Mindfulness: At Home with the Mind at Work

Mindfulness seems to have emerged out of nowhere to become the latest buzzword in organizational and leadership development. What is going on? Why has this idea gained so much power so quickly? Companies like Google, Twitter, PayPal, LinkedIn, Cisco, and Ford are training managers and executives in mindfulness and meditation techniques. Wisdom 2.0, a gathering where the technology and contemplative communities hash out the best ways to integrate these tools into our lives, had 1700 people attend last year’s conference, many from executive levels of well-known corporations. Cover articles have appeared in Time, Newsweek, Wired and  HBR over the past year, all extolling the virtues of mindfulness.

Is this just an extension of the emotional intelligence fad or is something fundamentally new happening here? Well to begin, mindfulness is certainly not new, although perhaps new to modern corporate life. It’s at least 2500 years old and has been practiced in most traditions and cultures throughout history. The growth in our scientific worldview has diminished the value of contemplation – if you’re not doing something, you’re not efficient. This has begun to change over the past few years as we recognize that efficiency in the short term is not always effective over the long haul.

More recently, researchers have pointed to the increasing levels of stress in the workplace and the health costs of employees suffering from depression, anxiety, anger and other stress-related emotional responses related to the pace of change and the expectations of more with less. Along with these findings, brain research now shows us what is happening inside our heads and how we can enhance our brain functioning through turning down the volume on our monkey minds. It turns out that mindfulness produces buoyancy, optimism, and confidence. It creates a stronger immune system, more focused attention to tasks, better working relationships and faster learning.

This quote appeared in the March edition of Harvard Business Review:  “At the very highest levels of any field – Fortune 50 CEOs, the most impressive artists and musicians, the top athletes, the best teachers and mechanics – you’ll find mindful people, because that’s the only way to get there.”

So it seems we must come back home to ourselves in this latest evolutionary phase, to know ourselves, to spend time with ourselves, to be at home with ourselves. We are required to develop a new level of consciousness, a new sense of being at home, to adapt to the turbulence and chaos of the world around us.

If we look back at this evolutionary development, we can easily see that when work is machine-driven, humans are expected to be mindless automatons on the assembly line. As service industries grow and become more interconnected, employees need to be service-oriented, reacting to the demands of customers. In the high-tech sector, where innovation is the key to success, young minds create new toys. And in the global workplace where the pace of change and its impact shape our lives, many of us find we are stretched (and stressed) to adapt.


Evolutionary Phase
 

Consciousness

Home as Company Town

Work as Drudgery

Mindlessness
Home as Urban Campus

Work as Problem-solving

Reactive mind
Home as Hi-tech Incubator

Work as Play

Innovative mind
Home as Workplace

Work as Life

Anxious mind
Home and Work as Self Mindfulness

 

When work and home become intermeshed with our very selves, we must increase our awareness of the present moment and dwell in that, lest we be swept up in the whirlwind of constant change. Mindfulness provides this opportunity for present-moment awareness. And although the discipline can be challenging, the process is quite simple. Being aware of breath, repeating a phrase or counting, listening to guided meditations, emptying the mind of its chatter, these are all easy techniques for entering stillness, calm and quiet.

There are many supports for mindfulness. Books by Richard Moss, Peter Senge and Michael Brown are examples. If you’re more into the science, many books now detail brain functioning and plasticity, such as Rita Carter and Norman Dodge. John Kabat-Zin and  Eckhart Tolle offer CD series of guided meditations. Just 15 minutes a couple of times a day will bring you home to yourself with new strength and resilience. I highly recommend it.