Mindfulness: More than a Buzzword
The word “mindfulness” has received a lot of attention in recent years.
Mindfulness Meditation provides a vehicle to:
1. Observe the many thoughts, sensations and emotions we experience moment to moment.
2. Train ourselves to stop reacting to the various mental states we’re experiencing.
3. Free us from these states entirely.
Unlike other wellness programs we utilize to reduce stress, mindfulness meditation requires no equipment. The results of practice can totally change one’s inner environment as well as how one perceives and reacts to one’s outer environment.
The benefits of practice are well known including a reduction in mental stress, a lowering of blood pressure, a more relaxed parasympathetic nervous system, more openness to innovation and diverse opinions, a healthier person, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
A mindfulness practitioner in the workplace becomes a window of opportunity for others because calmness is attractive. We are drawn to people who do not flail in the winds of change. Mindfulness meditators begin to see a reduction in the intensity, frequency and duration of negative mental states including anger, anxiety, shame/guilt, depression and pride.
As a ‘resident coach” for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, I observed first-had the ill effects that anger and other negative mental states have on individuals, teams, or departments. If left unchecked, eventually the entire organizational morale/culture is adversely affected. This has an obvious impact on the productivity and the company’s bottom line.
Money, Money, Money
Computing the monetary benefits to an organization from integrating contemplative practices like mindfulness meditation is easy. Simply look at the average salary of any manager or supervisor. Then begin to deduct the amount of time the manager or supervisor spends trying to get people to do their jobs, resolve conflicts between individuals or teams, and repair relationships across divisions. A warring mentality is built into the infrastructure of our organizations. Mindfulness practitioners are better skilled to find peaceful avenues resulting in collaborative work environments open to innovation and change.
Are we willing to look at how we react to changes or will we keep finding temporary solutions to ride out the storms? Unfortunately as creatures of habit our good intentions are easily thwarted when we get triggered.
What leads us to explore and fully commit to a mindfulness practice differs from one person to the next. Twenty years ago I realized we don’t stop engaging in negative habits until we’re ready to stop. It doesn’t matter how bad the situation is or how much pain we’re experiencing; we keep repeating the behaviors until something clicks. Nor do we skillfully hold ourselves tenderly or kindly as we judge and punish others and ourselves for these behaviors.
It is as though we are at the mercy of our thoughts.
Even when we wish to stop we have few mechanisms in place to reduce the intensity, frequency and duration of these negative mental states. We try yoga, Pilates, therapy, drinking, shopping, etc., but any experience of relief is temporary. We do not have a system in place that allows us to observe, and ultimately reframe these strong emotions.
We are so skillful at managing or compartmentalizing the effects of emotions we have lost the deeper connection to our heart. The deadening of the experience of living happens over time. We learn to simply replace one reactive habit with another.
The ability to observe a mental/emotional state arising and taking over our conduct is at the heart of a mindfulness meditation practice. To slow down the reactive nature and observe the rising of a negative thought, speech or action requires a practice. Study and contemplation are not enough.
As Simple As Breathing
As someone prone to anger, my practice is to replace the fight mechanism with a focused attention to breathing in and out. It’s as if the story line moves to the back of the room while the focus on breathing in and out moves to the center of the stage.
For several years I’ve been skeptical of this simple breathing strategy because I’m used to delving beneath the surface of a story to plumb its historical or biological depths. Using breath to resolve the negative mental states seems too easy.
And there is more; we can develop a tool kit to which we turn depending on the mental state we wish to address. Along with a mindfulness meditation practice we add practices to reframe repetitive mental states into gratitude, forgiveness and compassion for others and ourselves.
What supports us to keep practicing is the realization that we have indeed seen a reduction in the frequency, intensity and duration of negative mental states. Since we already known the ramifications of our habitual tendencies, the harm we do to others and ourselves is a reminder to not give up the practice.
So the next time we feel tensions rise, rather than being at the mercy of an amygdala hijack, we are better skilled to take a few moments to breathe, letting the ferocity of a story line fade away. This internal calm supports individuals and teams to continually reframe potentially toxic, inflammatory situations with greater ease.
Healing the individual is the first necessary step to healing the organization.