The story of mindfulness seems to be the “flavour of the month” at the moment. Everywhere I look, I see mindfulness being promoted – in the workplace, on the sporting ground, in the therapy room.
A Buddhist monk recently came to the bank where I work, offering to give us insights into the practice of mindfulness and how it can help YOU. His experience as a monk sitting in meditation for 4 years, in silence, on an island off the coast of Scotland, made him more than suitably qualified to take on the rigours and challenges of the fast-paced, pressurised world of investment banking….
Much of the running theme amongst all of this is that a simpler, less stressful life is really available to all of us, here and NOW.
The irony is that mindfulness doesn’t take a lot of education or time, as Adrian Rides, founder of the Now Project, casually pointed out to us recently as we commenced our six-week mindfulness meditation course – what it does take though, is practice. Practice to change the steady habits of the mind – to be more present, not in the past or the future but truly in the moment.
This idea of the West taking an Eastern tradition and transforming it into a global revolution is nothing new. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the world-renowned expert in mindfulness, was one of the first with his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course (MBSR) at the MIT. The fact that he has achieved so much with the incorporation of mindfulness into a therapeutic setting speaks volumes for the practice itself. It shows that the methods of mindfulness work.
That’s all well and good you may say, but how does this really fit in with mindfulness in the corporate place? That’s an interesting one. Sure, we can all learn the practices and methods of mindfulness – there are plenty. However, the actual origins of mindfulness lie somewhere less apparent – compassion. Compassion for the suffering of others, and having virtuous qualities that express a heartfelt loving kindness for our own wellbeing and that of others.
Can one then truly be a mindfulness practitioner and take office in senior management? In one of my former posts, I argued that high performers are already masters in the practice of mindfulness. Qualities such as self-discipline, concentration, patience, endurance, pure willpower and a sense of duty are necessary in the field of leadership in order to steer an organisation to achieve its goals.
This involves the ability to master one’s own thoughts, emotions and physical sensations and perceive them as events that exist in our experience of consciousness – and the letting go and dissolution of such events, rather than allowing the mind to be dominated by them. This is more than likely to result in the attainment of success in the workplace.
Yet in the context of the corporate world, whose primary purpose is the benefit of shareholders, mindfulness in the workplace can be an inherent contradiction. When the survival of the institution is at stake, difficult decisions are often made – for those making such decisions, how do we measure the qualities that it takes when it comes to making them?
Do hearts “tremble” when making those decisions knowing that lives will be immensely affected? Do we hear heartfelt sorrow and regret for difficult decisions made, that has the effect of sometimes fundamentally changing the course of one’s career forever? Sometimes, but not always. The modern corporation is simply not made out for this outpour of emotion.
In such circumstances, to be truly “mindful” and feel the pain of those affected – to be empathic and generous – are virtuous qualities that are often lacking.
To this extent, the practice of mindfulness in the workplace can hit a brick wall. As much as a moral and fiduciary responsibility can be taken towards those affected, in the end the suffering caused by such decisions is the very antithesis of what mindfulness is all about. As we apply more and more energy and resources to solving the personal crisis of modern-day living in the West through mindfulness, we forget that the roots of mindfulness operate on a far deeper level.
In short, the practice of mindfulness is a very useful addition in the modern armoury fighting stress, anxiety and depression that plagues the West today. Some would say that it is more than just an “addition”, it’s a way of life. It operates on an individual level to help us cope, find a new perspective and overcome the habits of the mind that can be so destructive.
Yet, when it comes to the corporation as a whole, the practice of mindfulness becomes more of a challenge. The skills that we need to instil in today’s leaders are the ones that not just allow an organisation to thrive, but also results in mindful decision making. NOW that would be true progress in the evolution of 21st century mindfulness.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~Dalai Lama