The ‘Shamanification’ of Silicon Valley Tech CEOs

Silicon Valley CEO Shamanification | TurnKey

What drives wildly successful tech innovators to embrace shamanism and adopt a minimalist lifestyle, opting for nothing more than a futon and a MacBook? Prominent figures in the tech industry have been stretching the boundaries of their minds and bodies, experimenting with practices such as fasting and conquering mountains, all in the relentless pursuit of success.

In recent years, shamanism has garnered a growing following among tech leaders and professionals, particularly in Silicon Valley. Traditionally associated with spiritual healers, practitioners, or guides in indigenous cultures, the term “shaman” encompasses individuals believed to possess the ability to connect with the spirit world, conduct rituals, and address both physical and spiritual ailments. CEOs and entrepreneurs are increasingly drawn to these ancient practices, seeking avenues for personal and professional development, exploring alternative healing modalities, and tapping into new wellsprings of inspiration.

The roots of today’s practices link back to the 1960s counterculture movement in the San Francisco Bay Area.  That movement played a significant role in popularizing Eastern spirituality, mysticism, and shamanism as alternatives to traditional Western beliefs, offering a path to personal transformation, social change, and ecological awareness.

Is shamanism a way to clear the mind and focus on the big picture? Or is it simply a way to feel invincible in the competitive tech world? Whatever the reason, it’s undeniable that these practices have become synonymous with the tech industry. I wanted to check it out for myself, so I’ve spent three weeks digging deep into the who’s who of shamanification in Silicon Valley and studying their rituals.  Here’s what I uncovered:

Table of Contents

Ascetic Icons of Silicon Valley

Through my research, I identified six top tech leaders who are using some or all of these ancient practices to tame the wild and unpredictable forces of their domains and stay on the leading edge.    While these individuals may be some of the most prominent examples in Silicon Valley, they are by no means the only ones. Many tech executives and entrepreneurs are experimenting with various forms of psychedelic substances and deprivation in order to push the limits of human performance and achieve greater success in their careers, including:

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter | TurnKey
Image/KAWA News

It’s highly unlikely that you will see Elon tweeting and sharing his personal experiences with psychedelic substances. However, in a 2018 interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast he mentioned their potential value for sparking innovation and creativity.  He alluded to the possibility that hallucinogens like LSD played a role in conceiving some breakthrough technologies.

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn

Jeff Wiener | TurnKey
Image/Bloomberg

Who knew that the secret sauce to LinkedIn’s phenomenal growth could be found in the ancient practice of mindfulness? Ever since he launched the popular professional social network in 2009, Jeff Weiner has made headlines for not just connecting a whopping 450 million members, but also for crediting his daily guided meditations on the Headspace app for his focus and strategic vision. He’s such a fan of the practice that he regularly shares the scientific benefits of meditation with his Twitter followers. In a Wall Street Journal interview, Weiner spilled the beans on how carving out time to be present and reflect can help bring clarity and prevent constant reactive thinking.

Part of the key to time management is carving out time to think, as opposed to constantly reacting.
Jeff Weiner

So, the next time you’re overwhelmed with countless work emails and meetings, remember to channel your inner Jeff Weiner and hit the play button on your favorite guided meditation.

Tim Ferris, Author of The 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek | TurnKey
Image/Jay Siegan Presents

When it comes to business moguls, Tim Ferriss is not your typical CEO. Sure, he’s an entrepreneur, author, and podcast host – all the standard fare,  but it’s his unconventional approach to life and business that has made him a beloved figure in the tech and entrepreneurial world. Based on this, it shouldn’t be shocking that he speaks openly about his experiences with shamanic ceremonies and plant medicines like ayahuasca. Talk about thinking outside the cubicle!

Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of SalesForce

Marc Benioff | TurnKey
Image/CNN

Know how they say great leaders ask the simplest questions? Well, it turns out that billionaire tech entrepreneur Marc Benioff might be onto something. Benioff, the mastermind tech CEO behind SalesForce – which is worth a cool $97 billion, by the way – has been rubbing elbows with spiritual gurus in Hawaii and India. After his travels, he returned to the States with a newfound appreciation for meditation and now has meditation rooms scattered across his SalesForce offices. When asked about how this spiritual practice influences his leadership, Benioff replied:

Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style.
Marc Benioff

In other words, he’s a Zen master running a tech empire. Who knew?

Steve Jobs and Zen Buddhism

Steve Jobs and Zen Buddhism | TurnKey
Image/CNBC

Hey, did you know that Steve Jobs, the guy who revolutionized the tech industry with Apple, was into Zen Buddhism? Yeah, apparently, he believed it helped him come up with all those sleek and simple designs we know and love. He was all about innovation and creativity, and he thought that a minimalist approach was the way to go. So, he travelled to India and Japan to learn more about the spiritual side of things. A legendary example of how mindfulness and technology can go hand in hand.

Arianna Huffington, Cofounder of Huffington Post and Thrive Global

arianna huffington | TurnKey
Image/TechCrunch

Skipping out on self-care can lead to burnout, and Arianna Huffington knows that firsthand. She incorporates meditation into her daily routine.  She starts by taking a minute to breathe deeply and setting her intentions for the day before spending 20-30 minutes practicing her Zen. Plus, as she’s just an overachiever, she also spends 30 minutes on her stationary bike and practices yoga most mornings. It’s safe to say that her self-care routine puts the average morning coffee and Instagram scroll to shame.

I wish I’d appreciated just how powerful it can be to introduce just five minutes of meditation to your day. You should not compromise balance and self-care for high performance; renewal is part of the process.
Arianna Huffington

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How Do Tech CEOs Shamanic Practices Cultivate Power?

Well, looking at how many tech gurus have already jumped on the bandwagon, it seems these customs can help reach success. Whether it’s psychedelics, mindfulness, or communing with nature, they open a way of tapping into a deeper level of consciousness, where one can access ancient wisdom and bring it to life in the modern world.

If you have read this far, you are likely asking,  “How can I get started and benefit from these practices?” So I’ve pulled together this little cheat sheet of the practices that seem the most power-promising and easy to tap into.

Just skip breakfast

Unlike traditional shamans, tech self-shamanification starts with self-denial. It seems that Silicon Valley is on a never-ending quest for the latest and greatest way to deprive themselves of pleasures. First, it was intermittent fasting.

In general, intermittent fasting isn’t one of the biohacking innovations; it’s a dietary pattern that involves alternating periods of eating and fasting. There are several different ways to practice intermittent fasting, but the most common methods involve restricting food intake to a certain number of hours each day or reducing caloric intake on certain days of the week.

Some of the most popular types of intermittent fasting include:

  • 16/8 method: This involves fasting for 16 hours each day and restricting eating to an 8-hour window.
  • 5:2 diet: This involves eating normally for 5 days of the week and restricting caloric intake to 500-600 calories on the remaining 2 days.
  • Alternate day fasting: This involves fasting every other day, with some variations allowing for a small amount of food on fasting days.

Scholars who studied austerity discovered that intermittent fasting can have several health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and improved brain function. Yup — a typical tech CEO who graduated from Harvard University also needs a brain boost!

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Reset the brain's reward system

But for Silicon Valley austerity it’s not just food that’s off-limits. Dopamine fasting is spreading like a virus, meaning anything that might actually make life enjoyable, like listening to music or even human interaction, are on the no-no list. The theory behind dopamine fasting is that by reducing exposure to pleasurable stimuli, the brain will become more sensitive to dopamine, which will lead to a greater sense of reward and motivation when engaging in productive activities.

There are limited advanced studies on the effectiveness of dopamine fasting, and some experts have raised concerns about the potential negative effects of depriving oneself of pleasurable activities for extended periods of time.

Is there anything they won’t do to be the most productive person in the room?

Stop and meditate

According to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, meditation can add to the tech CEO’s shamanic arsenal. He has publicly spoken about his own meditation practice and its role in promoting mental and emotional well-being. Many leaders have embraced meditation as a way to improve their focus, creativity, and overall well-being, including:

  1. Stress reduction: The fast-paced and high-pressure nature of the tech industry can be incredibly stressful. Meditation reduces stress and promotes relaxation.
  2. Improved focus and productivity: Meditation has been shown to improve cognitive function and enhance focus. Many tech CEOs use it to clear their minds and increase their productivity.
  3. Enhanced creativity: Meditation can help to quiet the mind and open up new pathways for creative thinking. Tech CEOs often use it as a way to tap into their creativity and come up with innovative ideas.
  4. Better decision-making: Meditation can help to improve emotional regulation and decision-making skills. By reducing stress and increasing focus, tech CEOs can make better decisions for their companies.

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Attend Burning Man

Burning Man is an annual event held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, known for its unique blend of art, community, and radical self-expression. Many tech CEOs attend Burning Man for several reasons:

  1. Networking: Burning Man attracts a diverse range of individuals from different backgrounds, including many successful entrepreneurs and innovators. It’s an opportunity for tech CEOs to meet new people and expand their networks.
  2. Inspiration: The event is known for its creative and innovative installations, which can spark new ideas and inspire tech CEOs to think outside the box.
  3. Personal Growth: Burning Man encourages self-expression, self-reliance, and communal effort, which can help tech CEOs develop personally and professionally.

Some well-known tech CEOs who have attended Burning Man include Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google), Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook), Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX), and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon). Many participants report profound spiritual experiences and personal breakthroughs, which they believe can inspire innovative ideas and strengthen professional relationships.

Try yoga and physical practices

A growing number of CEOs are turning to practices like yoga, martial arts, and other physical disciplines as a means of achieving mental clarity, physical health, and personal growth. These practices can help them manage stress, increase focus and productivity, and cultivate a better work-life balance

Some CEOs who have embraced yoga and other physical activities include:

  • Mark Zuckerberg, who has been known to practice yoga and even led a yoga class at a Facebook event.
  • Jack Dorsey, who practices Vipassana meditation and has been known to do 10-day silent retreats.

Other tech CEOs like Arianna Huffington, Jeff Weiner, and Tim Ferriss have also spoken publicly about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for their success in business and personal life.

Participate in retreats and spiritual journeys

Some Silicon Valley CEOs embark on retreats and pilgrimages to places like Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal in search of spiritual insights, personal development, and connection with nature. These experiences can offer opportunities for self-reflection, personal growth, and connection with others. Some of the benefits include increased creativity, productivity, and well-being. 

Several notable tech leaders have spoken publicly about their experiences on such journeys, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Benioff has cited meditation and mindfulness practices as key components of his success, while Hoffman has participated in meditation retreats and Ayahuasca ceremonies.

High-profile tech leaders seeking spiritual growth or transformative experiences look for quality programs including these popular alternative options:

  • Esalen Institute: Located in Big Sur, California, the Esalen Institute is a popular retreat center offering workshops, seminars, and residential programs focused on personal growth, wellness, and spirituality. Many high-profile individuals have attended programs at Esalen, and it has played a significant role in the development of the human potential movement.
  • Vipassana meditation retreats: Vipassana is an ancient form of meditation that aims to cultivate mindfulness, self-awareness, and equanimity. Ten-day silent Vipassana retreats, offered worldwide through organizations such as the Dhamma organization, have gained popularity among business executives seeking mental clarity and stress reduction.
  • Visionary Plant Medicine Retreats: While not necessarily geared specifically toward tech CEOs, retreats that focus on plant-based medicine like ayahuasca, psilocybin, or San Pedro have become increasingly popular among those seeking transformative experiences. These retreats usually take place in South America, Central America, or other regions where the use of these substances is legal or culturally accepted.
  • Yoga retreats: High-profile individuals often attend yoga retreats to focus on physical health, mental clarity, and personal growth. These retreats, which can be found worldwide, often involve a combination of yoga, meditation, and other wellness practices.
  • Mindfulness and meditation retreats: Various organizations offer meditation and mindfulness retreats, including centers affiliated with the Insight Meditation Society, Spirit Rock, or Shambhala International. These retreats often cater to individuals looking to develop deeper self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and mental focus.
May 10, 2023

TurnKey Staffing provides information for general guidance only and does not offer legal, tax, or accounting advice. We encourage you to consult with professional advisors before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business or legal rights.

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