When modern secular mindfulness was developed, it took Buddhist psychology as its raw material. The insights that form the foundations of mindfulness are as relevant in today’s world of business as they were 2,500 years ago.
The first, and the essence of it all, is the understanding that we suffer. The suffering can be severe such as physical pain, or mild such as discomfort or just feeling a bit low. We continually assess our environment for danger, imagine a better future, ruminate on the past, and evaluate all the data that our senses provide. In short, we almost always want something else, whether that’s about avoiding, keeping or seeking something.
This grasping for ‘something else’ or denying what is, is the root of our dissatisfaction with life. If we’re mindful and objectively observant of our own drivers, we will see this process going on all day.
Also, the focus on wanting something else can absorb our attention so that we miss what’s right in front of us. We miss seeing opportunities because our attention is blinkered.
The second lesson is about the temporary nature of all things. If we get a high from a rush of money, love, respect, or material goods, it is temporary. If we are in pain, depressed or in a bad situation, this too will change. Every object or state is a temporary assembly of its elemental atoms and energetic charge, and will dis-assemble, whether we’re talking about a spinach soufflé or a mountain range. Thoughts too are temporary, passing phenomena.
The third lesson is that the difficulty we experience with these first two truths, is also experienced by everyone else. So the inevitability of suffering and change, and the pain it causes, is the same for you as it is for me, although our personal circumstances are different. To recognise this, inevitably generates empathy and compassion.
So how can these three insights inform us in the business world?
First, while we may plan like crazy for success, if all our energy is future focused, we cannot be fully there for the present. We may create unachievable targets for ourselves. This creates stress – the top cause of sickness. Our focus and performance will also reduce if we are distracted by future scenarios and fearful of failure.
Secondly, if our attention to what’s around us is more open and less judgemental, and we stop fixating on the future, we’ll see opportunities that we would otherwise miss.
Thirdly, if everything is changing – client needs, competition, technology etc. – we have to keep innovating. We must be creative, and be ready to let go of old ideas or recognise the signs of dis-assembly when they present themselves.
Finally, we must be kind to ourselves, and to others. If teams are to function well, if clients are to be loyal, and if partners are to be nurtured, kindness and empathy are our most effective weapons of mass construction.
There’s more we can learn from this ancient wisdom that has a direct bearing on our business success, such as being a bit less self-focused and a bit more team-spirited, and being clear about our values and making sure that we act with integrity. After all, who would you rather do business with: someone who is driven by creating personal wealth, or someone who is motivated to do something useful in the world?
So whilst mindfulness keeps us awake, understanding its foundations and translating this ancient wisdom into guiding objectives and operational modes will bear fruit for any organisation.