When we first discussed the subject of Mindfulness and whether to create a series on The Life Adventure, it became clear that many people had an opinion on the matter. After all, this method of ‘being’ has attracted a huge amount of press attention over the past few years.
Of course the practice of Mindfulness isn’t new, but you probably knew that anyway. It’s been around for thousands of years – you can read a brief history of it here. But because it’s been, in effect, ‘mainstreamed’, then there is an inevitability it’s going to receive some kind of backlash and court strong, often negative, opinions.
Yet surely there must be a reason it’s been used for around 2500 years? It’s because it works. And what particularly attracts us to hosting a series of workshops, aimed at those working within organisations, is because it’s achieved what yoga has before it – it’s become acceptable – even in the confines of the workplace. People no longer see the words Mindfulness and Meditation and freak out that it’s too ‘out there’ for them. And that actually takes some doing. Yet Mindfulness, like many topics before it, has taken years to achieve its new mainstream status. And in the world of self-help and corporate leadership it’s a status that most other alternative practices can only dream of.
As a stress-relieving tool in the workplace, it allows both on and offline health and wellbeing providers a portal into soothing the fractious minds and emotions of otherwise unavailable and emotionally switched off corporate souls. As the Sunday Times recently suggested “Mindfulness has become the new happy hour in the workplace”.
For HR professionals now very willing to take the leap and suggest Mindfulness as part of a leadership or other training programme, there are huge benefits too. When the fashion retailer Lyst launched a weekly mindfulness programme for its 75 techie employees in Hoxton Square, the aim was to reduce stress and boost productivity — ultimately, to gain a competitive edge. The surprise result, however, was the team bonding: “I learnt much more about people I thought I knew quite well,” said one of the senior executives. “Mindfulness provided a doorway to be more emotionally aware of each other, to engage on a more personal level. There’s a high comfort level you wouldn’t get at the pub — sitting in a circle is a psychological way of feeling safe and included.”
The Huffington Post has been in on the discussions too and recently reported that one of the most common arguments is that mindfulness leads us to focus too much on the self. When I read this I wondered what the problem was. As Nat King Cole once sang, one of the greatest things you’ll ever learn in life is to love and be loved. And the person you really must learn to love above all others, is yourself. To love yourself is to know yourself and to do that you need to spend some mindful time being present in your own company. Something very few of us do in the hyper-connected 24/7 world we live in. And if you’re lucky enough to truly love and be at peace with yourself, then love and compassion for others is unavoidable. Mindfulness can absolutely help to free yourself from the destructive thoughts we often have. As the Huffington Post goes on to say, Google’s mindfulness guru Chade-Meng Tan insists, a mindfulness practice naturally cultivates emotional intelligence, and when we become more emotionally intelligent, “goodness and world peace [are] the unavoidable side-effects.” And let’s face it, the world could do with more people feeling this way right now.
At its core, Mindfulness is about compassion and connection with both yourself and others. Offering it as an online practice however is a fairly new idea. And in a similar way that Headspace has made meditation both accessible and commonly acceptable, it will give more people the opportunity to experience the benefits of slowing down and being more present; whether it’s at their desks, on the commute home, or at weekends.
There is no doubt it works. I know this because I’ve tried it myself.
I’m a natural doer. If you look at my Twitter feed it says ‘don’t put off tomorrow, what you can do today’. That’s been my motto for as long as I can remember. Sometimes this has a positive impact (I get lots done, which gives me a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement), however, during the course of my own journey over the last two years, the teachers and the lessons they have passed on to me, has led me to realize that being a ‘doer’ is not all it’s cracked up to be. I understand now that it is in the space of ‘not doing’ or in the ‘no thing’ that the magic happens. Which is exactly the space where Mindfulness guides you to operate from. I’m not saying it’s easy for someone like me who’s constantly drawn to be busy. It isn’t, but it’s been a hugely powerful and positive influence on my life and now I don’t know how I would survive without the space and connection it provides.
And as the Huffington Post goes on to suggest, a backlash is just a natural phase of growth for any major movement -– in a way, the fact that there’s a backlash just shows just how much mindfulness is catching on. Giving as many people as possible the opportunity to experience the benefits of meditation means that more will open themselves up to learning about the practice in an authentic way — even if, as the Buddhists say, they didn’t go into it initially with “right intention” (particularly the case in the workplace, for obvious reasons). Those who begin a mindfulness practice as a way to become more effective at work may end up starting a spiritual practice, or exercising greater compassion in their daily lives, because of it. As the Buddhist proverb goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher arrives.”
Click here to watch the first in our Mindfulness series.