PART I—From monasteries and temples to boardrooms—The rediscovery of meditative practice
"In seeking something utterly new, he really arrives at a new understanding of something ancient"
There is a wave on which corporate America and Europe are currently surfing; one which no doubt is propelled by a technologically driven age and the financial crisis from which they have not yet fully emerged. Both issues have independently and jointly generated increasing stress among the business community.
The wave, just like a rose by any other name is still a rose, is called MEDITATION. It has found itself into corporate America and Europe via programmes such as Search Inside Yourself (SIY); Self Awareness; Personal Excellence; Mindfulness Leadership; Thinking Places; Business Meditation.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the pattern is no different. Although Carnival has been identified as the great stress reliever, it comes but once a year. The reality is that there is an increasing number of individuals both expressing an interest and actively practising meditation, or actually being directed to meditation by their medical practitioners.
And if as in economic terms, there is a direct relationship between supply and demand, then the increasing number of yoga and meditation centres that are cropping up throughout the country are tangible evidence of the intangible need.
Meditation is the practice or discipline of concentrated focus on written word, sound, object, visualisation, breath, movement or attention itself, in order to increase awareness of the present moment, enhance personal and spiritual growth and alleviate stress and stress related conditions. It is in fact a universal tradition found in all major religions. This age old practice dates back at least 15,000 years ago.
Fr Laurence Freeman, director of the World Community for Christian Meditation (who recently visited Trinidad) shares the experience he had with an Australian aborigine. He relates, "When I first came to teach Christian meditation here in Australia, a "Christian aborigine" came up to me after the talk. He said, 'You are speaking about this 2,000-year-old tradition of prayer in the church. My people have been practising it for 40,000.'
"I asked him what meditation meant to him then as a Christian and an aborigine. His reply moved me strongly. He said, 'My people have learned how to sit in a non-questioning silence, to listen.
As a Christian, I understand what we have been listening to all these millennia is the Word of God sounding at the heart of creation.' In Seven Masters, One Path, John Selby shares the meditative techniques as taught by some of the world's greatest spiritual teachers.
1. The inner process of transcending habitual judgements from Buddha's meditations
2. Ways to open your heart more fully from the contemplative tradition as taught by Jesus Christ
3. Krishnamurti's techniques for directly perceiving reality
4. The process of quieting the flow of thoughts from Lao Tzu and the Taoist tradition
5. How to let go of fearful thoughts using the teachings of Mohammed
6. The Sufi Approach for expanding self- awareness as taught by Gurdjieff
7. Inner focused breath awareness from the 4,000-year-old Hindu Pranayana breathing techniques of Patanjali
It is in fact it's foundation in spirituality that has slowed the integration of meditation into the mainstream corporate world. Although we can walk into offices here and see public displays of the faith of owners and employees, in the form of rakhis, murtis, temples, crosses, rosaries, bibles, there is still a line in the sand that separates corporate reality and the spiritual lives of employees.
Michael Rennie, a partner at McKinsey Australia says, "What's good for the spirit is good for the bottom line."
In more recent times, scientific research has "caught up" with this age-old tradition as neurologists are able to "confirm" that
changes in the brain occur during meditation and thus substantiate through results of quantitative research on the benefits of meditation as articulated by individuals, groups and organisations.
In fact, the use of the term "meditation" is now more commonplace among secular society, as medical practitioners readily recommend that their patients engage in meditative practice, to support their management of to name a few:
• High blood pressure
• Emotional balance —stem-
ming neurotic behaviour
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Scientific research has in fact provided the key to opening the door for the acceptance of meditation as a tool in organisational development. Both the Harvard Business School and Europe's leading business school, INSEAD, have concluded, from research, that "the two most effective business tools for twenty-first century executives are meditation and intuition".
While meditation cannot be considered to have entered the "mainstream of corporate America and Europe", the leadership of Unilever, PwC, Fortune 500 Companies such as Coca Cola, General Mills, Google, Apple and Mc Kinsey which leads in the provision of management consulting services to the Fortune 500 have become proponents in secular society on the application of meditation in reducing anxiety and stress and increasing self-awareness, focus and productivity.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago the uptake by individuals has also been more rapid than that of organisational involvement in "Business Meditation".
There are a few local organisations who have examined the practice.
The true value of meditation as a leadership development tool lies in its ability to increase self-awareness, focus and emotional intelligence. Research conducted by tertiary education institutions business schools and leadership institutes such as Oxford University UK, Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Medical School, INSEAD, have validated the immediate organisational benefits, that stem from this increased self-awareness:
• Reduced costs of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury, stress and long-term illness
• Improved cognitive function including better concentration, memory, learning ability and creativity
• Improved productivity and improved overall staff and business well-being
• Reduced staff turnover and associated costs
• Enhanced employer/employee and client relationships
• Reduced health insurance premiums for the business
• A visible and tangible corporate responsibility stance and,
• Enhanced employee job satisfaction and higher staff retention.
In a culture such as ours, the promotion of meditation at the individual and organisation levels actually runs counter-intuitive to societal norms.
Our egos are stroked by the long hours we spend at work, the number of parties we hit, the long hours we limed and our ability to throw picong and be judgemental at anything that moves. We gesticulate extensively when we speak.
Meditation requires that we become physically and mentally still.
The Dalai Lama recently commented that, "If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation."
If corporate and public sector TnT were to embrace this practice, hopefully we will not have to wait another generation to witness some measure of organisational and societal transformation.
• Judy Joseph McSween is CEO/Business Intuitive Meredith McSween International www.meredithmcsween.com and Developer of Time Out Corporate and Personal Interventions which incorporate meditative practice and use of intuition into traditional organisational development theory and practice. For further information contact email@example.com