Last week, I had an invite to a conference called Mind & Matter Leaders, via the not-for-profit social marvel that is Street Wisdom. I hesitated. I dislike the word conference, don’t you? I think most people do. A conference is something you’re generally coerced or told to go on, for the good of the business. It conjures up grey suits and pallor. But this was Street Wisdom and the topic was mindfulness and so I came to appreciate that just as we haven’t quite mastered or created many of the right words for 21st century wellbeing, we also haven’t found a good word to replace the word conference, for the conference landscape is changing, and Mind & Matter Leaders was certainly part of a new era.
So there we were. Not a conference at all, but more a gathering of like-minded souls in a slightly business-minded context, in a very business-like place, Canary Wharf. And as our chair and compare David Pearl gave birth to the day with a rousing bit of opera singing, we all knew then it was going to be a really good event. And it was.
Mind & Matters Leaders was born out of a desire to push the practice of mindfulness and a more conscious style of leadership even further out into the business world. Most of us, by now, realise that as the world rapidly changes, with ever-more complexity and globalisation, so do the demands on leaders. And it’s clear to see.
You only have to take good old Brexit as a prime example. Many of our most senior leaders, really aren’t coping well. A brilliant closing talk by Sir Anthony Seldon, historical advisor to 10 Downing Street and political author of biographies on John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, made that perfectly clear. Politicians stop him in the corridors of Westminster and ask him how they, too, can learn about ‘this mindfulness thing’ and then hurriedly rush off to their next meeting before he can finish explaining. No irony there at all, then. And whilst I’ve heard it said many times, here in the context of Anthony’s heartfelt talk, when he spoke about how most of us go to our graves with our songs still in us, it felt very poignant, particularly coming from a man who has been right in the thick of UK political life, working with leaders who make decisions about our immediate future, the next few generation’s futures and the future of the world. We’re all so fast asleep most of the time that we’ll look back and wonder what hit us. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
So, how does this link to mindfulness? Well, if practiced regularly, it can be used as a foundation to help us slow down, take more care in our decision-making, think before we act, make more compassionate decisions, consider the world’s resources, be more collaborative and less ego-driven. Perhaps then, we wouldn’t be in the position we find ourselves in now; one of the most depressed nation’s on earth.
Nobody is saying that mindfulness is the complete answer, or a magic pill. Speakers widely acknowledged that it requires huge effort (and don’t I know it). All but 2 of us in the room had a daily mindfulness practice, which was hugely impressive, and by the end of the day, I too was entirely convinced that it was a necessary and fundamental tool to help us through this crazy passage of time we now find ourselves in. As one of the speakers said, and it was another standout point for me during the day, we go to the gym for our bodies, which I do, most days, so why don’t we go to a gym for the mind? A little like David Pearl, who confessed to dipping in and out of practice and not belonging to the hard-core unit of 2 x 20 (or even 40) minutes a day, I too have dipped in and out. Should I feel ashamed? After all, I do run a wellbeing platform and consultancy which talks about the significant benefits of mindfulness. Yes, I do a little, but it’s more an inner guilt than an outer one. I know, even more so after the conference, that using mindfulness as a foundation, would bring about profound changes in my life.
I really liked the simple idea of it being a foundation. Suggested by Debbie Jeremiah from GE, it was one of those moments where something clicked into place and just made perfect sense. If we all made 20 minutes each day to practice, what a difference it would in the world. I’m convinced of it. And whilst I hear this phrase time and time again and I appreciate it’s quite irritating to some (that’s only because it’s true) the quote ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ always strikes a cord. Gandhi was right.
Once you start getting serious about something, it begins to flood into all areas of your life. So yesterday, when I went paddle boarding (I’m on a short break in Majorca), instead of ticking it off my list of things to do that day, which is what I’d normally do, and instead of getting in the sea, ‘doing it’, getting out and moving on to the next thing, I began to slow right down. I’d gone way too far out to sea and when the wind takes you in one direction, anyone sensible would recognise that it meant it would hold you back in the other. I got carried away, wanting to see around the next headland, impatient for the view ahead. And as I turned to head back, paddling with the same energy became futile. I was almost going backwards. Yet the moment I brought more awareness to this and began to work with the board, with the wind, with the waves and focused on where I wanted to get to, something shifted. Mindfulness, my board and myself worked far more in harmony with the wind, than against it. It sounds trite, but often the smallest shifts in consciousness can be the most profound. We battle with life, with each other and with ourselves, yet if we just stopped (mindfulness), took stock (awareness) and used our intellect (dip this in awareness, rather than past experience, and it’s a lightening mix) then we create a far richer existence, far superior to chaos we often experience and create on a daily basis.
I’ve spoken about this many times on my blogs, the attachment I have to being a ‘doer’. So mindfulness has always been at odds with this, and boy do I know it. I’ve let it start to define me and once the intellect gets identified with something, we function from well within the limits of this identity.
But therein lies the issue. This desire to change, perhaps overcome, my ‘doing’ nature using something like mindfulness has become the problem itself. If I just embraced a deeper sense of involvement in everything, then I’d undoubtedly move far more effortlessly from this confused and frustrated state, to a more mindful one. Over time I’ve accumulated this idea that I’d be useless at it because I’m too much of a doer. What complete nonsense! And what this conference has done is opened a little door. I feel it. Soon, I feel I shall be liberated!
Mind & Matter Leaders had many standouts of the day and I found myself writing pages and pages of notes, both for myself and for further sharing in blogs over the coming weeks. What struck me was the quality of each speaker. The authenticity, the heartfelt desire to share what they’ve learned, not only personally, but also the clear evidence that now exists to prove how mindfulness produces positive results within organisations such as Accenture, GE, Jaguar Landrover and Royal Mail, for leaders and followers alike.
I told a friend about the day and much to my delight, she replied that her 8-year-old daughter was now learning mindfulness at school. And there you have it. Mindfulness is now happening at grass roots level where it is most needed and where it will become a foundation of young people’s lives. It’s not so easy to start as an adult, like most learning, but boy, after a day at the event, I certainly knew it was going to be worth all the effort required.
So is mindfulness dead in the water, a victim of all the hype and media criticism? Not at all. My feeling is that the potential it provides us, as a tool for navigating change and chaos, has only just begun.
If you’d like a good place to start, right here, right now, here are some of the excellent materials available that I’m now accessing from some of the speakers:
- I’m listening to the audio version of Michael Chakalson’s book, ‘Mindfulness in 8 weeks’
- I’d also recommend Michael Stepek’s site ‘A Mindful Life’ which is full of rich content as well as a sign up to a daily mindfulness practice for £9.95 a month. You can find it here: https://martinstepek.com/online-sessions/
- Also get hold of the report ‘Mindful Nation UK’ which you can download here:http://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org.uk/images/reports/Mindfulness-APPG-Report_Mindful-Nation-UK_Oct2015.pdf
A few other notes from the day:
- The world is getting better and better, worse and worser, faster and faster
- The next Buddha will not be an individual, but a group
- Followers are equally as important as leaders (Shaun Davis, Royal Mail)
- Those that give more, get more (Shaun Davis, Royal Mail)
- Check out the 2013 report The Athena Doctrine about the importance of feminine qualities in the workplace and how the world would be a better place if men could adopt some of these.
- Young women in their 20’s are most affected by the growing epidemic of mental health issues with the UK being of of the least mentally health nations in the world.
- Mindfulness should be integrated with other methods (Marcus Hunt, Wellbeing Manager at Unilever gave a great talk on this at the Employee Benefits Live show last week).
- Mindfulness is not a magic pill, it requires effort but the evidence is strong. It is character-building and grows resilience within the individual.
- Having ventured into mindfulness in 2007, Google now offers its staff over a dozen courses on mindfulness for its staff because it has seen such outstanding results.
- Introducing practices such as mindfulness in the workplace requires strong leadership, buy in and patience. But this alone will not produce results, it needs to be part of an overall wellbeing programme and this needs to part of the culture of the organisation. Look and understand the big picture and slot mindfulness into your solutions.
- In the same way that jogging was perceived in the 1970’s, as a rather unusual practice (yet now the norm of many people’s every day lives), mindfulness looks set to be on a similar trajectory.
- Depression will cost the UK £9.2 billion over the next 10 years.
- “Understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success” Accenture
- Presence and attentiveness are the top 3 leadership skills required for our age yet 47% say their leaders do not possess these qualities.
- “Mindfulnesss training becomes so fundamental and foundational that it disappears” – Accenture, who now give mindfulness training to all their graduates.
By Justine Clement