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 Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues   Fri May 30, 2014 11:47 am

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-28/to-make-killing-on-wall-street-start-meditating.html

To Make a Killing on Wall Street, Start Meditating
By Katherine Burton and Anthony Effinger May 28, 2014 12:00 AM ET

Forget peace, love and understanding. Like the samurai before them, today's top traders are meditating to make a killing. Photo Illustration: Jamie Chung; Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photos

When stock and bond markets took a dive in late January, hedge-fund manager David Ford kept his cool.

Ford watched emerging markets melt down and read warnings that the U.S. economy could crater too. As prices dropped, he overcame the impulse to flee with the rest of the herd and, instead, bought more corporate bonds, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Summer 2014 issue.

After two decades as a trader, Ford credits his serenity to experience -- and to the 20 minutes he spends in his pajamas each morning repeating a meaningless mantra bestowed on him by a teacher of Transcendental Meditation two years ago.

“I react to volatile markets much more calmly now,” Ford, 48, says. “I have more patience.”

He also has more money. Latigo Partners LP, his event-driven credit fund, climbed 24 percent last year. He almost beat the surging stock market with a bond fund. Ford is part of a growing number of Wall Street traders, including A-list hedge-fund managers Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones and Michael Novogratz, who are fine-tuning their brains -- and upping their games -- with meditation. Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb, who once likened a chief executive officer to a drug addict during one of his frequent public rants, in February praised meditation while sharing a stage with the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C.

The idea that Type-A traders are seeking profit with the same tool that Buddhist monks use to achieve enlightenment might seem like sacrilege. Yet most people misunderstand meditation, says Jay Michaelson, author of “Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.”

Samurai Practice
“Meditation used to have this reputation as a hippie thing for people who speak in a particularly soft tone of voice,” Michaelson says. Not so. “Samurai practiced meditation to become more effective killers,” he says. So too did kamikaze pilots. “It’s value neutral,” Michaelson says.

Workers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) are folding into the lotus position in droves, says Elizabeth Sudler, an instructor the firm retains. Classes where students breathe and monitor their wandering minds have waiting lists several hundred long, Goldman spokesman David Wells says. One trader there gets a twinge in his gut when he senses a move in the markets, Sudler says. Meditating gives him an edge, he told her, by tuning into that sensation more reliably. Others report downshifting more easily after work and sleeping better at night.

“Goldman employees are under a lot of pressure to produce,” Sudler says. “No one wants to be left behind.”

Anxiety, Psoriasis
Meditation is going mainstream in part because science is substantiating what heretofore had been taken on faith. Up until 1983, only three peer-reviewed studies on meditation had ever been published, Michaelson says. By last year, there were more than 1,300 studies showing an almost absurd number of benefits, from alleviating anxiety, depression and insomnia to reducing heart disease and speeding recovery from psoriasis.

A 2005 study published by Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Sara Lazar showed that meditating enhances the prefrontal cortex, likely creating more connections between neurons and enlarging blood vessels. Among other functions, the prefrontal cortex processes sensory information, handles rational decisions and regulates the amygdala, the structure that feeds our fight-or-flight instinct. A tame amygdala may be why David Ford bought bonds amid the panic -- a prescient move as markets rebounded.

‘Brain Hacking’
Michaelson calls meditation “brain hacking,” because it exploits the elastic nature of our gray matter, altering its makeup, as Lazar and other scientists have proved. As such, it may be the ultimate disruptive technology, he says. That kind of talk gets the attention of traders, says Jeff Walker, former head of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s private-equity unit and a longtime meditator.

“These guys are saying, ‘There’s an edge here that I need,’” Walker says.

Humans have been meditating in some form for millennia. Hindu texts from 1500 BC describe the practice, which hit the big time when a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama became disenchanted with the empty opulence of the day and took up residence beneath a fig tree to contemplate the causes of human suffering. (Hint: Desire is a key culprit.) Through the teachings of Siddhartha -- who sat down a prince and, after 49 days, arose the Buddha -- mindful meditation radiated out into the world.

Inhaling, Exhaling
There are many forms of meditation. Vipassana, for example, starts with concentrating on one thing, such as the breath. If a dog barks, you might register it before quickly refocusing on inhaling and exhaling. Mental intrusions are treated the same way: Thoughts such as “book NetJets” or “offload bitcoins” quickly pass like leaves floating on a stream.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” The aim is to become more aware of the present and avoid getting hijacked by the past or the future. Central to Buddhism are the unsettling notions that everything we know is impermanent and that all we have is the here and now.

Transcendental Meditation uses a mantra -- the repetition of a single sound -- to settle the mind into its least-excited state. The TM folks, through the years, have consistently asserted their superiority over other disciplines.

Wellness Benefits
The website of the nonprofit Maharishi Foundation USA, for example, has variously claimed that “only TM has been found in hundreds of studies to produce immediate and long-term wellness benefits of mind and body” and that “no other program for personal development has received this level of attention and respect from the scientific community.”

Transcendental Meditation was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (née Mahesh Prasad Varma). Born near Jabalpur, India, around 1918, the Maharishi, or Great Seer, started teaching his method in 1955 and became a guru to the Beatles, who famously traveled to Rishikesh, India, in 1968 to study with him.

Despite Transcendental Meditation’s claims of superiority, John Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, isn’t so sure.

“I’m not convinced that any difference in outcome is big enough to say you need to do one type of meditation over another,” Denninger says. “Getting people to do it in the first place is what matters.”

Perceptive Monks
Some of the most-striking research has come from the University of California at Davis. Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist there who speaks with the slow, gentle tone of a holy man, went to the foothills of the Himalayas in the 1990s to study Buddhist monks. Their serene focus inspired him to organize the Shamatha Project. With his friend and former monk B. Alan Wallace, Saron selected 60 people and tested their attention and cognition. Thirty of them then attended a meditation retreat in Colorado. (The other 30 went later.)

After three months, Saron re-examined the initial group and discovered any number of striking changes. For one, the meditators were literally more perceptive: They could discern smaller differences between long and short lines flashed on a screen.

“How much does an infant learn when it is alert and relaxed?” Saron asks rhetorically. “That works for us, as well.”

Lower Cortisol
Some of Saron’s subjects also exhibited lowered levels of cortisol, the hormone produced by the adrenal gland to help us deal with stressful situations, such as getting chased by a water buffalo -- or watching a stock holding get crushed after an unfavorable earnings report. (Cortisol is also associated with increased belly fat and diminished cognitive performance; in other words, it makes us fat and stupid.)

Perhaps most surprising: Levels of telomerase, an enzyme that protects genetic material during cell division and delays cell death, were higher in the retreat group. By boosting telomerase, meditation could possibly extend life.

Skeptics, including some who’ve logged countless hours of silent sitting, say that the promise of meditation sometimes exceeds what’s practical. Tony Schwartz, author of “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live,” says he’s meditated for hundreds of hours, starting 25 years ago.

Lotus Position
“But the more time I spent meditating, the less value I derived from it,” he wrote in a January column in the New York Times. Nor has he seen evidence that the practice makes people happier or leads to better behavior. “Don’t expect more than it can deliver,” he wrote.

Meditation’s arrival on Wall Street closes a circle of sorts. Whereas Siddhartha Gautama took to the lotus position out of frustration with his riches, traders are hitting the mat to obtain them. Dalio, for example, runs the largest hedge-fund firm in the world and is worth $14 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s also the most vocal proponent of meditation in finance and claims the practice has been the single biggest factor in his success.

Dalio, 64, discovered Transcendental Meditation through the Beatles. He’s been at it for 42 years, sitting for 20 minutes, twice on most days, he says. He’s so convinced of its benefits that he pays half the cost of Transcendental Meditation instruction for the employees at his Westport, Connecticut–based Bridgewater Associates LP.

‘Like a Ninja’
A competitive edge, not enlightenment, seems to be driving Dalio. “I feel like a ninja in a fight,” Dalio said of his professional equanimity, during a February panel discussion in New York on the benefits of meditation. “When it comes at you, it seems like slow motion.”

Tudor Jones is another hedge-fund billionaire on a quest for inner peace and profit. A PBS documentary from 1987 shows him trading in the most agitated, un-Buddhalike manner imaginable. Twenty-five years later, he and his wife, Sonia, an Ashtanga yoga enthusiast, gave $12 million to create the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Jones’s alma mater.

David Mick teaches an undergraduate business school course there called “Cultivating Wisdom and Well-Being for Personal and Professional Growth.” He recommends meditation and takes each semester’s students on a field trip to Yogaville, a nearby ashram. “You can’t be a wiser person if you can’t discipline your mind,” says Mick, who meditates every morning.


‘Powerful Drug’
Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist at Brown University, warns that neophytes should proceed with caution. Spending hours contemplating impermanence can foster anxiety and sadness. She has seen people experience psychotic episodes on meditation retreats, convincing themselves, for example, that the teacher is evil and must be killed. “This is a powerful drug; it’s not a hot bath,” Britton says, adding that the risks are worth the rewards.

Unlike some other Western practitioners, Joan Halifax, a roshi, or revered teacher, at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says she’s concerned the lords of finance are using meditation for unjust ends, ignoring the moral principles embodied in Buddhism.
“You can train people with meditation to be sharpshooters,” she says. “Are they trying to get smarter so they can exploit more people? Or are they interested in creating a more just financial system?”

Dalio, for one, has agreed to give most of his fortune to charity under the Giving Pledge program started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, a move that would probably have impressed the Buddha himself, who lived by daana, or a spirit of generosity.

Before you give that fortune away, though, you have to earn it. Some of the brightest minds in finance are betting that meditation will help them do just that.
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PostSubject: Re: Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues   Mon Jun 09, 2014 8:22 pm

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Pioneer Valley, Social Issues

Buddha, Commodified: A Critique of Modern Day Mindfulness

April 27, 2014
AKA Why Mindfulness Sucks by Derek Pyle
Those who promote mindfulness meditation as a mainstream cure all of life’s problems are doing us a disservice. The commodification of mindfulness, and the secularization of Buddhism, is actually just another form of socially colonizing and capitalizing on the exotic “East.” Contained within this trend appears a new age of spiritual charlatanism, perhaps akin to the Middle Ages corruption of the Church, when salvation was something you could buy, an accessory sold alongside yoga mats and tofu. But faced with critiquing an entire cultural movement in one short article, for now I focus my discussion on a recent talk that exemplifies some of the social issues inherent in the current obsession with mindfulness and meditation. I ask forgiveness for relying too heavily on generalities, because homogenized thinking is part of the problem, and yet an unavoidable fact of communication.

Let’s talk first about science. There is good science, and there is bad science. The latter is sloppy, misleading, and sometimes downright dumb. In 1987 Heidi Aspaturian interviewed Norman Davidson about his life in chemical biology, and at one point in the talk Davidson recalled a 1958 physics conference in Boulder, Colorado. During this conference, Davidson got to meet the brilliant physicist Leo Szilard, who was “kind of a senior statesman…I think Szilard knew that he had cancer, and he had no more than a few years to live. He was a person with a lot of intellectual courage who didn’t worry about conventions, and he knew he didn’t have time to waste.” During conference presentations, Davidson recalls, Szilard would find a seat in the front row:

But after three or four minutes, if it wasn’t exciting, Szilard would get up and walk out. He didn’t leave like some people do—wait till the room is dark, then hunker down and sort of sneak out. He just stood up and slowly walked out. And by god, he was never wrong. Every time he stayed, the lecture was good; every time he left, the next fifty-seven minutes were as bad as the first three. And I never had the guts to walk out when he did.

I have thought about this anecdote throughout the month, ever since I attended Barry Kerzin’s March 27th talk in the Nielson Browsing Room of Smith College, entitled “Meditation and Its Effect on the Brain.” I sat in the front row because I was excited for the talk, but I simply could not bear to stay for longer than ten minutes. Leaving was not a matter of guts, but one of survival. The talk was just awful. Even stranger was that the room was packed beyond capacity; as one friend put it, “Dude, there were old people sitting on the floor!” What kind of cultural transference is going on here, that people would sit and listen to such gibberish?

Living in Dharamshala, where the Tibetan government in exile resides, Dr. Kerzin was billed as “physician to high lamas, including the Dalai Lama.” With such credentials across spiritual and medical traditions, you would think he knows something important about brains and meditation. He has even been a subject of research—in recent years Dr. Kerzin participated in a study by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which measured brain activity before, during, and after meditation. The study sample looked at monks who had a minimum of 10,000 hours of meditation practice; the upper end of the sample had 60,000 hours clocked. That’s a lot of freaking hours.

What Dr. Kerzin presented at Smith, however, was less than impressive. He began talking about the increasing popular interest in the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. He seemed to celebrate The Mindful Revolution proclaimed by Time magazine this February. Then he showed a slide of his own brain activity, reflecting the research of Dr. Davidson, correlating deep meditation with an impressive increase in gamma wave brain activity. Dr. Kerzin expressed how impressive this correlation is, but neglected to mention that no one actually knows what gamma waves do in the brain (as Dr. Davidson was quick to say when I saw him present on these studies last fall). Then Dr. Kerzin said that the chart he showed on the screen was not actually the real data, but rather his own hand-drawn picture. He also said that the actual graphs do not show such a drastic change in brain activity but… Why on earth would a doctor show a scribbled picture that is not actually representative of real data? It was as if Dr. Kerzin simply expected the audience to be wowed by some slight of hand. If he says this is fantastic, people should just believe it, like the time A. A. Allen helped a man re-grow his missing ribs in a grace-given revival tent moment.


“This isn’t actually a photograph, but rather my drawing of one.”

The next slide was a graph depicting a study about the effects of meditation for treating depression. Or at least, that is what Dr. Kerzin said the graph was about. With the gift of seeing, however, it was clear that the graph referenced the difference between anti-depressants, untreated depression, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. That is not the same as meditation, and is definitely not what Tibetan monks do during their 10,000 hours. Citing the graph, Dr. Kerzin said “meditation is pretty good, anti-depressants are not so good” because while both have an 80% effectiveness according to this graph, anti-depressants have nasty side effects whereas meditation has none (according to Dr. Kerzin). Dr. Kerzin failed to explain, however, the puzzling meaning of the x- and y-axes. While the x-axis had an unknown kind of units in increments of 100 (likely referring to some timeframe), the y-axis was labeled the “Projected Survival Rate.” If this means what it sounds like, the graph suggested that only 20% of people who have depression but receive either anti-depressants or mindfulness-based therapy are going to kill themselves, whereas 80% of untreated depressive will not “survive.” This seems like a weird idea. Since Dr. Kerzin made no reference to the implications of this label on the y-axis, however, it was up to the audience to project the meaning. With his next slide, Dr. Kerzin told us that meditation helps to reduce the suffering related to everything that ails you, from headaches to child abuse. It was as if the guy from Shamwow had shaved his head, donned robes, and taken Quaaludes—this mellow monk was definitely selling a bill of goods. I decided to leave.

Epistemologically, I am opposed to this kind of bad science, but I also took issue with the talk on religious grounds. As a longtime practitioner within what could now be called the Western Thervadin Buddhist tradition, I am opposed to the mainstream exploitation of mindfulness and meditation (the so-called Revolution proclaimed by Time), primarily because I feel it to be deceptive. It is misleading to discuss brain activity of monastics who have meditated for upwards of 10,000 hours and use that as proof of why it makes a difference whether Jane the soccer mom follows her breath for 30 minutes every week. Even more deceptive is the push to present mindfulness as a simple, secular practice, one that will cure everything ailing you. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote in the foreword to Jack Kornfield’s Living Dharma:

The age of technology would like also to produce a spiritual gadgetry—a new, improved spirituality guaranteed to bring quick results. Charlatans manufacture their versions of the Dharma, advertising miraculous, easy ways, rather than the steady and demanding personal journey which has always been essential to genuine spiritual practice.

Trungpa’s sentiment may strike some as elitist, but the path of spiritual practice is hard work, and no path will work for everyone. There are no magic bullets, only products that get sold as such. The other aspect of this deceptiveness—and I speak not so much about Dr. Kerzin’s talk now, but to the notion of a Mindful Revolution—is the purposeful secularization of mindfulness. Likely teachers such as Jack Kornfield in the 1970s, and now Jon Kabat-Zinn (of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction superstardom), had noble intentions in the push to remove mindfulness meditation practices from their Buddhist contexts, so as to make the teachings more “accessible” to a progressive culture wary of religion and tradition. Included in this distillation process is the boldfaced lie that Buddhism is not a religion, despite the fact that it has all the same socio-political-cultural elements of all other world religions (the traditional Buddhist monastery, for example, serves as a place for community gatherings, weddings, holiday celebrations, caretaking for the sick, sermons, and on occasion, meditation). Proponents of the secularization of Buddhist practice claim that their way is not religious, because their teachings simply reflect the truth about human nature (the Sanskrit word “Dharma” refers to the Buddha’s teachings but also more broadly means “Truth”). Therefore it is fine to just take the “essence” of meditation, so the reasoning goes, and throw away all the other cultural trappings—but anyone familiar with the problems of cultural appropriation can tell that Western meditation and mindfulness reeks. Seen from a different angle, however, this claim about truth may actually be an even stronger form of evangelicalism: if the Buddha did not teach religion because he merely represented pure Truth, to deviate from Buddha’s teachings is to deviate from the Truth. This is like saying, “Believe whatever you want about Christ, it doesn’t change the fact that He is the Son of God.” For meditation teachers to pretend like mindfulness is not religious is a covert way of pushing a religious agenda.

Related to this deception is the implication that mindfulness meditation should and will work for everyone. If the Buddha’s way is representative of some objective “Truth” then his teachings are universal. In this line of thinking, it does not matter who you learn mindfulness practice from, because mindfulness itself exists as some sort of Platonic form. Learn mindfulness from a Wal-Mart magazine, from a burned out hippie, from a dude who took a 10-week facilitators course, it works if you work it. Kind of like accepting Jesus into your heart; it’s that easy.

We arrive now at the part of the essay where I claim that my path is the one honest path, and then either (a) sell it to you, or (b) sell it to myself, by explaining that my path is so special, you can’t have it. But alas, I am not here to sell anything. I don’t think that meditation is the answer. Life is difficult, and there are a lot of ways people find to navigate it; individual ways work well or not depending on the individual (and some ways, like snorting copious amounts of coke, work poorly for just about everyone). Whether meditation will work “well” for you I just wish that its mainstream representatives were more honest in their presentation. Because like Leo Szilard, I feel that life is short (as Tibetan Buddhists might say, precious and impermanent), and those who would waste our time—or worse, lead us astray—are doing a disservice.
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PostSubject: Re: Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues   Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:03 pm

Bianca Rothschild
Tech Entrepreneur turned Meditation Hustler.

Google Takes the Mindfulness Revolution Downunder
Posted:  06/17/2014 12:14 pm EDT  



A rainy day in Sydney always heralds bad traffic; coupled with a breakdown in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel during peak hour it became sheer gridlock. Perfect conditions however, to practise mindfulness for anyone heading into the city to attend Google's mindful leadership conference, Search Inside Yourself.

Sponsored by the Wakeup Project, 350 Sydney-siders filled the ballroom at the Sheraton on the Park to hear what the latest buzz coming out of California was all about. Tech giants like Google, Twitter, Intel and Facebook have embraced mindful meditation and are setting a standard for corporations around the world, building better support frameworks for the health and wellbeing of their staff.

Jono Fisher, founder of The Wake Up Project and curator of the Mindful Leadership Global Forum shares his view on this trend, "The truly innovative companies believe one thing - focusing on people drives performance and the bottom line. When employees feel cared for, when their inner lives are respected, they naturally become more innovative and productive. I have a vision and passion to celebrate Mindful Leadership and Living, and for Australian leaders to not only get involved in the mindful revolution, but to lead it!"

Only recently made available to the public outside of Google's campuses, Search Inside Yourself was developed within Google by an engineer, Chade-Meng Tan who started work on 'creating the conditions for world peace' as his 20 percent personal project.

John Kabat-Zinn, creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and one of the original consultants to Meng on the project defines mindfulness as "Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally."

Mindfulness meditation has been shown in studies to have significant effects on reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Simply sitting quietly for 5 minutes a day is bringing stressed out tech entrepreneurs and Wall Street investors much needed respite from information overload, career pressure and environmental distress.

So what did Google have to say to the Aussies? 

During the two day intensive, Search Inside Yourself teachers, Mark Coleman and the gracious and lively Linda Curtis, unpacked these cornerstones of developing an effective mindful practice:

1. Self Awareness
How to increase awareness through practicing regular mindfulness techniques.

2. Self Regulation
A key outcome of the self awareness practices is the ability to effectively manage emotions and reactions when facing an emotional trigger.

3. Motivation
Uncovering personal values and ensuring we live in alignment with those to help cultivate a harmonious life.

4. Empathy
Learning to transform thinking from beyond concerns of self-oriented satisfaction into kindness and understanding of others and their experiences.

5. Social Skills
Communication methods to bring mindfulness into a supportive and effective context, rather than being reactive and fear based.

We practiced a range of mindfulness techniques from breathing meditation, journaling, mindful walking, cultivating empathy and mindful listening.

The highlight for me was the session on Mindful Leadership, as a seasoned meditator many of the insights were not new to me, but I was inspired by the positive applications of using mindfulness effectively in leadership, through self-assessment, finding purpose, developing others, having difficult conversations mindfully, as well as giving feedback.

Linda Curtis shares her attraction to this program, "What appeals to me about this work is that it is not work. It's inspiring, pragmatic, simple without being simplistic. Search Inside Yourself combines the wisdom of the ancient sages with proven science and provides an accessible program that explores profound truths without diminishing them. I've watched the integration of these tools become a powerful game-changer for the individual and their communities inside and outside the office. Well-being and happiness increases, relationships improve, better decisions are made, leader's discover sustainable ways of being out in front. The implications for peace are exciting to ponder."

The takeaway for me was, 'mindfulness is an idea whose time has come.' As humans we are peaceful and happy by nature, and mindfulness tools are proven techniques for us to learn to manage stress and bring more kindness and purpose into our lives, workplaces and the world around us.

On a related topic check out my recent article on aligning your life's purpose with your work.
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PostSubject: Re: Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues   Mon Jul 28, 2014 12:00 pm

Mindfulness: has it been hijacked by business or can it change lives?

As a parliamentary inquiry explores the use of mindfulness in business, Ed Halliwell takes a critical look at using the practice within corporate culture

  • Ed Halliwell - theguardian.com, Friday 25 July 2014


The ancient Buddhist contention that mindfulness is good for the mind, now backed with science, is permeating the mainstream.

Just a few years ago, being invited to a company-sponsored meditation session would have raised eyebrows in most workplaces. Now, with the growth in evidence for mindfulness as a way to cultivate well-being, organisations ranging from City banks and advertising agencies, to schools, government departments and third sector agencies are offering courses for their staff.

It's long been accepted that physical exercise is good for the body; the ancient Buddhist contention that mindfulness is good for the mind, now backed with science, is also permeating the mainstream.

Criticism these days is coming from Buddhist perspectives. It's suggested that teaching mindfulness as a way of "paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally" can lead to an unfortunate uncoupling of the approach from its ethical ground, especially in workplace settings where the prevailing culture may look a lot different from the 'right livelihood' of Buddhism.
There is unease that mindfulness is being taught to US Marines pre-deployment (won't more attentive soldiers make better killers?), at big financial institutions (don't we need judgement of the greed that fuels boom and bust?) and to frazzled teachers, nurses, and other strained employees (won't mindfulness be a palliative that allows them to - just about - survive in dysfunctional systems that should really be the focus of reform?).

There's also concern about who's doing the teaching. Becoming a Buddhist meditation teacher usually takes many years of practice and study. Anyone can set themselves up as a mindfulness trainer, at liberty to work with whomever is prepared to take direction. The risks are obvious – would you trust your flesh to anyone with a knife, just because they say they're a surgeon?

These complex issues are among those being considered by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness, which is holding an inquiry into possible roles for the practice in public policy, including at work. A round table on the topic was held at the House of Commons in May, and current discussions among contributors to the field will culminate in a second Parliamentary event in the autumn, leading to recommendations for the field.

Where does the debate stand so far? It seems clear, from studies, and lots of personal testimony, that well-structured mindfulness training elicits benefits for many - cultivating attention and curiosity, enabling greater regulation of thought and emotion, and nurturing action more in tune with values and intention, rather than unconscious automatic habits.

Importantly, mindfulness trains compassion – bringing kindness to experience is what distinguishes this from the concentration and balance of the unfeeling sniper.

When we're more able to deal with stress, there's space to be creative, connect with others, make good decisions, and offer an openness of spirit to the world. In the workplace, a realm plagued by pressure, it isn't hard to see the value of practices that cultivate not just individual well-being, but an expanded awareness, relationality, and freedom and discernment of choice.

But faced with the speed of much working life, there can be a strong pull (on course commissioners, teachers and participants) to compromise corporate mindfulness training to meet the 'needs' of an organisation. Training sessions become shorter, space for stillness is lost, and the emphasis may shift (perhaps unconsciously) from mindfulness as embodied expression of awareness, presence and compassion, and towards striving for some of its possible by-products, such as tolerating heavy demands, or meeting increased productivity goals. It may be these very demands and goals, and the onus on meeting them, which fuels the stress that originally led to the call for mindfulness. The results of a course that bows to these cultural pressures are likely to be limited.

Nevertheless, even in some apparently unfavourable circumstances, mindfulness training can offer contact with life-changing approaches and attitudes. It seems strange to withhold a much-needed technology because the people it could help aren't already using it.

A key concept in Buddhism is 'upaya' – skilful means. Part of the challenge for the field, and for the Parliamentary Inquiry, is to meet the openness to workplace mindfulness in artful ways that neither collude with mindlessness in corporate cultures nor alienate those operating within them.

Ed Halliwell is co-director of The Mindfulness Initiative, which is supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness. Its report on mindfulness and public policy in healthcare, criminal justice, education and the workplace, will be published next Spring.


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PostSubject: Re: Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues   Sun Aug 10, 2014 3:24 pm

Mindfulness is all about self-help. It does nothing to change an unjust world

Why are we trying to think less when we need to think more? The neutered, apolitical approach of mindfulness ignores the structural difficulties we live with - Suzanne Moore - The Guardian, Wednesday 6 August 2014

Marina Abramović uses many techniques of mindfulness – but it’s an exercise guided by ego. Photograph: Mike McGregor for the Guardian

Most of what is wrong in the modern world can be cured by not thinking too much. From psoriasis to depression to giving yourself a "competitive advantage" in the workplace, the answer touted everywhere right now is mindfulness. Just let go for few minutes a day, breathe, observe your thoughts as ripples across a pond, feel every sensation around you. Stop your mind whirring and, lo, miraculously, everything will improve "at a cellular level".

Sorry, it's not working for me because I cannot rid myself of the thought: "Why this, why now?" There is nothing wrong with trying to relax: the problem lies in the "trying". And there is nothing new about meditation, so why has it suddenly gone mainstream?

What was once the province of people who had backpacked across India has been gentrified and repackaged as a great cure-all, legitimated by doctors and scientists. Now everyone from Rupert Murdoch to Lena Dunham and William Hague is giving it a go.

The City is awash with bankers trying to quiet their minds. Schoolchildren are given mindfulness training to help them with their anxieties. Yoga was once a bit countercultural, too, and now it vies with Zumba, rumba and Pilates classes.

We know the west takes hold of eastern mysticism, ignores its history and faith and turns it into a secular and accessible pastime. For mindfulness is Buddhism without the awkward Buddhist bits. A complex philosophy is rendered as self-help. What does freedom from attachment and desire mean in this self-centred world? What is radical acceptance? Why practise non-judgment? Those who have practised meditation all their lives may not say it's to get a promotion or be less stressed. There is a whole history of thought here.

But no, once Arianna Huffington is on the case, you know there is money to be made in commodifying blankness. Indeed, the whole of Silicon Valley has hugged mindfulness close, as have the US marines, who use it as part of "mind fitness" to help soldiers relax and learn "emotional intelligence".

These are basic meditation techniques being sold as a way to function better in an over-connected world. Thus, in the finance sector, companies where bankers are super-stressed – unlike poor people – arrange for their staff to have 10-minute daily meditations. It's all scienced-up with names such as Mind Lab to shake off the hippyish/religious/psychic-adventurer connotations. Keep fit for the brain.

It's even in art galleries. I wandered around Marina Abramović's 512 hours waiting for enlightenment. Or something. She is using many of the techniques of mindfulness, from counting grains of rice to staring at walls to get us to slow down. I like her work because she is a powerful presence, but when she took my hand and guided me to sit down, as ever, I wondered why I must do as I was told and why everyone else was so passive. But they were clearly having spiritual experiences. Or were asleep. This exercise in mindfulness then, was guided by ego – which is fitting, as the art world is the most ego-ridden, sensationalist and utterly mindless spectacle of all.

Much of the cult of mindfulness is a reaction to technology. It speaks the language of detox, of decluttering. There is too much information. We need to clear our minds. Be and not do. The new ascetic is someone who goes for a walk without their phone or takes a week off Twitter to cleanse themselves. This version of meditation requires no more than the faith that we can all be self-improving part-time gurus. It requires no commitment to a community, and it's cheap.

The corporate world sees that it can make its workers more self-reliant, balanced and focused. What could be better? Take your medicine, because the mindfulness movement is symptomatic of what late capitalism requires of us. A contemplative space opens up where religion used to be. We learn techniques to make us more efficient. This neutered, apolitical approach is to help us personally – it has nothing to say on the structural difficulties that we live with. It lets go of the idea that we can change the world; it merely helps us function better in it.

Living in the moment, non-judgmentally, being more self-aware, it's all good. But, actually, more and more people are switching themselves off. They cannot even watch the news because they feel so powerless to do anything about it.

The mindfulness coalition of life coaches, business people and healers cannot – and does not –promise peace, but why are we to think less when we need to think more?

Something here is, well, mindless. Maybe a mantra is all you need and maybe we should all devote more time to changing our minds. But for the time being I am just letting that thought drift right through me.
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PostSubject: Re: Corporate Mindfulness - another article - and the conversation continues   Wed Oct 15, 2014 5:06 pm

There's no price tag on a clear mind: Intel to launch mindfulness program

The tech giant has developed a mindfulness program for its global workforce, but with no numerical return on investment, what's the business case?

Kristine A Wong - theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 April 2014


Intel is planning to make a nine-week mindfulness program available to its workforce of over 100,000 employees.

At any given moment during the workweek, there's a high possibility that employees at Silicon Valley tech companies are trying to disconnect from the very same products they have developed. Whether it's via deep breathing, meditation or a quiet moment to reflect, companies like Google, Twitter and Medium encourage the use of mindfulness techniques as a way to trade digital clutter and stress for greater clarity and purpose.

But away from the spotlight, one of the sector's oldest companies is quietly making plans to expand its program to a greater level than ever before. After two years of running an under-the-radar program at two locations in California and Oregon – initiated by a manager in its engineering department, no less – Intel is moving to make a nine-week mindfulness program available to its workforce of over 100,000 employees in 63 countries across the globe.

"There's going to be a quantum leap," said Lindsay Van Driel, the Hillsboro, Oregon-based manager who co-founded Awake@Intel with Portland leadership consultant Anakha Coman.

Using a train-the-trainer model, the program will be rolled out over the next six months to its first office locations. An employee is currently being trained in India, and others in China, Chile, Costa Rica and Ireland have expressed interest. Van Driel is adamant about making sure that Awake@Intel grows slowly so that the course is implemented in a way that stays true to its original intention.

"The right teachers [who will all be employees] will have to emerge as leaders before we can offer it there," said Van Driel, who is also a certified meditation and yoga instructor. "It's not something that anyone can teach. It has to be lived and embodied." All sessions will be held with teachers and students in the same room.

Though Van Driel did consult with Chade-Meng Tan, the Google engineer who co-wrote the company's Search Inside Yourself course on mindfulness and emotional intelligence with meditation teacher Mirabai Bush and San Francisco Zen Center priest Norman Fischer, she and Coman created a program that met the needs of a company mainly comprised of scientists and engineers, and one that cultivated the Intel values of innovation, candor, possibility thinking, risk taking and moving quickly and decisively. The curriculum was developed in three months.

Before the first weekly session, each participant identifies what he or she is most interested in improving. During the first month, the class learns to quiet their minds. They set intentions and explore the components of emotional intelligence. For the last part of the course, participants are exposed to mindful listening, delve into Brené Brown's ideas on the influence that vulnerability has on innovation, then discuss Otto Scharmer's concept of collective mindfulness. Each week, participants share their experiences and insight utilizing what they've learned over the course of the past week – for example, talking about how they moved from compulsion to choice.

"People get more authentically related to each other – beyond competency levels and their roles. So real ideas are heard and received, and people are much more generative together. The corporate mask that people put on when they walk through the door comes down," Coman said.

Evaluation results have been notable among the 1,500 employees who have participated in 19 sessions to date. On average, participants responding to pre- and post- self-evaluation questionnaires report a two-point decrease (on a 10-point scale) in experiencing stress and feeling overwhelmed, a three-point increase in overall happiness and wellbeing, and a two-point increase in having new ideas and insights, mental clarity, creativity, the ability to focus, the quality of relationships at work and the level of engagement in meetings, projects and collaboration efforts.

Since the program is voluntary, it seems that employees aspiring to be mindful would surely be derailed by colleagues. But there's still value, according to Coman. If one person can maintain presence in a conflict it won't escalate, and it can help others to stay calm, she said.

How did a top tech company make the decision to invest in such a large program without a clear numerical return on investment?

Van Driel said that she focused on presenting scientific studies showing the health benefits of meditation, as well as the effect of the program on workers' ability to relate better to each other and improve team performance. The company has not determined the amount of money it will put into the program at this time.

"If we show people pages and pages of our feedback, there's nothing that anyone can say that takes away the validity of that experience," she said. "If I have an engineer that says 'I can solve a technical problem in two less weeks [after applying what was learned during the class]', you can monetize it anywhere."

Kristine A Wong is a multimedia journalist, producer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area
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