I’m currently reading one of the best books I’ve ever read on mindfulness, Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, by David Gelles. Gelles is a journalist, so he writes well and can tell a good story, but he’s also a long-time practitioner of mindfulness mediation, so he truly understands his subject. I love his definition of mindfulness:
“So what is mindfulness? Ask a neuroscientist and you’ll get one answer. Ask a psychologist and you’ll get another. Ask a Buddhist scholar and you’ll get a third. The truth is that there is no one universally accepted definition. Yet if you listen closely, you find that each response holds the same essential truth. Mindfulness is about being fully present. It is about attending to the here and now, without being lost in thoughts about the past, or fantasies about the future. It is a quality of being that embodies kindness, curiosity, and acceptance. To be mindful is to actually feel the sensations in your body, even unpleasant ones, without clinging to them or wishing them away. It is to observe your thoughts without letting them become the only version of the truth. It is to attend to your emotions, embracing whatever it is you’re feeling in the moment, even if it’s not particularly comfortable. It is to be more sensitive and compassionate to the people and situations around you. And when practiced diligently, it can transform our health, our relationships, and our impact on the world.”
There you have it! Not quite 25 words or less, but it paints a clear picture, especially if you’re new to the study of mindfulness. I’ll resist the temptation to quote more, and just encourage you to read the book for yourself.
How does this relate to mindfulness at work? Well, as Gelles describes, a growing number of companies, including many Bay Area businesses, are developing mindfulness programs for their employees. If you’re a skeptic, you might think that businesses are jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon only because they see it as another strategy to wring more work out of fewer people. Sure, the bottom line of any business is to increase profits, not to enhance the well-being of their employees. But it turns out that calmer, happier, and more focused employees are actually good for the bottom line (thank you, behavioral economists!)
In a recent news article on mindfulness in the workplace (San Jose Mercury News, 11/1/15), one company’s director of mindfulness notes, “People think that this is touchy-feely, ‘Kumbaya’-in-the-meadow stuff. But this is cutting-edge mental training.” Among the benefits mentioned in the article are improved ability to regulate emotions, becoming a better listener, being more patient – with kids at home as well as with customers at work – and having a more satisfied, engaged workforce.
So what does promoting mindfulness at work look like? On a micro level, it’s a group of coworkers forming a meditation group at lunchtime; having a conference room set aside and equipped as a drop-in meditation room; inviting an expert on mindfulness to give a learn-at-lunch presentation. On a macro level, it’s offering mindfulness classes onsite for all employees; sending key executives to mindfulness retreats; creating company policies that support mindful living.
Next weekend, Nov. 13 and 14, there’s a conference in Berkeley on Mindfulness in the Workplace, where representatives from Google, Facebook, SAP, and many others will be sharing strategies for incorporating mindfulness. If you can’t make it, tune in here for reports on the conference findings.