Filling the world with Siyli love songs [Sunday Times (Islamabad)]
(Sunday Times (Islamabad) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) H e's the guy the world has come to know as Google's Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny) - the toothy Singaporean with a funnyman's face whose job at the tech giant, besides writing computer programs, is to play ambassador to celebrities who visit Googleplex in Mountain View, California.
But in the 14 years that software engineer Tan Chade-Meng has been at Google, he has gone from being Employee No. 107 - who helped build the Internet company's first mobile search service - to its spiritual guru who runs a highly popular in-house motivation course introduced in 2007.
Two thousand participants, a New York Times bestselling self- help book and a spin-off non-profit organisation later, Meng, as he is affectionately known, has become something of a celebrity in his own right - and not because he has snaps of himself with US President Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali and Robin Williams lining a Google wall.
Search for him on YouTube and video after video of talks and interviews he has given pop up.
Search Inside Yourself, the seven-week, mindfulness-based emotional intelligence curriculum he developed, has burst out the doors of the Google campus. The book has been translated into at least 12 languages, and more people are being trained to impart the course to corporations and individuals through the Google-blessed Search Inside Yourself Learning Institute (Siyli).
"Silly," says Meng, flashing his trademark grin as he pronounces the acronym for the non-profit he founded in 2012. That pretty much sums up the 43-year-old's sense of humour as well.
But if you think his current job description - to "enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace" - is another joke, he is dead serious.
It came to him as he was taking a walk on the Google campus in 2003. "I was reflecting on my life and I realised that 10 to 20 years earlier, when nothing was happening, I was deeply unhappy," he says. "And then in 2003, if nothing was happening, I was deeply happy. I knew where it came from," says the surprisingly soft-spoken man at the serviced apartment he always stays at when he is in Singapore.
That deep happiness sprang from his years of practising meditation and the benefits - calmness, wisdom, kindness and compassion.
"I told myself if I could do this, anyone could do it, and if everyone could do it, then we would have conditions for world peace in our lifetime and that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
Search Inside Yourself was the first big step. Some Googlers have described it as nothing short of life-changing - it has saved rocky marriages and turned warring colleagues into best buddies.
Meng's own life took a turn at 21 when, as a computer engineering student at Nanyang Technological University, he attended a campus talk by an American-born Buddhist nun Sangye Khadro.
"In her lecture she said, 'It's all about cultivating the mind'. Everything in my mind suddenly made sense."
He had always resisted being a "joss-stick Buddhist" like his parents, but now began to explore the religion and its teachings on his own.
Meanwhile, his engineering path was already set. After graduating, he worked at Kent Ridge Digital Laboratories for about five years before doing his master degree in computer science at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
As a Google pioneer, its public listing made him a wealthy man. He donates 100 per cent of the proceeds from his book sales to charity.
He will be speaking in Singapore about mindfulness at a charity dinner at the Orchid Country Club on July 17 for the non-profit Brahm Centre, which promotes happy and healthy living.
Married with a teenage daughter, Meng says the path to happiness is simple.
First, you train your attention so that your mind gets to a state of being calm and clear. Then comes what he calls "self-knowledge and self-mastery" - being able to observe your thoughts and control your emotions objectively. Finally, you need to develop a habit of instinctively wishing happiness for whoever you meet.
But who has time to sit and meditate for half an hour every day? If you can't, he says, take small steps.
"Take micro breaths. Find a trigger. Before you stand up from your chair, take one breath, before you sit down, take one breath. If you do that, you have 10 breaths a day, which is already beneficial."
He readily admits that he hasn't mastered what he has been preaching. And he has let his emotions rip, although deliberately, he adds.
"I was renting a car in the US and the person at the counter was trying to rip me off. I could feel my anger rising," he recalls. He was aware of what he was experiencing, and knew he could choose to "turn off" his anger.
"I made a decision not to turn it off. It was an appropriate circumstance to be angry, especially to protect the people behind me. So I just let myself blow up, and shouted at the counter person." The outburst worked. The manager came over and apologised.
With mindfulness no longer the speciality of hippies, yogis and Buddhists, Meng is not worried that the practice will be seen as nothing more than the newest wrinkle.
"I don't think it's a fad, the same way exercise is not a fad. The benefits are compelling. It is widespread and universally accessible," he says.
His goal is to make it more so, much like how Google is synonymous with accessibility. He breaks it down to a language people can understand.
"It's like if you're physically fit, you'll be more successful, with all things being equal. Mindfulness gives you an edge in a way that is more important than physical fitness because it's mental and emotional fitness.
"You'll be more confident, resolve situations better, be more creative, work better in teams. All competitive advantages for you. And people get that."
He's hoping to bring Wisdom 2.0, a high-profile conference where tech meets spirituality, to Singapore next June.
He's also involved in a campaign called One Billion Acts of Peace, led by 13 Nobel Peace laureates who will hopefully goad global citizens into taking social action and creating world peace.
The title he's given himself as the campaign's chair?
For more information on Tan Chade-Meng's mindfulness workshop and charity dinner, visit www.brahmcentre.com
(c) 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
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