Monday, 24 June 2013

Can Meditation Make You a Better Leader?

If only he'd mellowed out with meditation...


By Michael Carroll

"Not too long ago, meditation was considered an oddity, often viewed with suspicion – at times even ridicule. But today, such skepticism has all but evaporated and in its place has emerged a growing appreciation for the health, well-being and intelligence meditation can cultivate especially among leaders and within organizations..."

"...There are thousands of styles of “meditation" developed over centuries of disciplined practice by millions of meditators. But in order to gain a simple grasp of the topic, we can say there are fundamentally two types of meditation: form and formless.

Form based meditations apply techniques like visualizing, repeating words, performing rituals, and manipulating the body to achieve specific outcomes like overcoming emotional obstacles, reducing stress, cultivating loving kindness and more.

Unlike form based meditation, formless meditation relies on little or no technique nor does it seek to achieve any outcome. Referred to as shikantaza or “just sitting” in the Zen tradition, Jing zuo or “quiet sitting” in Confucianism, Zuowang or “sitting in forgetfulness” in the Taoist tradition and Lhatong or “clear seeing” in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen Tibetan traditions, formless meditation is about recognizing rather than achieving; expressing rather than developing; being authentically who we are rather than trying to become a better version of ourselves.*

Mindfulness-awareness meditation, then, can be considered a “formless meditation” (though technically it often requires the use of minimum technique at first)  where we are working with our mind, body and immediate experience in order to recognize exactly what is going on and express precisely who we are.

Essentially, when we practice mindfulness-awareness meditation we take a posture sitting upright, relaxed and alert, our eyes are open; we breathe normally and sit still.  (See image above.)

When we sit still like this, we notice the simple, sensual vividness of our circumstances: sounds, sights, smells and sensations. And we also notice thinking.

Attending to these two experiences - being alert in the immediate moment and thinking––is central to mindfulness-awareness and requires a simple yet exquisitely demanding gesture:  while sitting still in the meditation posture when we notice our mind wandering off into thinking, we deliberately recognize that we are thinking and then bring our attention back to our immediate experience. Essentially, we sit still and, as often as possible, notice exactly what is going on.   

The Ironic Distress of a Wandering Mind

At first glance, sitting still like this for extended periods may appear to some as useless or a waste of time. Yet, despite this seeming peculiarity, this act of just sitting still teaches a vital, visceral lesson from the very start: when we pause and look directly at our minds, we discover that our attention is restlessly wandering. Normally, we allow such wandering, permitting our minds to freely drift from our immediate experience – to speculate, question, rehearse or even worry. And, in many respects, we accept such wandering as our “normal” state of being.  

Mindfulness-awareness meditation teaches many things but one of the very first lessons is how this “normal” restless wandering pervades our everyday life. Whether it’s listening to a colleague explain a business plan, offering advice to a friend, or just waiting in line for a cup of coffee, when we pause and mindfully notice, we discover that we routinely wander from such moments and our wandering is often impatient and discursive. 

Science has studied this wandering phenomenon and found that about 50 percent of the time, we mentally drift from our daily circumstances and in turn substitute thinking for actual experience, which apparently makes us very anxious. According to the researchwhen our mind wanders from our experience we are highly likely to dwell on thoughts that are more distressing than our actual experience, creating unease, where none is warranted.

And here we are confronted with a profound leadership irony indeed: by permitting our attention to freely wander, out of touch with our actual experience, we are likely to mislead ourselves and others into authoring the very distress we hope to avoid. For mindful leaders, then, leadership begins with a basic tenet: In order to lead others well, we first must stop misleading ourselves and overcoming such self-deception requires that we train our minds to attend openly to our immediate experience and be available to the world we aspire to lead..."   FULL ARTICLE

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