Bringing Contemplation to Life: Kunal Doshi
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Bringing Contemplation to Life: Kunal Doshi
In this series, CSC interviews a variety of people on the importance of contemplative practices and ideas in their personal and professional lives. Our goal is to shed light on the diverse applications and benefits of contemplation.
This month we feature a conversation with Kunal Doshi, a 2011 alumnus of UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. Doshi is the founder of Brighter Children, a non-profit that leverages a people-based development model combining the principles of venture capital with charitable giving to achieve universal primary education. He is also an investment professional at Capricorn Investment Group making impact investments in early stage companies with the potential for positive social and environmental impact.
After graduating from UVA where he’d been an active student volunteer with organizations such as SEED (Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development), Doshi headed to New York City for a lucrative job in investment banking. Soon his daily grind echoed that of many young finance professionals. High levels of stress and long hours left little time for self-care, public service, or really much of anything else.
It’s well known that without significant effort, the all-consuming pressures to compete and perform during the early stages of a demanding career can eventually come to pervade and dominate one’s entire life. After two years down that road, however, Doshi says he made an intentional, transformative decision to change course. In 2013, while continuing to work full-time at Greentech Capital, Doshi recruited fellow UVA alumni to help him start Brighter Children. Six years later, the organization has sponsored the education of over 1,500 vulnerable children in Columbia, Honduras, India, and Kenya.
Doshi’s early career self-awareness and his continued ability to juggle the expansion of Brighter Children alongside a challenging full-time job indicate deeply seeded compassion and resilience, which may stem in part from his exposure to contemplation at a very young age. Doshi grew up in Mumbai, India and says that his mother, a yoga therapist, significantly influenced his adoption of spiritual and contemplative practices starting at the age of five. He recalls an initial childhood lesson in breath awareness because “the one thing that stays with you from the moment you are born to the moment you die is your breath.”
As a child Doshi practiced staring into the flickering flame of a candle to improve his concentration and eventually trained in hatha yoga—pairing asanas (physical postures) with pranayama (breath). As a typical rebellious teenager, however, Doshi says he began to dismiss the benefits of contemplation and didn’t renew his childhood practices until later as an adult.
In this Q&A, we asked Doshi about his renewed dedication to the regular practice of contemplation and the impact it’s had on his personal and professional life.
1. Can you tell us about your rediscovery of contemplation as a young adult and the kinds of contemplative activities you practice?
Kunal: Working as an investment banker in New York City, I would spend countless hours staring into a computer screen, eating meals on the go, and occasionally waking up in the morning to work out. Focusing solely on my material and physical needs quickly amplified my stress and fatigue and ultimately resulted in my burnout. My decision to focus on my mental health led to the rediscovery of my childhood contemplative practices.
In the past decade I have actively experimented with different contemplation techniques. Sitting cross-legged staring down the bridge of my nose is one way, but I’ve found that practicing mindfulness during other activities—volunteering, painting, dancing, or walking on the grass barefoot—can also result in mastery over the dynamic forces of the mind. It helps me recognize that each thought informs my energy and that my energy manifests into action and experience.
The central focus of my contemplative practice is to purify and discipline my thoughts and mind. I’ve learned that trusting the process and having patience is important. If I want to shed or gain 10 pounds, I know I must work on my physical body for at least two months. The mind, however, is more subtle and stubborn—it requires more work.
2. How does your commitment to contemplation impact you personally?
Kunal: With consistent practice I’ve noticed that I’m more aware of my own thoughts. I find myself in control of my feelings as opposed to the other way around. For example, I’ve realized that if I get angry at someone, the first person affected is me. Knowing this, I actively try to control my negative emotions, because even before they harm others, they harm me.
My concentration, focus, and efficiency have also improved. The best way to understand this is by comparing the mind to the ocean. If the ocean is wild and raging, then dropping a large rock into it won’t have much relative impact. If the ocean is calm, however, dropping even a small pebble will cause many visible ripples across the water. The rock and pebble represent effort. With a tranquil and focused mind, it takes less effort to accomplish my goals.
Contemplation and my work in helping others also influenced my personal journey in “coming out” when homosexuality was still a crime in India. As an athletic male seen as straight, I could have remained quiet and moved through society without soliciting hate. Instead, my desire to live authentically inspired a deeper sense of courage and a drive to reach out and help others who are still vulnerable.
3. How does practicing contemplation affect you professionally and in your service work?
Kunal: I have found that contemplative practices directly impact my emotional intelligence, level of resilience, and leadership style in working with others. I’ve developed more empathy, which helps me gain different perspectives and approach problems with a wider lens. Increased awareness of my own competencies and those of my team has allowed me to leverage our collective skill sets to better accomplish our goals.
Through contemplation I’ve learned to know and accept myself better, to reflect and look inward for answers, and to tap into my own strength more easily, and all of that in turn has helped me lead with more selflessness, integrity, and compassion. It’s made me better equipped to manage superiors and subordinates in my professional work and supervise 50 volunteers in my service work.
“Going inward” has influenced my personal values; it’s what motivated me to launch Brighter Children and become an impact investor with Capricorn. Today I aspire to live an authentic life centered around creating measurable impacts on the lives of those who remain vulnerable.