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Mindful : April 2013
being. This is why we make programs available but we don’t make them mandatory. People must have the space to choose.” And then there’s the possibility that enhanced awareness may result in a disconnect between personal a nd organizational values. If that happens, of course, an employee might simply leave to find a better fit. On the other hand, if an organization can work creatively with the questions that increased personal awareness can churn up, that could be a great asset. For Fernandez, mindfulness as a n orga- nizational way of life has become an imperative. “To be a truly enduring company, to succeed in complex and rapidly changing environments, people need to take on ma ny perspectives,” he says. “ You have to have multiple world-changing insights and innova- tions on a sustained basis. So you need to have a set of practices that renews and bolsters you through- out that journey.” In his view, organizations that ca n bake in mindfulness as a deep va lue stand a higher likelihood of long-term success. A disruptive technology There is a more severe critique, too. Several of the people I talked to acknowledge that “mindfulness” can a nd has been offered in such a superficial way that it’s no longer truly mindfulness. It can turn into a tool to teach people to cope while they continue on the same old course that caused the problems they sought meditation to address in the first place. Of course, meditation and related practices aren’t absolute goods. It depends on the context and the in- tentions of those involved. After all, historical prec- edent exists of meditation being used for malevolent ends. One exa mple is the Japanese milita rist regime during the Second World War, when meditation played a role in training soldiers and fighter pilots to be more ruthless. Surely, too, a practice you can do by yourself to achieve calm will always run the risk of cultivating and even glorifying self-involvement. All the fellow teachers I spoke with emphasized that if mindful- ness doesn’t ultimately cultivate greater awareness of connectedness—to others, to the community, to a larger environment—it isn’t the genuine article. If people pay attention to their mind, body, a nd emotions, they begin to approach the world with more openness and inquisitiveness. Quite often that touches off deeper va lues, such as concern for others and the world at large. A decade ago, Mirabai Bush, founding director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, introduced a mindfulness progra m at Monsanto, a company that had been widely criticized for perpetuating shortsighted and da maging agricul- tural practices. At a corporate retreat, a top scientist approached her after a session and said, “I realized that we’re creating products that kill life. We should be creating products that support life.” It’s a long journey from a personal insight like that to large- scale change, but at least we can say that mindful- ness was starting to serve as a disruptive technology within the company. Creative disruption could be a very good thing to counteract all the destructive disruption we’ve encountered in recent times. The world financial meltdown in late 2008, occasioned by rampa nt groupthink on Wall Street and in other financial capitals, sent shockwaves that still reverberate in our everyday lives. The actions of the traders could hardly be called mindful. Robert Chender, who sta rted the New York City Bar Association Contemplative Law yer Group, trains law yers and investment managers in medita- tion. He thinks there’s a real role for mindfulness on Wall Street. “It starts,” he says, “with an under- standing of cause a nd effect. How does my action ac- tually affect not only me, not only the guy I’m work- ing with, but how does it affect things in general?” Real mindfulness ca n give us a g reater apprecia- tion of interdependence, Chender says, and that’s sorely needed in Wall Street, not to say the world at large. “The Iroquois had a rule about making decisions for the seventh generation. We’re not even making decisions for this generation. We’re making decisions for me. “There are always going to be people who are threatened by looking more deeply at our motiva- tions and connections to others, but it seems obvious that business needs to take into account a bigger view of cause and effect, of interdependence.” ● OVERHEARD AT THE OFFICE “... if you’re still looking for a business case to justify spending time meditating, try this one: Meditation makes you more productive.... Meditation gives you practice having power over your urges so you can make intentional choices about which to follow and which to let pass.” Peter Breg man, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, writing in the Harvard Business Review blog April 2013 mindful 59