The Beatles need no introduction to anyone of any age. By every measure — artistically, culturally and commercially — they’re arguably one of the most significant rock bands of all time. Like every girl who came of age when they took the world by storm, I was a passionate fan and had a favorite: George Harrison. But I was lucky enough to get to know him and learn lifelong lessons from him that I use as an author, yoga therapist and wellness consultant for C-suite leaders.
Of course, meeting George Harrison was a dream come true. But I believe it was also fate. He had inspired my interest in Eastern philosophy and Indian music as a teen, and I studied both in college at the University of California Los Angeles. I started Transcendental Meditation (TM) as he did and found my way to India where I visited the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — the very place where George Harrison activated his own spiritual journey. After I returned to the U.S., I began to study yoga and Ayurveda and soon met Deepak Chopra at a TM and business conference where we then became friends.
In 1988, Chopra invited me to direct the yoga therapy program at his new venture, the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. It was one of the first facilities to feature Eastern and Western medical doctors under the same roof. Given Chopra’s brilliant teachings and global stature, MAHC was a haven for celebrities. That’s how I found myself teaching in a room one day with George Harrison sitting across from me. He was there for a two-week stay, and I was his yoga therapist. To get to meet someone whose life trajectory influenced mine so deeply was extraordinary and I was humbled by how the roles of teacher and student were reversed.
This experience had a profound impact on me intellectually and spiritually. Every November 29, the day of his death, I light a candle in his memory. This year, as we marked the 20th anniversary of his death, I think it’s a good time to remember the significant impact he had on the world. Here are five lessons I learned on spirituality, activism and humility from George Harrison:
1. Humility is a key ingredient to successful leadership.
Like rock stars, many leaders can be arrogant, self-centered, attention-seeking and condescending. After all, they’re used to being in charge. George Harrison didn’t revel in the spotlight; he was sincere, humble, kind, collaborative and always open to learning. His character and accomplishments substantiate research that shows humble leaders yield better business results, from lower turnover and absenteeism to encouraging new ideas to driving better performance and greater profitability.
2. Persistence pays off.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were accomplished songwriters, which in my opinion, led too many people to underestimate George Harrison as a songwriter. But he was diligent and eventually went on to write 22 songs for the Beatles, and after the band split, the best-selling, six-times platinum solo album “All Things Must Pass.” Creatives, leaders — and especially entrepreneurs — who are persistent time and time again are more likely to succeed and thrive.
3. Let inner peace infuse your life and work.
George Harrison was known as “the spiritual Beatle,” and his lifelong spiritual quest toward inner realization shaped not only his music but also the way the West looks at, and embraces, spirituality. “George was making spiritually awake music, we all heard it and felt it,” filmmaker Martin Scorsese said when his documentary on George, “Living in the Material World,” was released in 2011. George Harrison was instrumental in helping me realize that spirituality and inner peace are the foundation for optimal creativity in work, altruism as well as personal health.
A growing body of research confirms that spiritual practices are associated with improved immunity and resilience — benefits range from helping people make healthier choices, coping with the effects of daily stress to finding greater purpose in life. Peer-reviewed research even shows that spiritual leadership inspires others to become ethical leaders who tend to be highly efficient, motivated and engaged.
4. Think big and collaborate to get there.
When George Harrison, one of the world’s most acclaimed lead guitarists, was having a hard time getting John Lennon and Paul McCartney to take his song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” seriously for the “White Album,” he asked his close friend, Eric Clapton, to play lead guitar. It worked. And in 1971, to create the Concert for Bangladesh, he collaborated with Ravi Shankar and a star-studded cast of friends to pull off one of rock’s biggest philanthropic efforts — which is now seen as the precursor to Live Aid. In an industry filled with massive egos, we can see that “Harrison’s genial personality set an example for Western musicians who want to present themselves as using their fame for a larger good.”
Collaborating with others is key to achieving those big goals most of us typically put off. Think big about what it is you want and what kind of impact you’d like to have. Bring in others to help get you there.
5. Measure your success by your own actions.
George Harrison measured his success on his singular accomplishments, even noting that it was important for him to master his own passions — from writing songs to meditating — and bring knowledge, forbearance and spirituality to so many people worldwide. These qualities are the mark of an exceptional leader.
At his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Olivia Arias, George Harrison’s beautiful wife, reiterated a quote from Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore that George Harrison had read to her one day: “Blessed is he whose fame does not outshine his truth.” She then went on to say that despite his immense fame, his truth will never be outshone or forgotten.
George Harrison’s example of spirituality, activism and humility, along with the tremendous reach and impact of his legacy, continues to inspire the world.