If you've ever wondered what it might be like to work for Google, or more specifically, to take the mindfulness training for Google employees, wittily known as "Search Inside Yourself: Mindfulness Based Emotional Intelligence," you'll soon have the chance. I helped develop SIY training along with Google's "Jolly Good Fellow" Chade Meng Tan and Norman Fisher, former Abbott of the San Francisco Zen Center. Today, SIY is taking on a life of its own and increasingly being offered to the public beyond Google, and it's part of a broader trend towards workplace mindfulness that many innovative organizations are embracing. If it hasn't touched your organization yet, chances are it will before long.
If you're within striking distance of the New York area, your chance to engage the trend is already here: Gopi Kallayil, Google's "Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing" and I will be leading an SIY training at the Garrison Institute, an hour north of Manhattan on the Hudson River, August 1-3. It's open to the public; anyone can sign up. Meanwhile, here are a few of my own impressions of SIY as a contributor and a teacher:
One day in an SIY class at Google in Mountain View, Meng is asking everyone to say two words about how they are feeling after doing a mindfulness practice. Rich, from People Ops, says "nonjudgmental experience." Ahmed, a scientist, says, "Very related." Will, a recruiter for attorneys, says "Defragged hard-drive." Did the Buddha ever say defragged hard-drive? I don't think so. Unique.
Later, I am standing in the lunch line listening to this: A young engineer in a black t-shirt with Google logo says, "I felt guilty about coming here, but my boss said, 'Dude, just go.'" Another in a grey hoodie and running shoes: "Oh, one of my bosses gave me covering fire. He said, I took SIY and it really helped." I've also worked with the Army, but I never heard "covering fire" in relation to meditation. A powerful form of compassionate action.
At Google in New York (T-shirts, scooters, primary colors, sushi, security), I am in a meeting room, where about 30 Googlers walk in and sit down, right on schedule. People are here from Engineering, Product Management, People Operations, Finance, Sales and Communications. Bala, Anand, Ameesh, Doantam, Shibiao, Bruce, Jackie, Amanda, Anne, Brenda, John.
"Welcome to the first New York Search Inside Yourself," says Phillipe Goldin from Stanford. "I am trained as a neuroscientist. I hope I can help you understand why we are searching inside as well as outside. I'll talk about mindful states of mind and emotional intelligence. Please turn off your computers and cell phones and just be present." As Philippe talks about the emotional reactivity limbic system and awareness of the body, I feel stiffness in my neck.
He also talks about how meditation makes a person less responsive to threatening distraction. Reduces the startle response. Stay chill while writing algorithms. "What we want is psychological flexibility in attending to the past, present and future." He defines neuroplasticity, and a student asks, "Are there individual differences in ability to be plastic?"
Philippe now directs us to take a "position of dignity": "Feel your sitz bones or your tush on the chair... " He gives a writing prompt: "When I feel understood, I...."
"Pause now," Philippe says.. "Drop In. Notice. Observe. No evaluation."
Student: "When I feel understood, I feel like I am connected to a larger universe. Oh yes, I belong here, I am here for a reason, there is someone who gets it, an ally. I feel less alone." Others begin to respond to the rest of the day: "I fell asleep standing up." A student wearing a BOOM HEADSHOT t-shirt (white letters on black): "I was weirded out by the breathing exercise. I thought it was more than three minutes... I felt I needed a break." Another: "My mind goes so fast. When I am typing I can never go as fast as my mind."
This is how mindfulness classes sound at Google. I always learn a lot and laugh a lot. The way I see it, the truth reveals itself uniquely in each human being, which is amazing since there are so many of us. And it also comes through certain groups or subcultures in unique ways that the rest of us can learn from. As SIY expands beyond Google, more and more of us from a wider range of backgrounds will become part of the SIY alumni, sharing our unique contributions with others who are searching.