Mindfulness, in the form of Bare Attention, is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception.
– Nayanaponika Thera
Buddhist Scholar and Practitioner
U.S. Army adopts Mindfulness Meditation: In an unusual departure from traditional prescriptions for coping with high stress, the United States Army is recommending something more eclectic to its soldiers in Iraq – mindfulness mediation. According to Major Victor Won, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, mindfulness is a simple but ancient approach to living that western medicine has begun to recognise as a powerful tool for dealing with stress, illness and other medical or psychological conditions, and it could help soldiers in any circumstance.
– The Hindu dated 5th Aug. 2010
There is a treasure house of practical wisdom in the Indian Yogic tradition, which can be of great help to professionals in every field for developing their full potential as a human being or as a professional. One of them is the practice of Mindfulness, which is a limb of the eight-fold path of Buddha. This article examines the practical implication of Mindfulness for enhancing the performance and effectiveness of leaders and professionals in the corporate world.
The meaning of mindfulness; the benefits of mindfulness for professionals.
The Meaning of Mindfulness
The practice of Mindfulness has an outer and inner aspect, which may be termed as Observation and Awareness. The outer dimension is Observation. Most of us are very poor observers. We have only a fleeting and hurried glimpse of the things around us. Even when we observe a little more attentively, the outward stimulus produces biased inner reactions, opinions or judgement, coloured by personal likes, dislikes, preferences and prejudices. So we must learn to observe all that is or happens around us with full, minute and detailed attention and also without the distorting personal reactions. When we turn this attention of consciousness from the outer world to the inner world and the inner movements of our mind, heart and also the body, it becomes awareness. So mindfulness means to observe the world around us, made of objects, events, Nature, people – and the world within us, made of thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses, motives and inner reactions, with the following attitude.
1. a background of inner calm
2. with an alert vigilance, and with a growing consciousness
3. as a detached witness and spectator without any personal identification with the observed object.
4. without condemnation and judgement, especially moral judgement like good and bad.
So the aim of mindfulness is to become fully conscious of the inner mechanism of our mind or psyche and the outer phenomenon of Nature and the world with a scientific and impersonal detachment and moral equanimity. In the following passage, the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, explains with a lucid clarity the meaning of inner Mindfulness:
“We must become acquainted with the mechanism of life within us, with all its tendencies, qualities, faculties and varied activities, very impartially, that is without any preconceived idea of good and bad and without any absolute or arbitrary judgement (for our judgements are inevitably lacking in clear-sightedness), about what should subsist and what should disappear and what should be encouraged and what should be suppressed. Our vision of what we are must be objective, without bias, if we want it to be sincere and integral; we are faced with a universe which we must explore down to its smallest detail, know in its obscure and infinitesimal elements, with a scientific attitude of perfect mental impersonality, that is without a priori judgement.(1)”
The inner attitudes described in the above passage like impersonality, objectivity, non-judgemental look, apply equally to the mindfulness of the outer world.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness for enhancing performance are obvious and many. Someone who is mindful can see things, which the unmindful cannot see. The practice of mindfulness makes the entire mind alert and sensitive to the deep and subtle nuances of the things, events and people in the outer environment like the body-language or behaviour of people or changes in the market, customer needs or demographics. As we grow in the depth and range of our self-awareness, we become aware of the roots and springs of our actions and motives and our weaknesses and strengths. This knowledge can be a precious source of personal as well as professional development. For, mindfulness is the foundation of self-management and self-mastery, which is the basis of effectiveness in action. As the Mother points out “we can only master what we know and command what we have mastered” . In other words, first we have to become conscious of what we are and what we are conscious of we can master, provided, we are able to marshal the requisite firmness in the will to do it. Interestingly, Mindfulness is now recognized in Management as a leadership quality. Two eminent management thinkers, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee consider mindfulness as the central component of “Resonant Leadership” and define it as “Mindfulness is the capacity to be fully aware of all that one experiences inside the self – body, mind, heart and to pay full attention to what is happening around us – people, the natural world, our surroundings and event.” Elaborating further on the practical implications of mindfulness, Boyatzis and Mckee, state:
“Contrary to popular belief cultivating the capacity for mindfulness is not just a nice-to-have or something to be done for private reasons: it is actually essential for sustaining good leadership. It can be one of the most important things we do, resulting in a stepwise change in our effectiveness as leaders. May be most important, when we attend to ourselves by developing our minds, taking care of our bodies, understanding and using the power of our emotions, and attending to our spirituality, however we choose to do so, we can begin to reach our full potential as people.(2)”
However, there are two more higher benefit of mindfulness, which are not fully recognized in the yogic as well as management circle. The first one is that mindfulness can lead to a deeper understanding of others. As our awareness becomes more impersonal, objective and detached, through mindfulness, it extends beyond our personal self to embrace others. We become more and more sensitive to the thoughts, feeling and motives of others, which mean a certain amount of identification with the consciousness of others. And this is the only true way of understanding others. The modern psychology tries to understand people by analyzing their outer behaviour. But this method of understanding is very uncertain, tentative and imperfect. For a truer and a more complete understanding of others we must be able to identify our consciousness with the consciousness of others and know what are the inner forces which make them act or behave in the way they do. This higher way of knowing leads to an enlightened and sympathetic understanding of the difficulties, problems and behaviour of other and the right way of dealing with them.
The other inner result of Mindfulness is in the realm values. As we become aware of our inner movement and their inner consequences with a deep, subtle, refined and delicate sensitivity it awakens the taste or rasa for all that is true, beautiful, good and luminous and a spontaneous rejection of all that is ugly, dark, evil and the vulgar. For example when the mind becomes fully aware with all its awareness and energy the peace and joy and satisfaction brought by good feelings of kindness, generosity or forgiveness or sincerity, and conversely the opposite states of restlessness, misery, helplessness created by feelings like anger, jealousy, hate – then it leads to a spontaneous and effortless rejection of negativities and a sincere, whole-hearted aspiration for truth, beauty and goodness.
The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.
1. The Mother, Collected Works, vol.2, pp.128
2. Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee, (2005) Resonant Leadership, Harvard Business School Press, p.112, 115.