Many long-time meditators have watched the rise in popularity of meditation and mindfulness with great interest. For decades the research into meditation's benefits have been well documented, but it's the studies into such things as better performance and a rise in productivity that have attracted the business sector's attention. In-house meditation and mindfulness courses are being integrated into many corporations and some businesses have meditation rooms for staff to sit and breathe and practice being mindful.
Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. Not worrying about the future, not dwelling on the past. Being here, now, and being aware that you are here, now, moment by moment. Many Eastern philosophies have used mindfulness techniques for millennia and Western psychology has taken to it with enthusiasm.
Buddhist psychotherapist Renate Ogilvie has taught at Buddhist centers around the world for over 20 years. She combines modern approaches to psychotherapy with Buddhist philosophy to help people deal with depression, fear and anger. I spoke with her recently and asked for her thoughts on the rising popularity of using mindfulness techniques in the work place. Her answer surprised me.
Renate considers capitalism to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding -- that material wealth and success will make us happy. When it doesn't, our whole belief system is thrown into doubt. We have everything but we are not content. That was Renate's story. She had a high-powered job in London, an apartment in the city, a country house and many fashionable friends. It wasn't enough. She looked to what was on offer elsewhere -- other beliefs, other methods -- and fell in love with Buddhism. Literally, that's how she describes it. She was completely besotted and for six months all she did was read Buddhist literature and delve more and more deeply into the philosophy.
She has seen many people in similar circumstances, not happy in their lives although they seem to have it all, searching for answers elsewhere. Not all of them, however, experience beneficial results. It's all about intention. These people turn to meditation because they associate it with focus and with balance. They perceive it as useful for business and also secretly as useful for themselves. That will it equip them better for their competitive lifestyles. Renate says this a misconception.
"Meditation and mindfulness are not here to make us better in the rat race," Renate told me. "Of course, it focuses the mind, makes us sharper and more aware but without context you can, for example, use mindfulness to be a totally excellent drug dealer."
She went on to explain that mindfulness should not just be used for competition, for succeeding in the world, or as a narcissistic way of improving ourselves. If we do that we're totally missing the point. In fact, when we embrace meditation techniques within an ethical framework, it very much poses the question of how we make our money. It challenges the fact that we get entangled in a competitive lifestyle where we're told the most important person is number one.
Ultimately the aim of mindfulness is to make us masters of our own minds. Renate maintains that being master of our mind is a necessary step toward gaining enlightenment, but not just for ourselves and our own gratification, but for the sake of others. In doing so, we become more effective in the way we help other people. This is the most important motivation. This is the ennobling side of meditation. When we use techniques like mindfulness, ultimately the impetus must be used to benefit others.
I'm not a Buddhist myself, but I meditate as I have been taught. At the end of each session I finish with Metta -- loving kindness. May all beings share my merits. May all beings be happy. And perhaps this is the answer. In a recent Yale study, published in the journal Brain and Behavior, the researchers evoked feelings of selfless love in meditators by having them repeat the phrase "may all beings be happy" while their brains were being scanned. The study found that the areas of the brain that become active when we think about ourselves were deactivated, especially in experienced meditators.
Judson Brewer, co-lead author of the study and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine explained: "This selfless love, it's not about us, it's about getting out of our own way. When there's no self, there's no one to worry about feeling the pain, so that's where the compassion arises."
Compassion. Loving kindness. A few moments of selfless love at the end of every meditation could be the antidote to becoming a totally excellent drug dealer.
Mary-Lou's meditation memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation is available here.