We can experience great joy and great love right in the midst of pressure, exhaustion, and overwhelm when we practice mindfulness. In fact, it is possible for mindfulness practice, work, and leadership to be contextualized as one activity, right in the midst of many activities. This requires self-awareness, awareness of others, awareness of time, and awareness of the quality of one’s efforts. Mindful work and mindful leadership both require and cultivate the essential skills we need to thrive. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness support our entire well-being, far beyond the needs of the workplace. They help us thrive in any endeavor.
Historically, people tend to be drawn to mindfulness practice during times of rapid change, which are accompanied by high levels of stress, volatility, and uncertainty; times much like those we live in right now. In addition, over the centuries, mindfulness has been adapted and integrated to meet the most vibrant and pressing needs of society — not only influencing spiritual traditions but seeping into many facets of daily life and culture, including the arts, food, education, work, and beyond.
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness support our entire well-being, far beyond the needs of the workplace. They help us thrive in any endeavor.
While it’s true that increasing self-awareness is a key aspect of mindfulness practice, the intent is more than awareness of one’s individual self. The intention is to cultivate a wider and more inclusive perspective, aspiring to loosen concern about oneself and to expand our narrow personal experience, so we adopt a more universal and less dualistic awareness. This is referred to as a shift from Small Mind to Big Mind.
Shifting Out of Small-Mindedness
Much of what we experience on a moment-to-moment basis is the world of Small Mind — of the personal self, of I, me, and mine. In fact, science now has a name for Small Mind — it’s called the “default mode network.” This is the part of the brain that is often worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, rather than being relaxed and alert to this moment, to seeing with greater clarity. From a psychological perspective, this is a lot like ego. Mindfulness practice includes learning from and appreciating Small Mind while cultivating Big Mind — the more open, curious, and accepting perspective or way of being. You might say that mindful leadership is about applying the experience of Big Mind, which is cultivated through meditation (but can be accessed anytime), to the concerns of Small Mind, or the pressures and joys of daily life and of working with others to accomplish time-sensitive goals.
Over the course of my career, I’ve identified nine benefits of integrating mindfulness practice and mindful leadership. They are enduring and universal, accessible and available in any situation and to anyone. All you need is to apply the approach of mindful leadership to whatever situation, challenge, organization, role, or work environment you are in.
The Nine Benefits of Mindful Leadership:
- Mindful leadership cultivates a richness of experience; ordinary, everyday work can feel heightened, meaningful, and at times extraordinary.
- It removes gaps between mindfulness practice, work practice, taking care of people, and achieving results.
- It considers learning from stress, challenges, difficulties, and problems to be an integral part of the process of growth and not something to be avoided.
- It helps us recognize and work with contradictions and competing priorities to cultivate flexibility and understanding.
- It helps us experience timelessness, effortlessness, and joy even in the midst of hard work and exceptional effort.
- It can be applied to any activity to cultivate both confidence and humility.
- It embraces individuality and unity — everyone has a particular role and yet all make one team, supported by and supporting one another, practicing together
- It considers true success twofold — in the character and compassion of the people and in the quality and results of the work.
- It allows us to shift from a narrow, egocentric, fear-based way of being to becoming more open, curious, connected, and able to help others.
Mindfulness is a way of being and of seeing that shifts our perspective. It is pragmatic — endlessly so, in my experience — since it helps us solve everyday problems in effective and efficient ways. It also develops our way of being, adding depth and richness to the experience of life itself. With mindfulness, every task is approached with both humility and confidence, with hope and with letting go of hope. Ultimately, mindfulness is mysterious, plunging into questions of consciousness, birth, death, and impermanence — while providing us with direct experience that, when we let go of our fears and habits, what arises is composure, a deep sense of love, and a profound sense of meaning and connectedness to life.
This article was excerpted from Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader, by Marc Lesser.