QUESTIONS OFTEN ASKED ABOUT ORGANISATIONAL MINDFULNESS
How can mindfulness be used as a tool to reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism in SA?
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention in the present moment. When you are mindful you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad, right or wrong. Paying attention in this very particular way greatly increases our capacity to be less reactive and more accepting of our present experience, however distressing or upsetting that may be. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of mindfulness, wrote a book called Full Catastrophe Living. A very apt title for the way people currently experience life. One thing after another. Stress is high and so is the rumination associated with trying to desperately search for a solution by "mulling the problem" over and over in the mind. This constant "autopilot mode" is also causing people to be habitually distracted and totally disconnected from their bodies and their innate capacity to be present and centered, in the moment. Mindfulness teaches very specific exercises to initially allow people to experience a settling of the many thoughts, feelings and emotions, which dominate our existence. We introduce the awareness of sensations in the body to allow participants to experience what it feels like to pay attention to the body in a very specific way. Delegates report that the mind settles down - it still drifts off and we normalize how this will happen, however, there is an opening to the fact that we do not need to live "lost in thought" and just accept that this is who we are. Thinking is not the highest form of intelligence. Awareness, which is panoramic, is in fact a far more creative and authentically powerful way of being in the world. From this place, we learn to be present in a non-judgemental and curious way which is open and creative.
What are the biggest obstacles in the way of getting corporates to buy into the concept of mindfulness? Is it gaining traction in SA?
Companies are very interested in Mindfulness, due to the explosion of this training worldwide. Our economies and companies are under strain to continue growing and deliver to Shareholders. However, with increasing retrenchments, individuals are stretched to breaking point. So the only available avenues for organisations is to improve internal resilience in the face of mounting complexity and insecurity amongst workers. Mindfulness offers an individual the opportunity to truly be more skillful with their internal environments. It creates a spaciousness, to allow for choice and responding instead of "habitual reactivity and anger" in interactions with others and themselves. It is an innate quality and the ultimate training in capacity. The obstacle we face in terms of objection is always "time". Companies are not sure if they can afford to let individuals take time off to train. We have managed to be innovative in how we address this concern by offering diverse packages to suite the needs of organisations.
What do mindfulness facilitations/workshops involve?
The usual curriculum of a Mindfulness - Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR) is 8 weeks, broken into 2 hours 30 minutes, plus a full day silent retreat after week 6. However, this is largely not feasible for some companies. We thus have broken the training down into modules. We then do practices and enquiry to deepen the learning experience. We offer MP3's to enhance learning at home. So we would do an exercise such as Body Scan to demonstrate how the mind is habitually distracted, and how we can learn to ground ourselves in our present experience by increasing the capacity to focus on specific body parts and the sensations that "live there" in a very specific way. The exercise teaches individuals that they do not have to be "identified" with every thought that pops into the mind. They learn there are ways to stabilize the mind and develop awareness, to then be in a position to be skillful with whatever is arising in their present experience.
Is there a way to measure the effectiveness/outcomes of mindfulness interventions?
There are numerous studies available on the internet that have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are some of these benefits listed, which extend across many different settings, as found on the web:
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system's ability to fight off illness.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
- Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
- Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
- Mindfulness enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
- Mindfulness is good for parents and parents-to-be: Studies suggest it may reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. Parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationship with their kids, and their kids were found to have better social skills.
- Mindfulness helps schools: There's scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behaviour problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps health care professionals cope with stress, connect with their patients, and improve their general quality of life. It also helps mental health professionals by reducing negative emotions and anxiety, and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.
- Mindfulness helps prisons: Evidence suggests mindfulness reduces anger, hostility, and mood disturbances among prisoners by increasing their awareness of their thoughts and emotions, helping with their rehabilitation and reintegration.
- Mindfulness helps veterans: Studies suggest it can reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.
Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing "mindful eating" encourages healthier eating habits, helps people loose weight, and helps them savour the food they do eat.
What is the single biggest obstacle that most professionals face on the path to mindfulness, and how can they overcome it?
We as humans discount anything that does not fit into our viewpoint and that seems too "airy fairy". We are also habitually distracted. That has created certain grooves in our brain that just keep us doing what we have always done. The biggest obstacle is whether we can be brave enough to explore "stopping". Can we be open-minded enough to realize that there is another way to live and be at work and in life? There is a more skillful option. We can overcome this skepticism by bringing the attitude of non-judgement, willingness and kindness. These are words we don't often find in the corporate wotld, but mindfulness is a capacity that has the potential to radically transform individuals, organisations and society.