Meet Gregor Bingham. He’s a talent acceleration coach. (Kind of a cool job title.) His team at Shopify guides their people to be better leaders and to become more capable of dealing with complexity and a certain degree of chaos. Gregor is proud of their smart, motivated people and their authentic caring culture.
We met up with Gregor in the beautiful space where Shopify practises meditation for 15 minutes each day at 1 p.m. Shopify sits on our zabuton meditation mats topped with handwoven shot cloths from Bali, as well as zafu meditation cushions and Runa Posture Cushions.
Gregor chose a T-shirt from Two Arrows Zen lettered with the perfect message for the occasion: “You can sit but you can't hide.” We learned more about the people who influenced his thinking, meditations and his practice and why Shopify began meditating. As he explains, meditating every day is a good thing.
On getting started: “I came across Ken Wilber's work not long after I came to Canada [from Glasgow]. He introduced me to a lot of different thought and a lot of different practices. He has been doing it for a long time. And you can just tell his sincerity, so that appealed to me. He also had an incredible website with a lot of amazing teachers on it — Diane Hamilton being one and Genpo Roshi. A lot of really cool people. Just by listening to them, that got me interested.”
On his practice: “When I really understood that the idea was to be more aware during the day, that made much more sense. So if I’m mindful in my conversations, then I’m mindful in my relationships. And what does that mean? That has become much more important to me. I still sit each morning for 20 minutes because it’s good to have space to quiet the mind. You have to quiet the mind enough to engage mindfully with some awareness. So I spend a lot of time doing that, especially with my coaching.”
“It’s good to get into a posture that sets you up for your practice.”
Why use cushions? “There are many reasons for me. Your cushions are very comfortable, they are beautifully made, and their form and function is important because our company believes in the user experience. The other aspect is that making a practice in a specific environment shifts our minds to the purpose and intention of the practice. It nudges us to relate to our practice. Having good equipment means you care about what you are doing. People sense that, and it impacts that part of us that knows about taking a more serious commitment with ourselves. And we plan to be sitting for a long time.”
On why meditation was introduced at Shopify: “It’s a bit like working at NASA, working here. You're on a rocket ship, and no one knows where it's going, and that's just the way it is because that's the way that new businesses operate. That’s quite stressful for people to stay on top of. A lot of work to do that, mentally. So we thought meditation would be useful to help people learn how to destress and to help them focus and take a breather…. Learning how not to stress the mind is very useful. It takes a long time to do it through meditation. But it’s part of the foundation of the things that you have to do if you want to have a successful career. Then you have some mental capacity to calm yourself and to emotionally regulate yourself.”
“People are asked to really try to do their best work of their life here. That’s part of the sparkle. But it’s also the challenge."
“There’s sort of a deeper appreciation of the human part of Shopify. The culture team has done an excellent job of really understanding that mental health is a crucial part of looking after your employees. The executives have made a choice to create a good place to work. This includes the beautiful work spaces that Shopify built so people can actually enjoy being here. It’s part of the cultural paradigm that many tech companies have taken on.”
“As far as the mind goes, meditation in a sense, allows you to look after your internal world much better.”
On how Shopify started: “I just sent everybody out an email that said we are going to start classes. We tried a couple of different things. One day a week, different lengths of classes. We realized there were already some people who have been doing it for a while, and there were others that would be brand new. So we offered a kind of beginner [class] and also an old-hands [class]. That is a still a tradition, but everybody is a bit of an old hand now.
“We also bought a bunch of zabutons and zafus. It really helped set the tone for what we wanted to do. It’s a good thing to [meditate every day], just like eating and sleeping. And now we have the opportunity to do it. We don’t force people to meditate. What we are providing is consistency. There’s a structure, and they feel at home. No one is judging them and they are not being taught.”
“Meditating every day is a good thing.”
On his teachings: “When I talk about meditation, I relate it to my experience. And then what I usually do is suggest to others to try something and then come back and tell me if it worked or not. That’s a very Zen approach. Zen is not about telling people anything. It’s just about pointing to something that might be useful.
“If it’s useful for them, they’ll start practising and find their own way. You just rely on people being smart and figuring it out for themselves. Or they can ask me, and I’ll just tell them about all the people I love and why I love them. So they can go and find out by themselves. That’s the way I’d like to receive that information so that’s the way I pass it on.”
“I can see their ability to relax, to centre themselves, to get into their breathe and not be distracted and not judge themselves
is much better after a good six months of work.”
On the impact: “It gives people a place where they can switch off, and that’s the most important thing. A lot of people take on meditation because they are suffering. At work, it’s a different level of suffering. People are suffering in workplaces because workplaces suck normally. Or the workplace is actually challenging them. So their calling isn’t so much a spiritual calling, but that doesn’t mean they don’t find something meaningful in it. It’s hard to tell how much profound spiritual benefit they are getting from it. But I know it’s helping relieve enough suffering for them.”