“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way. On purpose. In the present moment. Non-judgmentally.” – Joe Karat-Zinn
From Silicon Valley to Wall Street, there’s a new success secret in town: mindfulness and meditation. We’re not talking about the search-for-enlightenment practice of the 1960s flower power revolution. Instead, business leaders are reshaping this mindset to fit the goal-oriented culture of their lives.
Is the practice of mindfulness and meditation ultimately compatible with the ethos of capitalism? David Gelles’ intriguing book “Mindful Work” tries to answer this question. In the process, he delivers a fascinating account of the emerging adoption of this discipline by businesses to improve efficiency and quality of life at the same time.
Gelles, a former journalist for the Financial Times and current business writer for the New York Times, is a long-time practitioner of meditation himself. In preparation for writing the book, he interviewed people participating in workplace mediation from as many corporations as possible.
Gelles traces the history of mindfulness in the U.S., beginning in the 19th century with Henry David Thoreau and continuing in the 1950s with Jack Kerouac. He discusses the benefits of meditation, as companies as far ranging as Aetna, Google and General Mills try to harness this power. Gelles also discusses the teachings of a number of the key influencers in the development of the mindfulness movement, as well as exploring some of the newer research concerning the apparent influence of mindfulness practice on the neuroscience of the brain and its effects on supporting the body’s immune system and combatting the symptoms of burnout.
Numbers don’t lie: Mindfulness improves the bottom line on all almost every data point. Still, the questions remains: Is mindfulness a tool that can be used for any purpose? Or is mindfulness ultimately linked to becoming less selfish, more compassionate and rejecting materialism? If you become a mindful organization, do you run the risk of developing a workforce that is disinterested in profits?
Gelles doesn’t shy away from answering this question, devoting a whole chapter to it. But he doesn’t have a simple answer, either. Scott Kerslake, CEO of prAna Living, tries his best by answering how he’s able to combine compassion with capitalism: “We’re still crappy at this. But we’re less crappy than a lot of people.”
That’s something to meditate on.