The idea of mindfulness has found its way from the ancient contemplation practice into Western culture and popularized as a fast and low-cost tool for dissolving our daily challenges. In essence, a tool to effectively manage our thoughts, emotions, relationships and circumstances; a tool to increase focus, work longer hours with more energy and ultimately achieve more and better in all aspects of our lives, faster and easier!
In short, mindfulness has become the new low-cost tool for improving productivity, resilience and well-being in our fast-paced lives; the tool to help us work with more vigor and produce more, happily!
We should be mindful of all these mindfulness promises.
Let’s examine the philosophical, practical and scientific aspects of mindfulness promise as a solution to work stress, life balance and a tool for real and lasting change.
My thoughts about this aren’t based only on my experience of mindfulness which I have been practicing for the past thirty-eight years. I have been a brain and cognitive researcher for about two and a half decades, continue to study the Zen teachings and spent many years in the corporate world in leadership positions and consultancy.
Let’s start with the philosophical side of mindfulness.
The practice of meditation, only one application of the multifaceted approach in the Buddhist tradition to living a balanced and happy life, is really the means for supporting Buddhist ethical precepts linked to right speech, intent, action, view, effort, understanding, and finally right livelihood.
The usage of “right” in this context, without going to much detail, is not about right or wrong, good or bad. Right points to actions that are beneficial, ethical and kind to ourselves, other living beings and our environment.
In taking “right” action, Buddhism asserts, we will realize that we are all connected and interdependent, none of us can do it all on our own. Acknowledging this dependency — the fact that we really need each other to survive and thrive — helps us take care of others and our surroundings for our own sake as well as theirs. This genuine win-win-win approach is the most important step to living a balanced, productive and happy life.
The opposite side of the right action is concerning ourselves with creating personal wins at the expense of others and our surroundings. In other words, a win-lose-lose situation.
“Mindfulness has become the new low-cost tool for improving productivity, resilience and well-being in our fast-paced lives.”
The practice of meditation is to help us become mindful of our everyday thoughts, emotions and actions toward ourselves, others and surroundings. It is meant to help us return ourselves to the right action whenever we waver which the lures and distractions of our fast-paced modern lives offer plenty of opportunities.
However, meditation is generally taught as the basic practice of breath observation, body scan and watchful movement, and hardly ever talked about in the initial larger context it was meant for.
Mindfulness has been marketed as a tool to cure stress, depression, addiction and anxiety disorder while improving worker productivity, management and leadership – all attainable for only 20 minutes daily practice for eight weeks!
Let’s consider the scientific side of mindfulness.
By observing and practicing the precepts of right speech; intent, action, view, effort, understanding and livelihood, we are consciously involving the most important aspects of our brain and cognition involved in crafting our well-being and progress. In fact, by practicing even one or two of the principles which we routinely use in our daily lives such as the right speech and action, we automatically practice the other precepts. After all, how can we have the right speech but hold wrong intent? How can we have the right action but wrong effort?
In doing so, we involve the brain in cognitive and behavioral processes in a coherent way that constructively influences its functioning. As a result, the mind becomes calm and our thoughts organized and clear leading to slowing down the constant rumination, which is known to be the cause of much mental unrest and confusion.
Freeing ourselves from the mind’s endless rumination which is the main objective of meditation practice, it is also the foundation of activating favorable regeneration of neural and synaptic structure of the brain — positive neuroplasticity.
To gain lasting benefits from mindfulness requires that we also practice its other aspects besides just sitting. This brings our being of doing things into a unified presence and creates a Win-Win-Win.