Kat and I are a week into a 200-hour, month-long yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh, India. Apparently it is the world capital of yoga. In the area we’re staying in, it seems like there are more yoga schools than restaurants. It’s pretty fascinating to get instruction from PhDs in yoga, from people have or are on their way to spending decades devoted to the lifestyle.

The last class of our day is focused on meditation. It’s taught by a guru named Swami Atma (soul) who exceeds the stereotypical image of an Indian guru – a flowing gray beard, decked out in orange (even his socks), a soothingly slow voice, years of wrinkles and experience. 

I’ve only met with him for a total of 3-4 hours, but Swami Atma is the most captivating and charismatic person I have ever met. He says everything with dynamic tempo and volume, with  laughter and a smile, with gentle confidence. All of my questions are profound and intelligent. He remembers things that I forget I’ve said and asked. I feel like I don’t have to present myself in any certain way, because it doesn’t seem like he has any ounce of judgment in him. Sitting in front of him is a very warm, inviting, disarming, and curious experience. 

Charisma has always eluded and intrigued me.  The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, touches on charisma from a sales/marketing/persuasive perspective.  If I remember correctly, aside from elegantly captivating you through a conversation, a charismatic person can match and lead you through a mixture emotions and facial expressions.  The president of my previous company is charismatic, the CEO of a client account that I worked on is charismatic, Steve Jobs was charismatic.  They all exude a certain confidence and playfulness that I’d like to have more of.  To some degree, I feel like I’ll need that charisma and persuasiveness in order to be a successful entrepreneur.

One thing that always felt unnatural about growing more into my ideal of a charismatic person is that they’re intimidating. Steve Jobs is a notorious asshole, completely fine with telling an engineer who worked 40 hours straight to redo everything. He obviously did something right, as the Apple logo is a status symbol in every country I’ve been to, but something always felt weird in moving towards that type of charisma. It’s like a type of charismatic confidence that makes you want to show only certain parts of your personality and hide others, like you can’t fully unwind and be your stupid self.

Swami Atma has shifted my definition of charisma. While I’m not sure that he could convince the world to love the iPhone (or even want to), he is wise and experienced in more ways than I know, but doesn’t make me feel like I have to prove myself or that I’m lacking in anyway. He’s eloquent and gracefully confident, but disarming.

At its core, I think his demeanor assures me that I’m not being judged, and that he’s not worried about me judging him. Maybe he really understands that we’re all the same on many levels, and that there’s no need to compare or compete with other people. It seems likely that it’s not about trying to be more persuasive or confident or charismatic at all, but more about not judging others and not worrying about being judged as much.


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