I recently challenged an article about mindfulness, “The mindfulness Conspiracy”: (https://bit.ly/3gr8AGs). After careful thought, while there might be some merit in considering the risks of mindfulness being exploited by greedy corporations, it’s equally important, if not more, to recognise where the power of mindfulness truly lies.
In my opinion, mindfulness is the miracle cure of the 21st century, as has been for thousands of years. It changed my life and the lives of countless clients and friends; it helped me understand the difference between a highly erratic roller coaster life and a functional fulfilling life.
Where the author has a point is that mindfulness is at risk of being exploited by organisations in order to extract more and more from their employees. Organisations are getting more demanding while not necessarily investing in or committing to good people practices. “Shallow” mindfulness can become yet another quick fix that organisations can grab to maintain bad management practices. By shifting the responsibility to individuals, demanding resilience and increasing capacity for tolerating subpar leadership, mindfulness can offer a so-called “win-win” for employees and organisations.
Let’s look at some sobering statistics. Research by Robert Hogan shows that up to 60% of leaders are incompetent or sub-optimal, and global engagement data shows that despite decades of effort and billions of dollars spent, 70% of people are still disengaged at work. On top of it, anthropologist David Graeber postulates that more than half of us have “BS” jobs. The reality we face today seems to be that corporate greed is increasingly unchecked, and it is powered by a workforce of disengaged zombies conditioned to run faster and faster on their workplace treadmills. Few of us experience meaning and purpose, many of us numb out the reality, grab quick fixes and avoid the bigger questions – What is the purpose of life? What gives me meaning? “I hate my job, but I love the money” is but one of the statements I frequently hear resembling this state of affairs. And mindfulness is a key to finding the answers to these questions.
Mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn beautifully describes mindfulness as “falling awake”: it is the process of waking up mentally, of seeing the world, our lives and most importantly, our thoughts and emotions for what they are. It is the antidote to numbing out the realities of our lives. Mindfulness is therefore not a method to become more resilient only, but also an opportunity to see the reality (and often futility) of the things we engage in mindlessly. It awakens us to the possibilities and the responsibility of living fulfilling, meaningful lives.
Mindfulness makes us aware of our busy thoughts. It helps us step back, and witness how our minds have taken over our entire being, and remind us that we are more than our thoughts. Noticing that and centering ourselves make us realise that our thoughts and the stories of our minds are just that – thoughts and stories.
Mindfulness in its full manifestation can be the spark or catalyst for change. When we are truly aware of our reality, instead of being numbed out or mindless, we are able to make conscious decisions towards choosing to live a life of meaning and purpose.
It is not an easy thing to do, however. It is not a one-off lunch-and-learn or a half-day workshop. Mindfulness is a journey in its own right that requires commitment – to live a fully conscious life. Human beings are masters at suppressing or denying uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. We may not want to know that we’re unhappy or that our relationship sucks because that will mean that we can take actions and that may be scarier than just pretending that everything is ok. We don’t want to make our own decisions, or pursue our real passion and dreams. Because, what if we fail? Or worse, what if we’re not good enough? Why rock the boat if it seems to be floating still?
And for many that is as good as it gets. In the words of Thoreau, “living lives of quiet desperation”. But what if you want more? What if you want to live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling? It starts with deliberate self-awareness. Mindfully observing and noticing ourselves, our lives, our thoughts and our environments as it is and without judging it. It entails exploring ourselves, embracing both our strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, finding our purpose in life. We start living our lives with our whole being, and not just our minds. Embracing who we are using our strengths to pursue things that are meaningful to us. This is what I mean by an “authentic” life. A life worth living.
Even if you only practise mindfulness occasionally or for short periods of time, you will find that you become more tolerant, more creative, smarter and more pain resistant – to name a few. These are already assets that can make life more meaningful.
So, I stick to my original position. Mindfulness is the miracle cure of the 21st century. It could be abused, but it could also be the seed of growth and change. If some organisations merely want to numb its employees, make them more resilient to the increasing pressure, do more for less, stay in mindless, unengaging jobs, then for sure we need to shout out. But mindfulness, when done right, is a tool for inner peace, awakening and growth. Let’s trust the power of mindfulness in bringing about transformations.
As coaches, facilitators and trainers, let us present mindfulness in its true manifestation, as a first step towards creating waves of change in organisations that desire change and are not hardened by greed. And strive to build practices that will use mindfulness as a stepping stone to individual, team, organisational and even societal greatness. Yes, I am a dreamer and yes, I am a romantic. If you reach for the moon, you’re unlikely to end up with mud in your hands.