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August 18, 2015

Exploring Mindfulness

Bruce Murray

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Mind Tools blogs are known for providing expert answers. In this blog, I invite you to join my journey into some recent thoughts about mindfulness. You probably don’t need mindfulness defined because, as David Derbyshire says, "[It is] everywhere at the moment. If you don't know someone who has done a course, downloaded an app or read a book, you will soon."

Derived from Buddhist meditation practices, mindfulness began as a cognitive-therapy tool to reduce anxiety, depression and stress. According to Psychology Today,  "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present… observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."

The popularity of mindfulness is understandable with the complexity and informative distractions of our networked world. The pace of today's business environment adds fuel to both ends of our burning candles. "Most of us, most of the time, are absorbed in memories of the past or visions and plans for the future," says Jim Hopper. By ignoring all but the present, mindfulness focuses our attention.

According to Bodhipaksa, when we think of the past or future we "space out." His advice is to "try to notice this and just come back to the now… do so mindfully." Many mindfulness techniques include concentrated attention to bodily functions, such as breathing, that are very calming to one's nervous system.

Research points out that both mental health and effectiveness improve, but will time for mindfulness keep me from productively building my future? In his book, "Return to Exile," E. J. Patten says:

"The heart sees the now; the mind only sees the next. If you can't learn to see the now, you'll never see what's truly there, and then where will you be?"

"Trapped."

"Precisely. But if you take care of the now, the future will work out as it should."

I wish I shared Patten's confidence that my business future will work out if I simply attend to its present.

In a business setting, I'm concerned about losing the bigger picture. If I ignore the past and future, don't I forego my acquired expertise and lose context? Won't I risk repeating past mistakes and lose sight of goals on the horizon? My concern is that my mindfulness may bring me inner peace but not lead to any accomplishments of merit. Is it wise, in business, to follow Gina Greenlee's guideline to "treasure yourself for being, not doing?"

Purser and Loy conclude that mindfulness is now "mainstream" in the West, having been adopted by "schools, corporations, prisons, and government agencies, including the U.S. military." But secularizing it for Western audiences, they claim, presents a "Faustian bargain."

They say, "Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will, and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots."

Christopher Titmus notes that Mindfulness is "marketed as [providing] a reprieve from the trials and tribulations of cutthroat corporate life." He agrees that compartmentalization dissociates it from social or organizational transformation, and warns that its non-judgmental aspect spares corporate sponsors from having any greed, ill-will, and delusion in their mission, values and culture being questioned by their internally-mindful employees.

Purser and Loy remind us that, in his earliest recorded teachings, Buddha believed that even people who commit heinous crimes can do so mindfully. The Right Mindfulness required to achieve Buddha’s state of enlightenment requires "an ethical intent to save others from greed, ill will, and delusion."

My journey into mindful meditation has been fascinating. It clearly reduces anxiety and stress. I may have focused a little too much on some critiques; one might counter-argue that I need to go more deeply into it to find its true value.

Derbyshire quotes Oxford-based publisher Victoria Jackson as saying, "It has given me lots more options in my life, but only when I wake up to them. [It gives me an] ability to step out of the situation and evaluate things and make a conscious choice."

Let’s close with a quote from an actor best known for some fairly mindless roles in Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, and An Officer and a Gentleman, but he is also the co-founder of Tibet House. Richard Gere says, "Mindfulness is a quality that's always there. It's an illusion that there's a meditation and post-meditation period, which I always find amusing, because you're either mindful or you're not." Your author chooses to be mindful but does so carefully.

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2 comments on “Exploring Mindfulness”

    1. Good point Jonathan about mindfulness keeping us alert to ourselves as a human being and our activities. The challenge, from my experiences, is to maintain that mindfulness - effectively being switched on more than it is switched off!

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