Episodes Interviews

#10 Interview with The Upgrade Society: Do-Be-Do

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At any given moment in life, we can either do (take action) or be (simply exist). And we’re closest to our true purpose when we can move between those states mindfully. Let’s practice this together!

“One of the foundations of [do-be-do] is actually taking the time and the silence to be for a moment and to connect.”


The Upgrade Society
The Upgrade Society’s Website

Thomas Swaak
The Essentialist Website

Sujith Ravindran
Sujith on LinkedIn

Rolf van Haren
Rolf van Haren @ LinkedIn


VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity

The Hero’s Journey


Sujith Ravindra…:  I can become. I can create miracles where the moment I intend on something, I notice that myself, the people around me, everyone together, um, conspire to make it happen. Isn’t that what a miracle is, where intention and manifestation happens simultaneously?

Brian Pagán:  Hey, y’all. I’m Brian Pagán, and this is episode 10 of MindFolk: Human Creativity and Mindful Innovation, in a podcast. I’m partnering with The Upgrade Society to bring you this special episode with Thomas Swaak, Sujith Ravindran, and Rolf van Haren. We’re talking about strategies for healthy personal leadership. Whether you’re a student or CEO, it’s important to know when to take action and when to stop and simply exist. In this episode, we discuss why and how everyone can master this practice. Enjoy.

Thomas Swaak:  What I realize more and more is the more we as a group are able to simply be and sit with, um, the situation we have found ourselves in for a while, um, uh, a- and allow that to be in our, allow, allow ourselves to be automatically some space is created between ourselves and the situation, we no longer identify with it so much. And then we are able to do from a place which is far more meaningful and far more sustaining and sustainable than taking it just from content.

Brian Pagán:  Would you tell us what VUCA stands for, please?

Thomas Swaak:  Sure. Volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

Brian Pagán:  Did you come up with this model? Or is, where, where is that from, actually?

Thomas Swaak:  No. The, the, the term VUCA, um, was, was actually launched a while ago. It’s, it’s, it’s been around in both the leadership context and the business, uh, uh, context. So it’s, it, that is not unique to me.

Rolf van Haren:  It’s from the military, even. The military start with, uh, uh-

Thomas Swaak:  [inaudible 00:02:07]. Yeah. It was first used in 1987, and it draws on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Bert, Burt Nanus. Um, and the US Army War College introduced the concept of VUCA to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous multilateral world that they perceived resulted from the end of the Cold War.

Brian Pagán:  Wow.

Rolf van Haren:  Yeah.

Thomas Swaak:  And I would say [laughs] um, funnily enough, the, the road that we traveled to, to, to, to break through, uh, some of the effects of a world like that, um, has been around since mankind started reflecting upon itself, I would dare to say.

Brian Pagán:  Wow. Sujith, it feels like you have, uh, you, you, you want to say something.

Sujith Ravindra…:  No. I’m just loving, you know, how, um, Thomas is putting together the meta context and, uh, you know, the couple of words I just noted down that resonates very profoundly with me. And, you know, the short duration of time in which I’ve come to know Thomas, I’ve also come to admire the fierce authenticity with which he shows up, that how he’s able to hold that big picture and yet be fully real in all our conversations. So I’m super fascinated in that duality that he’s able to dance within.

And I was noting down a word he used, you know, how important it is for us in our leadership practice to, you know, disidentify from this VUCA context. And then he was laying out this, uh, historical perspective of VUCA.

And I, I can’t help wonder, you know, me coming from an Oriental consciousness based background, you know, the whole arc of human history is exactly as Thomas referred to, that there would be a moment of non-VUCA, and then some kind of a, a human or environmental or political or economic or some kind of a situation will happen to bring the VUCA back into our human existence. It could be in the form of a war or a catastrophe or a financial crisis.

And for me, I just look at that in the larger context that Thomas was tal- uh, talking about as, you know Brian, you know, um, that we need that kind of a VUCA to help us reveal more of the self so that collectively, we will evolve to the next level of maturity or, uh, cultural evolution or consciousness, if you may.

Brian Pagán:  How has VUCA helped you?

Sujith Ravindra…:  You know, I had for 2020, this incredible calendar of, um, world events lined up, you know, because my calendar is always, almost always set 12 months in advance. And pretty much overnight, that whole calendar got either postponed or canceled. And something more profound happened personally that, um, Rolf knows.

You know, I cofounded an organization more than 10 years ago and, um, as a cofounder, you know, being, uh, in the management, being, uh, one of the, the, the leaders, um, you know, calling the shots, there was a sort of normal about it at that moment. And that vehicle was also very profound for me in helping holding space for others and facilitating change, et cetera.

When the lockdown happened, you know, this identification, the identity thing that Rolf was talking about and disidentification that Thomas was talking about, that really hit me, that to some extent, unconsciously, I was identified with that lofty, you know, um, co-CEO, cofounder, that aura.

And when the lockdown happened, it, it created a massive subtraction where I started to really ask myself, like, you know, what I was doing until 2019, is that really what my spirit is yearning for? And the clear answer to that uncertainty that came through was, “No.”

And, uh, I undertook a very profound, even partly painful subtraction process of shedding that skin. I, yeah, I simply just, um, all the incredible, powerful leaders in that organization, I brought them together, and I told them, like, “Guys, please, you know, allow me, I need your permission to step out.”

I simply need to find more of myself, connect back with that little earthy boy that I really am. You know, I’m, I’m really that guy who likes to walk barefoot on earth, and when there’s a, a, a rain happening, I like to strip, strip myself naked and run out into the, the rain, and I like to make paper boats and, you know, float them in these, uh, streams of water. And that is who I really am, deep within.

There was this powerful yearning, a force within wanting to take me back to that, that core, that being essence of, of Sujith. That was really, there was a great vulnerability in that process of not knowing, yet having faith that this rebirth of the hero’s journey is what I need to be on right now in order to elevate to the next step or, or of, of consciousness.

Brian Pagán:  Beautiful. Rolf, Thomas, do you have a similar story that you’d like to share? Reverse hero’s journey?

Rolf van Haren:  Well, I was wondering when Sujith was telling about a VUCA time, if there, if, if VUCA isn’t always here, but if we tend to [inaudible 00:09:29] it with the ego that we have. So we tend to compensate the, the hard stuff with our ego.

I see it a lot around me still with the corona. It’s like people try to twist and turn the rules that were set because, well, they think it is the way to be responsible in this situation.

So I think this is the way the ego works. Uh, the, I think, uh, in the i- it tries to neutralize it and to make it feel safe. But I think VUCA is always. So there was never a non-VUCA world.

I think the, the impulses that we have from the ecosystem that we are living in, the world, the impulses that we have from a social impact, the impulses that we have from a technology point of view, uh, the impulses that we have from a, um, industrial revolution point of view, those are so big, and those are all coming together right now.

So we are in, in a way, in a multi transformation, uh, on the soul level in the human perspective, but also in the organizational perspective. And it’s super interesting that VUCA ca- comes, as Thomas, uh, uh, explained, from the military, and that VUCA and, and the military, of all organizations, is a really Red organization. It’s really driven by a clear and [inaudible 00:10:51] and that kind of stuff.

And VUCA in the current time within organizations really asks us to reconnect with ourselves from an eco, from a more collaborative and more, uh, uh, a more, uh, uh, connect, uh, the, oneness in a way. And, uh, a Red organization is not really oneness. It’s, there’s a leader, and there’s a manager, and there’s an operator, and there, the people are higher levels, lower levels. And oneness is wholeness.

So it’s interesting that in the VUCA world that we live in right now, in this VUCA re- realm, uh, the invitation is really to connect from within with each other. And I think, uh, when I look, I, I have started the Upgrade Society in the start of, we started, like, two years ago, and we had this concept. We want to transform the world by a smart technology, uh, and, uh, supporting people and teams to transform in, in regard of their work, because when you are working, like, nine or 10 hours a, a day, there’s a beautiful context truly to work on yourself in a holistic way.

And, um, so when we started to go to the markets starting this year, when COVID hit, uh, hit the market as well, uh, our startup was just totally down. We were totally gone. All the money was gone, and we were going to the market, but the whole team just fell apart. There was no money to pay anyone.

So, um, that really kept us, uh, going in a freeze, in a vacuum, and it really, uh, needed a answer from the leadership. So a few guys within the team, uh, and me m- myself as well, decided to make a move and to do d- do it differently, and that is just by totally letting go. Like, we invested, like, 250K and just let it go, uh, and just let it go and let it emerge.

And that, that is, I think, the attitude that COVID brought us, and it’s the essence also of our company, to really step from everything that is and might be, to embrace it, and to really be inclusive with everything that there is, and, uh, without pushing it out because you don’t want to see it. The, the horrific scenarios you can, uh, draw for yourself that the company’s going down or you’re going bankrupt or whatever. So you got to really, uh, go within.

And then I did this journey in Italy with Sujith, which was amazing, with 13 leaders. Um, so we did this work, and I think other things I would, are, were already implemented, in a way, but really to internalize it really happened in Italy, so really do the, do the journey of eight days, and to really say, “Well, we are really this company also, um, molded by the COVID crisis, that we really want to, uh, transform companies from the essence, not from tools or ways of work.”

Like Thomas said, that really, this story has to be told. And this is also the reason of this podcast, that we really tell the story and make it practical for people, how to prototype this super awareness and how to bring it to the people.

Uh, when I did my, uh, like, 12 years ago, I did my first NLP study, neuro-linguistic programming, and I was able to reflect on myself from that point of, uh, uh, moment in time. And I learned that everybody had a m- model of the world. That was my first aha moment. So everyone has his own model of the world. So we don’t see the world the same. That’s interesting, because before that, I thought, I never thought about it, uh, to be honest.

And I think, uh, then I thought, “Well, how cool would it be if everybody in essence could learn to decode and to de-encrypt, uh, himself, herself, to see, oh, this is how my ego works, this is how, uh, the place where I come from has an impact on my day to day behavior?”

I think in the essence, you can notice theore- theoretically. But to really implement it, you need a good crisis. So a good crisis really helps to get to the bottom of things, and I think that is also the essence of the slang that we use, uh, among these amazing guys, is do-be-do, from doing to the being, and the being is really touched when you are, are going through a crisis. It really helps you to get there. So in a personal sense, I think this year really helped to do-be-do myself.

Brian Pagán:  Could you tell us how?

Rolf van Haren:  Uh, if you are creating a startup, uh, you’re getting money out of the market. You’re creating your first team, um, with all the insecurities that goes with a startup, because there’s already big, big insecurity how to get a earning model or a business model that works. Uh, how are your competitors around you may be copying your [inaudible 00:15:37] and maybe they are copying also the technology?

Uh, you’re really in the doing, because you came from the being, from the sensing, from the, uh, d- closing your eyes and getting a deeper understanding of what you are trying to create from a calling perspective.

And there comes a moment that you go into the do. And if you do this, then, uh, uh, you tend to speed up, speed up, speed up, speed up, go faster, faster, faster, and go into the mental mode. And I try to, uh, uh, make the connection with if you have a, a, a super cool camera, you can zoom, and there’s a point it’s a digital zoom, and a digital zoom is emulating the vision, but it’s not the vision itself. So you need to analog zoom.

And I think if you stay too long in the do mode, you come in the digital zoom, and it, it is the picture, but it’s not the clarity that you want. So before you go into the ultra zoom mode of your mental mindset, you need to go to the, to unzoom yourself and to go back to a p- perspective of yourself in which you can feel and align and connect with what wants to emerge.

And I think this year, the crisis really got, got us there from a being point of view to really connect fr- well, what is the reason that we are already working, like, six years so hard to get this, uh, started from the ground? And what is the reason that I, uh, um, I offered all my, uh, uh, material belongings to this startup? What is the reason that I’m sitting here in a small room and not a cool office within a big organization that I worked as well? So what is the reason? Why do you do this?

And this is a really being, sensing point of view. And if I, if all those timelines really come across right now, what is this COVID crisis trying to tell me? And it’s, and that may be the, the thoughts that I had to start the startup were even less deep than after the COVID crisis, that Upgrade Society becomes even a more deeper and more profound way of implementing new ways of work and organizing. So I think this is essence, uh, the essence for me this year.

Brian Pagán:  Yeah. That makes sense. So you mentioned this do-be-do kind of as a shift between mindsets. Could someone explain that to, like, g- give an introduction to this do-be-do model that we’re talking about?

Thomas Swaak:  Uh, I would say one of the foundations of, of the, if, if we want to call it a model or a shift of mindset of doing, being, doing, being, um, is actually taking the time and the silence to be for a moment and to connect, um, and then to allow what wants to emerge to come out and be surprised yourself sometimes at what [laughs] you’ve said, at what you’re actually saying, because you’re speaking, um, from a place where you’re not identifying with everything that you’re considering.

So, um, um, that a little bit as a, um, um, as a kickoff. Um, um, that’s where I would, uh, uh, start it off. Right in this moment that we just created around the answer, uh, to a very valid question, Brian, that, that you, uh, that you spoke.

Brian Pagán:  Thank you for that, Thomas.

Thomas Swaak:  Yeah.

Brian Pagán:  So I’m curious now about how each of us has been able to take that shift or this distinction between doing and being into the leadership practice of leading ourselves in the sense that all of us are leaders, because we all lead ourselves, even if we’re not necessarily leading an organization. [inaudible 00:19:17] us are. Um, I’m curious what, what, what example we can come up with to illustrate do-be-do, especially in the, the contrast between these two states.

Sujith Ravindra…:  You know, b- Brian, I’m in, Sujith here, and, uh, I’m so loving the, the power of your inquiries, by the way. It’s, uh, the way you’re taking us to, uh, so many frontiers of thoughts, I’m, I’m loving that. Just want to acknowledge that.

Brian Pagán:  Thank you.

Sujith Ravindra…:  For me, doing and being, yeah, it really m- if our choice, like you, Brian, is that we want to be activists in the worldly life, then being and doing, the synthesis of being and doing creates the greatest recipe for impact. And you beautifully put it, that we are all leaders in some form or the other.

So whatever that activism is, the greatest, greatest impact in that activism can be created through the synthesis of the doing and the being. And, um, we know that if we look at the, the lives of, uh, Jesus Christ or Buddha or even a Gandhi or a Nelson Mandela, that there’s been this constant dance of doingness and beingness, um, dancing in harmony together.

Um, in my life, like this, uh, setting of 2020, the pandemic, the subtraction that happened… It was, um, I think Thomas spoke elegantly in a talking of… I’m trying to pull that. Uh, yeah. Um, how he, um, went with the flow when it, it happened. And later, uh, Rolf was talking about this whole total letting go and unzooming.

The magic that this, um, total letting go or going with the flow does is once we, once I have embraced that acceptance of that VUCA-ness that’s happening, I enter a realm of great euphoria, exaltation. And that is a moment that I know that, hey, I have actually crossed the threshold of departure from the old.

And the spring of 2020, going into a big part of summer, was very much a, a process of deepening into being. But already by then, I was aware, because the science of consciousness was already known to me for decades, uh, through my own spiritual scholarship.

I was rejoicing, like, as a witness of what’s happening to me, this deepening into being, like, embracing that apprenticeship fully of life through the spring of the, the non-doing, just entering deeply into by beingness and allowing the world to educate me, having those very deep inner dialogues, just entering that space of nothingness, that silence that Thomas was talking about, but then not for a few seconds or a minute, but for weeks, uh, in a go.

And the more and more I was dancing in that beingness, you know, spending time with deep intimacy with the self, with, uh, uh, wilderness, with my two tiny kids, uh, not only was I, you know, um, resolving all my dualities, uh, elevating myself, there was something emerging. It’s like this, the, the, the rubber elastic of the catapult, you know, being pulled back and back and back and back, gently.

And it was late summer and going into autumn that the, that that epiphany happened, that h- epiph- that illumination moment of the hero’s journey. And coming back again from being to doing, the doingness that really, uh, emerged was one of, like, hey, you know what? Great that I so rejoice my journey of self realization, but when I am now going to step back into the new, uh, uh, platform of doing, it is going to be nothing short of total global prosperity in the next one decade.

That is the quantum of doingness that the universe conspires to make happen for you. The more you’re like that, that elastic of the catapult or that wind-up toy, you’re winding back, winding back, winding back, and the moment you place that on the ground, boom, it moves forward with such acceleration that you need, that is the kind of momentum that helps shift paradigms.

And so, you know, February 2021, back into real, full doingness, I’m launching the Global Abundance Movement with a very important, intentional bli- bringing global prosperity within the next one decade. And again, it is just an intention.

It may seem like a lofty intention, but the conviction is so undivided within me because the way the universe is responding to it, the way the universe is conspiring to make it happen. Even as we speak, right now, more than nearly 2,000 people have already volunteered to take this course forward with nothing expected in return. That is, again, you see, do back to be to do as a, as the ultimate recipe for activism.

Brian Pagán:  Beautiful. How do you synthesize do-be-do?

Sujith Ravindra…:  Uh, if you have the luxury in your life, you must retreat from your doingness, enter fully the realm of non-action like Thomas was talking. Even thoughts are actions. Subtract that, too. And just enter that asceticism, even if it is daily for three minutes or 30 minutes, or in a year for, say, four weeks, six weeks. You start creating that synthesis of doingness and beingness.

Thomas Swaak:  I, I, if I may, Brian y- your question on synthesizing doing and being, um, triggered me as well. So if doing is about accomplishing, for instance, right, and being is about self awareness, right, so who am I in this accomplishing? Yeah? Um, then the synthesis of the two is, um, y- there will always be doing. Right?

Um, but when you accomplish something or when you decide to accomplish something from a space of self awareness where, where I am aware, um, n- not only of, let’s say, the drive to get something concrete done, but also the value, um, that it has and the meaning that it has, um, not only to myself but c- in conversation, in dialogue, it’s teased out what it means and how it’s valuable to others, then that accomplishment becomes suffused with self awareness, with being. Right? And is far more sustainable, ultimately. That’s one example.

Brian Pagán:  I, I get a good understanding of how to switch between the two states. Doing is very easy to get into. We tend to go with the flow around us all the time, um, especially if you have a job, uh, where we tend to bias towards a doing kind of thing. The world moves us in a d- into a doing state, so we need to resist that sometimes actively, consciously, step back, zoom out, and come into a state of non-action, to use Sujith’s words.

Thomas Swaak:  Non-action and, and non-judgment.

Brian Pagán:  And non-judgment. Okay.

Thomas Swaak:  Yeah.

Brian Pagán:  Yes.

Thomas Swaak:  Yeah.

Brian Pagán:  That’s beautiful.

Thomas Swaak:  Because y- you’re, you’re, um, you’re triggering me, as usual [laughs] Brian.

Brian Pagán:  [laughs]

Thomas Swaak:  Uh, um, and, and the reason I say non-judgment, because part of where the synthesis is is where we stop telling ourselves stories about the things that are happening, um, uh, to us and things that are happening, uh, to others. Um, there’s, uh, there are two, you could almost say there are two realities.

Uh, the doing reality is, uh, oftentimes the story that I tell myself about what’s happening in the world. You know, here’s this awful pandemic. How terrible. H- How, how unconscionable. Um, uh, what a horror story. Uh, how overwhelming. N- Notice all the adjectives. Right?

Brian Pagán:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Thomas Swaak:  This may be the story that, that, that I am telling myself. Um, if I manage to take a step back into silence, into being, and see it for what it is, a situation where, uh, we need to take care of ourselves and others, um, i- in order to stay healthy, a situation, um, uh, which, um, you know, gets us to reexamine what the best is of ourselves that we can share with others, to, to sustain during this situation.

And if, uh, if we’re able to m- see it truly for what it is, rather than telling ourselves and each other stories about this st- regular stories about it, then we’ve ent- entered the synthesis that, that you’re working towards.

Brian Pagán:  Mm.

Thomas Swaak:  Right? It’s the moment where you can be in silence non- and non-judgmentally embrace and surrender to what is actually happening in that moment.

Brian Pagán:  Mm. Rolf, you, you mentioned ego a moment ago. W- What Thomas now mentioned about non-identification with your thoughts, it kind of felt related to what you mentioned earlier about ego and separating from the ego and moving from ego to eco. Am I seeing that correctly? Or, uh, do you have a different perspective on that?

Rolf van Haren:  Well, you know the answer, don’t you? [laughs]

Brian Pagán:  [laughs]

Rolf van Haren:  In the end, uh, in my belief, but that’s what the meaning of ego is. [inaudible 00:31:22] should clarify this, uh, to start with this whole dialogue about it. In my belief, ego is the moment that the energy in the dualistic world tries to make sense of what it’s encountering.

So at the moment, I’m opening my eyes, and I am aware of something, and I give words to it, or a feeling to it. Then my ego is in. So everything before this moment, and I’m aware, uh, I’m becoming aware of my awareness like this. I’m here. That’s it.

And holding this space for the thing that wants to emerge as an insight in regard, not in regard of what I already have experienced in this life, and which I give meaning to in my life, and the thing that I’m being aware of is triggering this substance that I created in my mind as the truth.

If I’m able to observe this part of myself and observe the observer in this, that’s the egoless state, in my belief. And this belief is also something from my ego. So it’s a doub- a double, a double header, you know.

So it’s asking the ego, “Who are you?” And the ego does everything not to be, to be shown. [laughs]

Brian Pagán:  [laughs]

Sujith Ravindra…:  [laughs] You know, we are in oneness, aren’t we, at this moment?

Brian Pagán:  I feel like-

Sujith Ravindra…:  Can you hear me, Brian?

Brian Pagán:  … Yes. Yes. You said something so profound and wonderful that I think we all wanted to go into a being state and simply-

Sujith Ravindra…:  Mm.

Brian Pagán:  … exist in that moment. Thank you for that.

Sujith Ravindra…:  Amen.

Thomas Swaak:  Mm. I, I, I’d like to, um, t- to build on, on Sujith’s very profound thought there and, um, uh, share a saying, um, that my m- my grandfather shared with me [laughs] and then build on that for the first thing t- t- that you could do, uh, t- to, to get into this.

And w- um, my grandfather once told me, “Look, Thomas, when people are standing over your grave, they’re not going to be talking about what a hard worker you were, and it’s unlikely that they’ll talk about all the stuff that you did. They will, however, talk about what kind of a friend you were and how well you loved.”

And so I, I would say if y- if you wanted to get into the, the do-be-do mode in a very simple way, it would be to find a quiet place and think back to things that have made you incredibly happy, um, simple, the simplest of things that made you feel in flow, that made you feel happy. And pick one of those, and start doing it.

Brian Pagán:  [laughs] Sage words, my friend. Thomas, Sujith, Rolf, thank y’all for your wisdom and guidance.

And you listening, what helps you feel in flow? Leave me a voice message through our website,, or get in touch on Twitter and Instagram via @mindfolkpod.

Keep choosing love, dear one.

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