High performing professionals both locally and globally are turning to a time-tested, although surprising tool to achieve greatness in business and career. Once associated with barefoot hippies, light-chasing gurus, and new age religions, meditation is being utilized in boardrooms, conference rooms and even sky lounges by chief executive officers, business managers, and marketing and sales professionals to achieve success.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s not that they are looking to attain some sort of spiritual enlightenment, Samadhi or Nirvana. These are practical people. They have busy lives, run businesses and are looking for worldly success. They are not about to quit their day job to join the nearest ashram, temple or yoga community. Yet, in the midst of the thousand and one daily demands, they find that taking time to sit quietly – to seemingly do nothing – has led them to the very thing they seek, greater success. It is counter-intuitive to business at large, yet it seems to be working.
Why do they initially turn to meditation? The reasons vary. Some are looking for simple things – to feel more centered, calm and relaxed. Others are dealing with insomnia, anxiety and depression and heard meditation can help. Top business leaders cite things like greater productivity, creativity, humor and insight.
The list of positive, post-digestive effects of meditation is long. So long that images of snake oil medicine claims come to mind. But unlike snake oil medicine, science backs up these claims, showing that meditation addresses everything from job and athletic performance to weight loss and smoking cessation to lower cholesterol and blood pressure to improved immunity and skin conditions. The reason? Meditation affects the mind, and the mind affects almost everything else.
Even Oprah Winfrey has become a meditator. People want to meditate. So, they sit down, close their eyes, and hoping to find ease and peace, are instead blindsided by a cacophony of thoughts that won’t seem to shut up. Many quit, some within the first 45 seconds.
This phenomenon has a name. The wisdom keepers who initially brought meditation to the modern world, call it the “drunken monkey”. It swings from branch to branch to branch, never stopping and in no real coherent order. On occasion, the “monkey mind” does stop, only to be replaced by the dull and inert “water buffalo” mind. Neither animal is the goal.
What makes meditation so hard? Part of it is the set up.
New meditators have the false notion that meditation means to “not think”. This is impossible, as the entire purpose of the conscious mind is to think.
The brain processes approximately 400 billion bits of information every second. Only 2000 make it into our awareness. According to Sigmund Freud, the information residing inside our awareness is our consciousness. Everything outside the awareness is the unconscious. It other words, all the things we know that we know about make up the conscious, everything else resides in the unconscious mind.
Part of the role of the conscious mind is to make sense of the information it receives. It creates stories that help us navigate in the external world, learning what is dangerous and what is safe. It saves this information for later and combines old information with new to create a new future.
As our species evolved, those who could remember and imagine, those who could see the pitfalls best, survived. Those who didn’t, they left less in the gene pool. Today, modern people walk around with minds that evolved from those who could think quickly. Sitting to meditate, we experience it first hand.
Part of what makes meditators so successful is that they start to increase what they are aware of. They make more of what is unconscious conscious. To understand why, we have to look at the mechanics.
[quote float=”right”]Once associated with barefoot hippies, light-chasing gurus, and new age religions, meditation is being utilized in boardrooms and conference rooms.[/quote]Walking around in our daily lives, our brains vibrate at a measurable frequency, one associated with alertness, logic and crucial reasoning, as well as stress, anxiety and the inner critic. These frequencies are similar to the colors of the rainbow, where red is a slower wavelength than purple. Just as the eye can see more than one color, the brain can rest in more than one frequency.
The “color” below the conscious mind, is a frequency dominated by a sense of deep relaxation, as well as heightened imagination, memory, learning and concentration. The frequency below that is associated with those “a-ha” moments, which can flash into everyday life at unexpected time. Resting here, one experiences exceptional insight, profound creativity and awakened inspiration. Slow the frequency more and we connect to the place where deep regeneration and healing happens, and where we can begin to consciously access the things outside our awareness, the unconscious becomes conscious.
When we have more awareness, we can see opportunities better, solve problems and act on insights. We also have less attachment to failure and success, and so are able to act with more bravery.
The slowing of brain frequencies requires technique. Just as there is confusion around “not thinking”, there is confusion around “meditation”. In truth, “meditation” is the state of being in these different brain frequencies. To get from the frequency of conscious mind to slower ones, we cannot use the conscious mind, as it will keep us in its frequency. Instead, we have to trick it. The trick is concentration.
Concentration means that we take the monkey mind and ask it to rest on one point, to the distraction of everything else. As we softly focus on a chosen object, the rest of the thoughts fade to the background, and we begin to access these other states of mind. Anyone who has engaged in an extreme sport or even gardening has a sense of this experience. It is that point, when so entirely focused, everything else seems to fall away, even thought.
Sound simple enough? Anyone who has tried knows that it takes patience, especially in our app-enhanced, multi-tasking, short attention span world.
To get there the meditator, or rather concentrator, has only two jobs. The first is to relax. Nothing keeps meditation at bay like tension. Second, is to keep going. Concentration is like building a muscle and only practice will make it stronger. Over time, glimpses of meditation will happen.
There are a hundred different ways to concentrate, including guided meditations. Some techniques ask the practitioner to anchor their awareness to their breath, others to a silently repeated word, and others to sensations. All are valid.
Every stage of the process brings benefits. Sitting with the swings of the monkey mind brings mindfulness and awareness. Drawing attention back to the object of focus builds concentration and resiliency. Eventually those moments of deep relaxation appear, as well as flashes of insight that open us to opportunities and help solve problems.
Meditation has the ability to move the mind from stress and tension, to clarity and peace, creating the ground for greatness in everything we do.
Jackie Dobrinska is owner of Life Balance Designs—providing work-life balance tools for professional and personal success.