By Janine Shamos
“Do you need to be some kind of master to get anything out of meditation? You don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer to enjoy swimming”
(Peter Ng, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation)
With so much burn-out, economic fluctuations, and an ever-present ‘hazard warning’ on work-place stress, we have been hearing more and more about Mindfulness as a way to reclaim our inner peace. Mindfulness has spread gently from an esoteric practice into an activity nearly as pervasive as flossing your teeth. There is enormous pressure faced by corporates, their employees, their spouses and families. Recognizing the need to take time to reflect on what’s important in order to create ways to overcome difficult challenges is an important part to find ways to deal with life’s myriad demands and distractions, and gain focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, and courage.
However, as with most ‘buzz-words’, Mindfulness is shrouded in myth and misconception. Many executives wonder how this “hippie” concept could possibly be applicable to their companies, or themselves. Yet Mindfulness is age-old. Backed by clinical trials and married with neuroscience, the idea that meditation can help anyone find a greater sense of equanimity is well established. “Meditation is an aspect of both a universal and very old spiritual tradition that can be shared with anyone and understood in a secular way,” says Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk. “For some people, its distance from formal religion provides a comfort zone.”
Mindful meditation is not an instant ticket to Nirvana, nor is it a magic remedy for stress or distress. However, becoming fully conscious of what you are experiencing is a way to “step out” of the endless stream of thoughts flowing through your head and sensations running through your body. We are constantly thinking. Most of us find that even when we are ‘relaxing’ or taking some time off, our minds are still planning, organizing, and reviewing. We need to ‘re-wire’ ourselves to come back to the present. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on your breathing, which requires you to pay attention to what’s happening in your body.
“The beauty of breathing is that it only happens in the present”, says IE Group Managing Director, Gail Cameron. “You can’t breathe in the future or in the past. You are breathing now. Paying attention to the flow of air going in and out of your body is a wonderful method for returning your consciousness to the present.” The ability to “listen to” our body helps us stay grounded even when our thoughts are agitated or stressful. This is Mindfulness.
A common misunderstanding is that the goal of mindfulness is the absence of thought. Most people continue to experience a flow of thoughts even during meditation. Many people give up on meditation because they think they are doing it wrong or believe that their minds are too restless. Pema Chodron (a Buddhist teacher) said that even after 30-plus years of practicing mindfulness, her mind still goes “off to the races” with various plans and thoughts and ideas as soon as she sits down to meditate. The big difference for her now is that, after decades of practice, her approach to these endless thoughts is: “no big deal”. It is a crucial part of Mindfulness that we don’t supress unpleasant feelings or thoughts. Rather, we should notice them, to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judgment or evaluation. “It is precisely this gentle, accepting attitude towards ourselves and our experience that opens the door for transformation, self-compassion, and healing”, says Cameron.
Psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence (or EQ), believes leaders need to build clarity by focusing on themselves, others, and the external world — in that order. Regular introspection takes you away from your daily routines and enables you to reflect on your work and your life, and to focus on what is really important to you. “By doing so, you will not only be more successful, you will be happier and more fulfilled in the long run”, says Dr Goleman.
Focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, and courage. These are the qualities of Mindful leaders. They are also the qualities that give today’s best leaders the resilience to cope with a constantly changing and challenging world.
Here are eight ways you can bring more mindfulness to your everyday life, just as it is:
1. Make eye contact.
2. Choose a favourite colour, then watch to see where and how often it shows up as you go about your day.
3. Take six: it takes 6 seconds for our primal “Fight or Flight” reaction to step down. Counting to six can mean the difference between reacting (without thinking) and responding (thoughtfully).
4. Open doors for others (literally) or let cars in during traffic.
5. Spend 5 minutes in silence: Sit and be still. Watch what comes up. That’s it.
6. Let the red light beat you: When you see a yellow light, slow down.
7. Eat at the table: Focus on one sense to start—like smell—then work with your way through the others.
8. Go for a walk.
Bringing more mindfulness into your day really is that simple, so don’t talk yourself into thinking it’s complicated. In fact, don’t think about it all.
Janine Lisa Shamos is a Transformation and Executive Coach who has been working the in the field of mental health and wellness for 20 years. Janine is passionate about human rights and responsibilities and works with a broad range of sectors to empower people to think and behave in more positive and self-aware ways. janine-lisa-shamos.squarespace.com; www.iegroup.co.za