We received a phone call and the voice on the other end simply asked, “Do you teach meditation?” Ed said yes. The voice replied, “We would like to have you come to Thailand to teach our CEOs.” Ed thought it was a joke as there are more people who teach meditation in Thailand than most any place in the world, but it was true. The year before it had been golf; this year, the VP wanted to try meditation.
So we went to teach these highly stressed top-management bosses the simple art of being silent. These people were bright and sharp but who knew if they were interested? By the end of the week, we had no idea if they had understood what we were teaching but on the last day, when they were free to do whatever they wanted, one of them requested a meditation session. To our amazement, they all showed up. After that, the VP signed us to work with management for a year and we became his personal coach.
As stress levels increase, stress-reduction programs are becoming more common throughout the business world. Although they tend to focus on time management and simple relaxation practices, more and more we see yoga and meditation classes being offered in the workplace. Google has offered both, as have Yahoo!, Rodale Publishers, Morgan Stanley, and Price Waterhouse Coopers, to name but a few.
As Oliver Ryan wrote in Fortune magazine: “The crowd of Harvard Business School alums who gathered at their reunion to hear networking-expert Keith Ferrazzi speak…might have expected to pick up strategies on how to work a room, remember people’s names, or identify mentors Instead, Ferrazzi let his fellow alums in on a little secret: meditation. Exercise and prayer work too,” he said, “but meditation has been so effective that he now spends ten days every year at a silent meditation retreat. In other words, the man whose latest book is Never Eat Alone credits much of his success to alone time.”
It is easy to see why meditation is having such an impact. Stress creates workplace fatigue, absenteeism, mistakes, a lack of productivity, burnout and breakdown, while meditation has the opposite effect. It helps decrease the amount of stress experienced while clearing the mind, increasing concentration and confidence, and helping to achieve greater perspective to solve problems. It promotes thoughtfulness, which leads to better, more careful decisions. It improves listening skills, which develops enhanced interpersonal communication, and it clarifies purpose and vision.
With results like these, corporations now see classes in stress release as both beneficial to the employee’s health and as a way to inspire and stimulate creativity. As Joel Levey said to us, “We need to pay attention to the whispers rather than waiting for the screams.”
When working with corporations we begin each meeting with a few minutes of silence and hold longer sessions during the day. Many of the participants comment on how sitting in silence this way is the first time they have ever been in the present moment, in the here and now, without thoughts crowding in to fill the space.
Starting a meeting with a few minutes of silence is a very powerful yet simple way to bring people together. Any business can implement this strategy, even without having to call it meditation.
In our book, Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, Tami Simon, the founder and director of Sounds True publishing, shares two meditation practices she uses at work:
A Minute of Silence
We have a minute of silence at the beginning of all of our meetings; even at a meeting between just three people, we take a minute first. Most people are moving from meeting to meeting or from this conversation to this email, and when we get rushed we run over people, we do not listen very well, we make bad decisions, and we are only half present. To just sit down for a minute clears the mind and brings us all into the present moment so that everyone is on the same page before the meeting begins.
Attending to Sensations
If your mind is agitated, your body will be tense; if your body is tense, your mind will be agitated. By letting go of physical tension in the body, you create space in your mind to listen to others and act creatively.
In the midst of a meeting, a phone conversation, or any interaction in which you feel yourself becoming impatient or agitated, bring your attention to the part of your body holding the tension. You can do this by internally scanning your body from your toes to the top of your head, zeroing in on any part that seems tight, clenched, or contracted. Perhaps you will discover that your lower belly is in a knot or your shoulders are up by your ears. Maybe your hands feel like they are gripping something or the bottoms of your feet are recoiling from the ground. When you discover an area of physical tension, use your in-breath to connect with that sensation. Then, on the out-breath, simply release, relax, and let go. You can actually “ride the out-breath” and let it carry your tension out into space.