Quentin has served in sales and leadership roles at Red Hat, Google, EMC, Northrop Grumman IT, and four startups. A Search Inside Yourself certified teacher with graduate studies in authentic leadership, he’s passionate about exploring and improving the ways people mindfully connect with themselves and one another.
Quentin came to meditation as a help with insomnia while in middle school, although he didn’t know to call it that until many years later. He now helps others as they discover the inner wisdom they don’t always recognize they have. We sat down with Quentin to talk about finding confidence, controlling your inner voice, and being authentic.
How did you come to meditation?
I came to meditation in middle school as a way to help with insomnia. It was primarily a relaxation technique, just basically a body scan. Now, I have a middle school daughter myself, and so it’s been particularly fascinating to me to pass on the same thing that I learned so long ago to my 7th grader.
I often described myself as a chronic relapsing meditator. Came and went — it has been a valuable tool when I needed it, and there have been times in my life when I didn’t lean into it as much. I’d say I have been practicing with regularity now for about a decade.
Two weeks out of high school, I joined the Marine Corps and spent 14 years there. That was a wild ride that took me around the world in many different roles and in many different locations. When I got out, I went straight into high-tech, and I’ve been circling in that space since 1999. Another wild ride. Meditation has been a really beneficial practice to help me navigate my way through this thing called life.
I’d love to hear an example of how meditation was helpful.
Meditation has been a really beneficial practice to help me navigate my way through this thing called life.
For me, a lot of the benefit has come from cultivating the capacity to be resilient. A lot of my time in high-tech has been spent in either a sales role, as an account executive supporting clients, or serving in a sales director role where I was leading a sales team. And there’s a lot of stress that goes along with that.
Meditation feels powerful as a way to help deal with navigating the loss of something you’ve attached to as a hope or an aspiration for a specific outcome. And when that doesn’t happen, still being able to pick yourself up and sit with what happened and look at it with objectivity – to learn from what happened and move forward.
Can you tell us more about being a “chronic relapsing meditator”?
It took me years to work through some my own aspects of how we excel at judging ourselves and what we can and can’t do.
I used to tell myself, “I can’t do it right, so I’m going to wait until I can do it right,” or “I need x amount of time, so I’m not going to do it until I have x amount of time.” Things like that, where I thought I needed the right teacher, and so on. Just self-judging, inner critic things that lead someone to think that they can’t do it.
When the reality is, there’s no right or wrong. It’s just something that you do. There’s power in making a commitment to yourself and actually following through on that. And so something I often suggest is: don’t say, “I’m going to meditate for an hour a day, every day.” You set yourself up for a situation where that becomes particularly challenging. So instead, commit to something realistic for you, like 3 times a week for 5 minutes a day at lunchtime. If you use something that’s a part of your day as an anchor — maybe lunchtime, maybe pulling into the parking lot at work in the morning — and then follow through on your commitment, you’re sending yourself a strong message about how you prioritize yourself amongst everything else in your life.
How has that voice shifted for you over time?
It takes some time to develop the capacity to observe ourselves, and what’s happening within or around us. And as I worked on that, it changed the nature of the conversation I had with myself, too. So instead of feeling angry about a situation that was happening, which often leads us into a blaming scenario where we’re looking for external blame, I noticed that the conversion changed into one where I was aware that I was feeling anger. And I was able to allow that to pass through me. Nothing is a permanent state.
Emotion is a state we feel that passes.
Another change was in the judging mind’s conversation, where I could see that the judgements were happening, but I could be separated from them. So, the judging voice and the voice of the inner critic became something that was happening as a natural part of my experience of life that I could observe — yet I didn’t have to follow it. I didn’t have to interact with it. And it let me relate to it in a different way.
How does one show compassion and what is the importance of it?
I have a friend who is a leader of a global organization, and one of the things he does before every meeting, before the person comes in, is he thinks, “I hope only for your greatest good.”
So he’s taking the focus away from himself and he’s thinking about the other person, which helps shape the way he interacts with that person into a more compassionate place.
Does it mean that difficult conversations don’t happen? No. Does it mean that difficult emotions don’t come up? No. But it shifts the nature of the conversation so that he feels better able to hold space if and when those things do come up.
How did you transition from meditation practice to teaching?
By invitation. I didn’t really seek out opportunities to teach in the beginning; it was more recognition of something I was doing that seemed to be having a positive impact on me. People were curious, so I was asked if I would share things a little more broadly, and then it just evolved into more of a teaching path from there.
What do you think makes a good meditation teacher?
My concept of teaching is more about listening than talking. It’s more about helping people uncover the wisdom that they have within themselves, but they can’t always see or recognize for whatever reason. And helping them uncover that themselves. So it’s a concept that I’m particularly fond of that has been labeled, “Listening someone into their own wisdom.” And so meditation really becomes just a way of enabling them to create some silence and listen to that conversation that’s happening within themselves, relating to it in a different way.
What’s been hardest for you to accept about yourself?
For me, it involved aspects of the inner critic more commonly known as ‘imposter syndrome’. When I found myself invited into these spaces where I then started teaching, like I was some authoritative figure, I had a very loud experience with the imposter syndrome.
My imposter syndrome, my inner critic, doesn’t whisper at me. My inner critic is the one that grabs a bullhorn, stands on a chair, and goes to town. So changing the relationship with that inner critic and acknowledging those other aspects of the imposter syndrome is all about having a conversation back with myself and saying “I get that you’re afraid, I get that you’re scared, but we got this. We’re going to move through it.”
It has been an enabler for me to be more curious about moving through life and seeing what happens as opposed to pre-judging, acting from fear, or not doing things because I’ve listened to some voice that told me I couldn’t. Teaching was another aspect of that. Being able to speak and share from my own experience and my heart – that’s a real thing. That’s my life, not a script. The way things have gone in my life are my story. There’s no imposter syndrome or inner critic that changes what I’ve gone through, what I aspire to, and how I interact with and relate to the truth of what’s real right now.
This is a deep confidence that comes from our acknowledging of strengths, limitations, and our humanness yet at its root is so powerful. I wonder how that has shifted for you – the path of standing in your truth and confidence. Can you look back and see if there were moments along the way that you realized you were in it versus just dancing around it – fully in that confidence?
One of the things that I appreciate the most about mindfulness or meditation is the aspect of practice. We don’t talk about this in terms of being a perfection. Just because I have the capacity at times to interact differently with my thoughts or my inner critic situations, does not mean I’m perfect. Sometimes it takes longer to notice than others, sometimes it’s fairly rapid. But that’s why it’s a practice. We continue to reinforce these aspects within ourselves that make our lives a little bit easier, in terms of accepting the situations that are happening around us.
For me, it’s been a journey full of trial by conflict. There are times when I feel as if just when I understand something, situations come up that test that understanding in ways that I really don’t want. That enables me to see what I’ve learned about myself and reinforce the lessons. “Well maybe I don’t quite have this aspect yet, maybe I need a little more work in this area” or “Maybe I do have this, and I’m ready for whatever comes next.” But, either way, accepting it all as it comes – it’s the resistance that causes a lot of suffering.
I’m empowered by your journey towards a more authentic truth for you. I feel like there’s also this idea that negative experiences are really gifts in disguise and allow us to become closer to the truth. What do you see is the role of our relationships with other people on that path?
I grew up in the Mid-West so there’s this intriguing combination of this rugged individualism where I feel I have to do everything by myself, can’t ask for help, coupled with little aphorisms like “Many hands make light work.” We’re surrounded by these dichotomies that tell us different things.
Really, if we sit and think about whether we’re connected or disconnected, there’s no way I can fully feed myself in the modern world without the help of others. There’s no way I could take an Uber across town without the help of others, who develop the app, who drive the car, who create the networks. When I get dressed in the morning, I can’t make my own clothes. I can’t even get myself dressed without the help of others who made my clothes and the furniture I store them in. I can’t even wash my face without the help of somebody who made the soap.
It’s this tornado of false expectations that we have to be self-sufficient, yet the reality that we’re constantly connected to is the fact that we’re always dependent upon the efforts of others.
We see the value of a community or group, if you have a practice individually – there can be this exponential thing that can happen. It may not be quantifiable but it can be felt. What would you say to people who feel like they’re alone?
If they’re identifying to me that they’re feeling alone, I’ll reflect back to them that we’re in this space together. The fact that they’re telling me that they feel alone, while we are having a communication and conversation together – by definition, that’s not alone.
I think it’s challenging sometimes to find a sense of community. Especially, in big environments – it’s hard to find a community that’s supportive, who think the way that you think, feel the way that you feel, respect and appreciate you for who you are, and allow and enable you to be who you are. Sometimes though, the biggest returns come from those situations that can be the most challenging.
So what I would say would be to extend this invitation – “Why don’t we go and look together? We’ll take a few steps together and maybe you’ll see something that you like in a specific community or group.” Be curious and take a few steps together – see what happens.
How do you speak with your daughter about meditation?
The same way that the concepts were introduced to me. For insomnia, I was introduced to a body scan. It was basically starting with my toes and taking stock of what was happening with my toes. Moving up to the arch of the feet, seeing what you feel, wiggling it a little, try and relax it. And just body part by body part, working from the bottom of the body while she’s laying in bed up to the top of her head. I’ve told her that if you get to the top of your head and you’re still not ready to go to sleep, go back down your body and see what you notice going a different direction.
I still use this technique today, sometimes I don’t even make it past my knees. I’m on my feet for a majority of the day, so when I start at my toes and I work my way up, consciously bringing awareness and releasing the tension, I find that particularly helpful as a way to prepare for going to sleep at night. I’m a huge Fitbit fan, because it makes my sleep habits visible to me, so I can look at how I slept through the night, whether or not I was properly ready to go to sleep, and I’ll reflect on it for the next night.
In today’s modern world, where do you see people struggling the most and where meditation can help them?
That’s a powerful question. I see so many people who struggle with two basic things:
1) In America, we have this cultural distinction of ‘Not good enough’. We’re surrounded by this constant storyline – both successes and failures. That’s a cultural story. So, meditation helps me see for myself, what my own evaluation metrics are and when that “Not good enough” story is external to me.
2) Absorbing something reflected to us or about us as our own story and not being able to discern the times when that story is true, when parts of that story are true, and when that story has nothing to do with us whatsoever. I see that causing so much suffering.
Can you share what’s on your bookshelves, nightstands, what you’re reading?
I do have Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ on my shelf. I’m also at the stage in my life where I’m exploring what happens from Jungian perspective on the second half of life, so I actually have a book on my shelf right now called “The Second Half of Life” that I’m spending time with. Shinzen Young just released a book called “The Science of Enlightenment” and I’m particularly fond of that. An author named Ethan Nichtern recently wrote a book called “The Road Home”. I’ve read it more than once, and that’s been a powerful experience for me along with a book called “Turning the Mind into an Ally’ by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
I was an English major in college, so I’m not known for reading just one book at a time.
How did you choose these books?
I feel like they chose me – they showed up when I needed something particularly germane to a situation that I’m in or where I am with my life right now. I have conversations with people who refer things to me as well, and I like being in bookstores.
What advice would you have for Simple Habit users?
My suggestion and invitation would be keep doing it. Don’t judge yourself, be curious and explore different meditations. Listen to different teachers and see whose voices speak to your heart-zones and whose voices resonate with you.
Sometimes we talk about meditation as the laboratory of our own experience, and I’ve found that to be so powerfully true. Because that’s what it is – we’re exploring and experimenting and being curious about what’s happening in this laboratory of our experience.
Be curious, play, and explore.