Who’s Minding Your Mind? How meditation is good for your business, your health, even your happiness.
“Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” Alan Watts
What image do you have in your head about a person who meditates? Is it a bald-headed holy man, cloaked in saffron robes, sitting cross-legged on a cushion in an incense-filled ashram high in the Himalayas with a huge gong chiming at the start or end of a session? Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? Kung Fu’s David Carradine? Yoda? You may be surprised how much that image has changed.
I recently read an inspiring book entitled Mindful Work by David Gelles, a business reporter for the New York Times, who has documented the rise of meditation offerings in corporate settings. You might be thinking that meditation is one of those touchy-feely California fads that has been embraced by high-profile celebrities like Oprah, Madonna and the Beatles. You would expect it to be offered at upstart hi-tech firms like Google, Apple, Facebook and their trendy Silicon Valley neighbors, which it is. But you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s happening in the heartland too — at General Mills in Minneapolis, Aetna Insurance in Hartford, Ct, and (are you ready?) Ford Motor Company, just outside the Motor City.
You may be scratching your head, wondering if these companies are losing their collective mind. In a certain sense they are – but it’s not what you think. They’re practicing a form of meditation called “mindfulness” — maintaining moment-by-moment awareness of their thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment. Now why in the world would they want to do THAT instead of keeping their head down and their nose to the corporate grindstone?
The answer to this question is laid out convincingly by Gelles, who claims to be an on-again, off-again (but most likely on-again now) meditator. After recounting the evolution of meditation from its ancient eastern philosophy roots to the gradual emergence into modern western society, the author describes how a number of work-related maladies can be addressed by sitting still. See if you identify with any of the following:
Stress You want to succeed in your career. But lately your workload has gone from barely manageable to overwhelming on a weekly basis, depending on what pops up next. You’re dealing with ever-increasing demands from your manager, your team, your clients and your vendors, not to mention what’s nipping at your heels at home. Once in a while you wonder if you might be losing your mind; other times you’re sure that you are. And you’ve noticed that your blood pressure, the frequency of your migraines and your weight are all creeping up. What’s the solution? Daily happy hour, where one drink has turned into two or three in the past year? Snacking on junk food all day long to keep your anxiety at bay? (No time for a real lunch break, is there?) A script for Xanax?
Lack of focus You used to pride yourself on getting things done right, on time, and even under budget. Seems like now you’ve got a bad case of “distracted-itis” – you bounce around on 10 different tasks over the course of an hour, sometimes even in 10 minutes. Your head occasionally spins so much you don’t know what to address first, so your brain freezes and you do nothing at all. What’s to blame – ADD, attention deficit disorder, the most fashionable business malady of late? Too much caffeine, a ten-cup-a-day coffee habit? Your damn smart phone, which never stops pinging you throughout the day, even the night? (The off-switch must be out of order …) What will it take to get clear on your priorities?
No compassion/lack of social responsibility You know that the business battleground is a fierce dog-eat-dog world. Kill or be killed, survival of the fittest. No retreat, no surrender – those that are standing still are actually backsliding. If someone else falls behind, too bad – you have to leave them lying in the dust. (After all, you’re not your co-worker’s keeper.) Yet somehow you’re vaguely aware that in the great professional rat race, even if you win, you’re still a rat. Isn’t there a kinder, gentler way to approach the marketplace you play in where everyone can win?
Lack of leadership skills You have to make tough calls that affect people’s lives. You know you need to take charge but are unsure of how to proceed. If you come on too strong people will get busy resisting you; too soft and they’ll walk all over you. You’ve got a vision of where you want things to go but you can’t seem to articulate it so that people get it. (“If only I could make them to see it my way, everything would be hunky-dory!”) What’s the balance point between being over-aggressive and wimpy that wins trust, gets your message across effectively and elicits cooperation, even esprit de corps?
There’s a cure for all of this — no magic pill is required. Gelles cites a number of studies documenting meditation’s ability to reduce workplace stress, increase focus, engender compassion/social responsibility and improve leadership ability. And he just scratches the surface — there are tons of studies that link the practice of meditation to enhancing one’s mental attitude, happiness and peace of mind. For more proof of the positive results, do a Google search on “meditation benefits scientific research” — over 2 million links come up. (That’s A LOT of research about people apparently doing nothing, no?) Would realizing these benefits be good for people as they go about their workday? That’s what people at the companies Gelles writes about are experiencing. (And if it’s good enough for them …)
I actually do a different version of a daily meditation from the one suggested in Gelles’ book, combining mine with visualizing the positive outcomes of the goals I’d like to achieve. I’ve maintained my daily meditation/visualization habit since the mid-90’s and know I’ve experienced the rewards this brings. The good news in my opinion: It doesn’t matter exactly how you do your meditation as long as you find a method that works for you. Here’s a simple instructive video that can be a good place to start, as it requires only 5 minutes a day. No matter how busy you claim to be, you can certainly afford that kind of time investment.
Bottom line Consider taking on a daily meditation practice. When I say “practice,” getting a regular habit going, like any other skill you want to master, is the key to realizing the benefits. But you don’t have to move to India, shave your head, change your religion, stop drinking lattes or become a vegan – all that’s required is for you to stop what you’re doing for a short period of time and start being still. In other words, go from being a “human doing” and become a “human being” – literally – for just a few minutes each day.
You have nothing to lose but your stress, and you’ll gain peace of mind as you go about your business mindfully.