red sign indicated there was an abrupt drop in the depth of the water in this nook of the pond. I had always imagined Walden Pond as egg-shaped for some reason. In fact at the start of the trail, that is what I thought I would be walking around, but now I could see the pond had all kinds of twists and turns around its circumference - far from a neat and tidy egg shape. And in that moment it struck me that this was exactly how a vision for a company unfolds. We start as leaders imagining a future based on whatever information we have been provided by founders/scientific and business, based on disclosures and omissions. The imagination then creates a blurry future because the clarity and specifics are missing at this juncture. However, without some vision of a future regardless of the specifics, no one would venture down the trail.

As a leader, I have had to hold the vision and forward path for a biotech company. I began with an idea of what that would be and as I walked along the path of the vision, I would learn things that would involve making shifts and changes in the vision. The focus or meditation involved in growing a company also means that you have to be completely present in the place you are, and in what you are developing. As a result, because of your present developmental focus, you may not be able to see the point at which you started, and in fact things you learn may alter your ability and your team's ability to hold steadfast to the original vision. There is no way to go back to that starting point, except to hold the vision you started from in your memory and craft the vision now taking into consideration the actual journey. It is mapping while you walk the path of development.

Memory, therefore, is a critical aspect of a leader's job. A great aspect of the leader's value comes from holding the company's history - where it came from and using it to map out where it is going. Because eventually the journey has to be able to lead the development back to the place of vision - the start - and assimilate the changes and learning that occurs along the way - to map out the path fulfilled. I passed a young Japanese couple and they were nice enough to take my photo so I could again get a clear picture as to the extent of pond in my view - behind me. It appeared expansive, but there were parts of the pond still out of view. Being present and focused on that vision of the whole, made it clear that the journey involves not being able to see all aspects of the developmental vision at one time, but remembering all of the path trodden, and the vision imagined, at each moment of the journey. Despite the view of the pond behind me, I was so surprised I could not see parts of the water, because Walden Pond is not that big. I repeatedly took time to review where I was in function to how much of the lake (or the whole vision I could see) and at each point around the Pond, I could see a quarter, at the mid point - half the water, and at times where the land would jut out and obscure much of the water, I could see a quarter.
At the three-quarter point in the trail, I thought I might have been able to make out the start, or where I had come from, but no, there were curves and promontories that again obscured my view of the whole. In addition to this, the trail was icy, and the snow hardened and slippery. In my walking meditation, I began to be proud of the way I had thought about the walk before I started it so that I would really enjoy it. I had taken a walking stick for support for the sheer pleasure of it. But in fact it was necessary. A young woman walking on her own had not thought ahead and almost fell on the slippery ice. She applauded me on having thought about bringing support with me. Also, I wanted to make sure to be sustained and had brought my coffee thermos. A young mom with her daughter of 8 or 9, applauded me on having something hot to drink and her daughter followed me on the walk, because she also thought it was a great idea to have brought a hot drink with me. These are great metaphors for fulfilling a company's vision as well. A company's shareholders are its sustenance (or hot drink) and its management team is the support without which the company cannot complete its journey and accomplish its goals.

Thinking I was almost at the end, toward the last bend, I came upon a very slippery patch, and lost my balance. In the journey to fulfill the entire vision, there will be slippery patches and one is lucky if one does not fall. I was lucky and did not fall because my walking stick helped me regain my equilibrium. Again, I thought about the importance of a stellar and loyal management team always there to support you. I was finally able to make it down to the sandy beach and came upon an older mom giving an American history lesson to her high school-age daughter, just as they were discussing USSR and US relations in the cold war. More Happy New Year's were exchanged as I now finally heard the gurgle of small waves of water lapping against the edge of the pond. The sound was like a song... the pond was singing its Happy New Year too.

I moved on to witness a family that had come out to support their young son (an 18 year old, I would say) take off his clothes and run into the water in his bathing suit and swim for about 3 or 4 minutes. His family was ready with a towel when he got out of the water and he wrapped himself immediately. I congratulated him on his feat, and he said it felt like millions of icy pellets hitting him in the water. But it was refreshing and brought in the New Year. The family rejoiced in his courage! He was shivering but proud that he had done what he set out to do.

I had no wish to jump in that pond in the middle of winter. Nevertheless I too had embraced an active and sacred ritual in my winter walking meditation this morning... filled with thought and action, and smiles to strangers from all over the world, all journeying together for a short while in friendship and peace like Thoreau.

After crossing the road back toward the parking lot, a young woman and I both stopped to take a photo of the Pond and a quote by Thoreau on connecting with the mother earth. She was having some trouble taking in the entire poster in her lens, and I helped her shift perspective so the whole poster was in her view. That was also the point of the walk, I thought. "We are a great team," she said. As I walked away, I had dropped my mitts in assisting with the photo shoot. The mother and daughter, who had been discussing American history, came up behind me, alerted me to my loss, picked up the mitts and handed them to me. 'It takes a village,' I said, 'even when we are all grown up.' "But we never really do grow up, do we?" said the mom. I had been contemplating my meditative walk around Walden Pond as a metaphor for a leader's journey to fulfill a corporate vision, and now realized that another little community had developed along the path.