Mindfulness meditation is right up there with the Paleo diet in hipster parlance, but as David Gelles explains in his comprehensive book about the practice, when big companies like Monsanto take it up and find it actually delivers results, it’s probably worth a try.
Yes, Monsanto really did go a bit fluffy in the late 1990s, when for a few years the former chief executive Bob Shapiro had an expert come in and coach the company leaders in the basics of mindfulness meditation practice.
One of those executives told Gelles that it changed how he listened to people who approached the company with complaints about the environmental and social harm being caused by products like herbicides and GMO seeds. Instead of just cutting them off and giving them the standard script, he said, he’d actually listen and find compassion for their point of view.
Sadly, Shapiro was deposed, and the company discontinued promoting practices that ultimately could have lead to a greater consideration of others and a more thoughtful approach to living on the planet.
Mirbai Bush, who taught the Monsanto executives, was a long-time opponent of the multinational, and explains to Gelles that for her the process was also instructive as she had to come to an actual understanding of some of the deeper tenets of Buddhism to relate to people she’d always seen as foes.
Gelles’ book takes a wide-ranging look at mindfulness, including its history, the variety of ways it is practised, and some of the scientific research that has verified its benefits. These include decreased stress levels, greater happiness, better focus and a more limber mind.
He also gives multiple examples of how it is being applied in the corporate world, from General Mills, the US’s largest food products firm, through to a sustainable coffee manufacturer that programs 10 minutes of meditation and yoga positions into the start of every shift for factory workers, and has found it led to a dramatic reduction in workplace injuries and lower absenteeism.
And he explains very simply the basics of how to get started, and what deeper levels can be explored, including committing to compassion and social responsibility.
One of the pleasing things about the book is it’s not scared to poke at the furphys that some adherents or teachers have promoted, and there really have been some doozies.
There’s also some delightful anecdotes, like the Dalai Lama offering up some of his monks to scientists who were working on establishing what happens in the brain electrically when the practice is engaged in.
It also generates an interesting thought in terms of the modern activity-based working office fitout. Is it creating places where people can close their eyes, take deep breaths and meditate for five minutes?
After reading this clever and insightful book, it definitely seems like that would be a very wise investment. After all, a bit more mindfulness in certain quarters might even help make the world a better place.