Mindfulness: The Juicy Stuff Beyond the Hype

When it comes to mindfulness meditation, especially how it is practiced and taught in the context of the workplace, I have good news, even better news and bad news.
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peaceful man making yoga on beach.
peaceful man making yoga on beach.

When it comes to mindfulness meditation, especially how it is practiced and taught in the context of the workplace, I have good news, even better news and bad news.

The good news is that all the hype surrounding mindfulness is grounded in reality, at least according to the scientific research and my experience practicing and teaching it. It is true that mindfulness reduces stress, enhances attention and creativity, improves self-awareness and leads to pleasant outcomes like productivity, promotions and prosperity. This stuff actually works. Efficacy is the number one reason mindfulness is becoming so popular so quickly. The even better news is that these benefits are really just the preliminary benefits of mindfulness practice. Just beyond these preliminaries lie the real juicy fruits of the practice that are far more delicious. Yum. The bad news is that if you're not mindful of all the yummy juicy fruits just ahead, it is possible to miss out on them and be stuck with only the preliminary benefits.

The first juicy fruit of a mature mindfulness practice is that inner peace becomes a close companion. As your mindfulness practice deepens over time, calmness of mind also deepens. You eventually develop a faculty of inner peace that you never completely lose touch with. It becomes like your best friend. This inner peace is usually experienced as stability and serenity of mind. Even in the midst of great emotional difficulty, there is some non-zero access to this inner peace. It keeps you from completely losing emotional control (or, "flying off the handle") some large percentage of the time and offers you some ability to think clearly even in the middle of emotional turbulence.

This inner peace shows up to others as steady leadership and self-confidence, the type of attractive self-confidence that puts people at ease. More importantly, this faculty of inner peace leads to increasing freedom from some gross suffering and ill-will. For example, as this inner peace gains strength over time, your frequency of losing your temper and shouting at a subordinate or a child keeps decreasing, thereby reducing that cause of ill-will and also reducing suffering for them and for yourself.

The second juicy fruit is a blossoming of inner joy that depends less and less on pleasure. There is a faculty of inner joy that arises naturally and sustainably out of deep equanimity. As your mindfulness practice matures, the mind becomes increasingly equanimous and this inner joy becomes more and more accessible. The best thing about this inner joy is that, because it arises entirely from equanimity, it does not require pleasure of ego or senses. The more strongly this inner joy establishes itself, the less you are dependent on pleasure.

Having reliable access to such a source of joy is obviously a delectable experience in and of itself. In my opinion, however, the best thing about this faculty in the context of work is it leads increasingly to freedom from the afflictive thirst for wealth and power. You still enjoy being successful, but success becomes a friendly preference rather than a compulsion. You are now a friend of success, no longer its slave. At work, that shows up as goodness and balance: you show up as someone who does outstanding work and is capable of achieving great things but feels neither need nor desire to harm anyone to become successful. And because of that, you succeed in ways that inspire people.

The third juicy fruit, possibly the most important one, is that compassion begins to flower, leading to benefits for all. As your inner joy takes hold, kindness begins to flourish and when kindness becomes strong, compassion develops. You start to gravitate strongly towards meaning and purpose in your work, and more importantly, to care for the greater good in the world and for the well-being for all. If you're holding leadership responsibilities, this is when you truly shine as a leader. You gain the transformative lens to look beyond oneself. You go from "I" to "we" instinctively and effortlessly. People look up to you, and they love you for that beautiful and inspiring glow in your heart.

In my opinion, this is the juiciest of the three fruits because compassion is the beginning of true greatness in oneself and, more importantly, compassion on a global scale will greatly alleviate suffering in the world.

In short, my friends, the three really juicy fruits of mindfulness practice are inner peace, inner joy, and compassion. Enjoy them often, gorge on them; they are really good for you. This is especially true if you are a teacher of mindfulness. As a teacher, it is absolutely essential for you not to be stuck at the level of preliminary benefits like stress relief and improved attention. Doing so will be like being a flight instructor who never flies an airplane, but instead, only drives it on the street like a car. Not only are you and your students not enjoying the full potential of the airplane, but worse, there's a very real danger that after a while, your students will be tempted to remove the wings to make it a more effective car. Therefore, if you are a flight instructor, you should frequently demonstrate flight, or at the very minimum, let your students know what the airplane can do and what the wings are good for.

Personally, as a teacher, I try to be sensitive to this problem. This is why when my team designed the mindfulness-based emotional intelligence curriculum in Google called Search Inside Yourself (SIY), we made a deliberate decision to design it with challenging topics like "joy independent of pleasure" and meditative practices for developing kindness and compassion built in. It is really important to us not to lose the full potential of the practice. At the end of the day, mindfulness is about global human flourishing and eliminating suffering everywhere, not (just) about feeling better and doing well at work. And that's also why when my team founded the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI, pronounced "silly", and yes, I did name it, how did you guess?), we founded it with this vision: "Every leader in the world is wise and compassionate, thus creating the conditions for world peace." We dream about wisdom, compassion and world peace.

Because of that, we are most delighted to welcome Arianna Huffington and Richie Davidson as the newest members of the SIYLI board. Arianna and Richie are luminaries of their respective fields who are pushing the boundaries of wisdom and compassion in science, media, leadership and society. More importantly, Arianna and Richie both personally embody many of the best aspects of the practice. We are tremendously lucky to have them.