Commitment to the (Mindfulness Meditation) Practice: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

young man exercising yoga

Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me. Paulo Coelho in The Zahir

 

 

Modern neuroscience is illuminating humanity’s understanding of the nervous system including the human brain and the evolutionary discovery that the human adult brain has a quality of neuroplasticity, the ability to change. This ability to change permits rewiring of the neural pathways or circuits established by longtime habitual cognitive-emotional-behavioral patterns throughout the entire lifespan.

It is difficult to emphasize the significance of this finding (and numerous others), because it undercuts a paradigm historically held by scientists and mental health professionals that the human brain becomes “hardwired” in childhood. Thankfully, humans can and do rewire our brains and form new habits throughout our lives which is extremely good news for individuals, organizations, and humanity’s collective future!

Despite the good news of neuroplasticity, we all know that changing longtime habitual patterns is not easy. This is in part due to our highly efficient human brains that naturally seek to conserve energy by autopiloting repetitive thoughts-emotions-action loops so as to free up cognitive capacity for new, creative, and more complex endeavors.

However, a growing body of scientific findings on meditation and the brain indicate that practices such as mindfulness meditation support the replacement of self-defeating habits with more constructive habits (to include meditation itself!) while also facilitating structural changes that enhance well-being.  The mindful leaders in my 2015 doctorate study demonstrated the capacity of the adult brain to rewire neural pathways and form development-oriented habits through a commitment to their mindfulness practice as depicted in the following example.

And when I don’t practice, I miss it.  I long for it, and I feel, it helps being married, having a barometer [laughs] that lives with you. Who says, ‘Has it been a couple of days since you sat?’  ‘Or a couple of weeks, perhaps?’  You know, ‘What’s going on?’  And, usually he doesn’t have to say that.  Usually just my own reactivity speaks to me, his responses to me speak to me that show me that I’m off base.  And I do miss it and it was profound for me when I realized that meditation is like food.  It’s nurturing.  So, there’s no longer the hammer of a should, if I don’t practice there will be negative consequences.  It’s more that I really long for my own sanity I think.

Thus, the mindful leaders studied appear to be experiencing the fruits of their practices and the promise of neuroplasticity. They are freeing themselves from unproductive habitual patterns and choosing new constructive habits for better (and more sane) lives to include commitment to their meditation practices.  For more information on the good news of neuroplasticity and additional (r)evolutionary findings in the realm of neuroscience and meditation, check out “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

 

This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, PhD, Holistically-Oriented Transformative Coaching and Management Consulting (http://www.metamorphosisconsultation.com).

Revised 7/12/2017

More Integrative or Balanced Leadership: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

tao symbolWhile there is no universal definition of leadership, popular definitions often include a reference to power and influence that shape or inform others’ thinking and acting. In Western societies, particularly the United States, leadership is highly associated with traditional masculine qualities such as assertion, control, achievement, competition, and material success. In other words, leaders are typically rewarded for doing.

In contrast, in the United States, traditional feminine qualities such as receptivity, cooperation, relationship-orientation, humility, and harmony have historically been deemphasized in leadership and the workplace. While this is starting to change (i.e., the growing recognition of the importance of these qualities in leadership effectiveness), the emphasis is still overwhelmingly on doing.

Consequently, today’s organizational manager-leaders report long hours and high demands that leave them overstretched, depleted, and disconnected. Consequently, the modern organizational manager-leader often lives an extremely unbalanced life with work consuming most of their days (and nights) with minimal time available for self-care, family time, spiritual renewal, or community engagement.

Overtime, this takes an immense toll on manager-leaders on many levels as they start “killing the goose” as illustrated in the wisdom of the Aesop Fable, The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg:

A man had a hen that laid a golden egg for him each and every day. The man was not satisfied with this daily profit, and instead he foolishly grasped for more. Expecting to find a treasure inside, the man slaughtered the hen. When he found that the hen did not have a treasure inside her after all, he remarked to himself, ‘While chasing after hopes of a treasure, I lost the profit I held in my hands!’

Ideally, manager-leaders make positive life changes before “slaughtering the hen.” Unfortunately, it often takes a significant crisis before a manager-leader recognizes the self-destructive path she/he is on. However, the first developmental theme of the mindful leaders in my study indicates that the growing interest in and practice of mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) by an increasing numbers of manager-leaders is resulting in a potential shift toward greater balance in their approach to leadership as depicted in the following example.

I guess another thing that changed for me is I’m starting to kind of shift my views on decision-making.  And, so I mean that’s the primary role of a leader, right, is to make decisions about certain things.  And I used to sit there and agonize, ‘Oh, well, what’s the right decision?  What’s going to, you know, satisfy this criterion or, you know, make this person happy or, you know, achieve this goal or whatever?’  And I still kind of do that, but now I’m shifting a little bit more towards letting go of that process a little bit.  It’s not that I don’t make a decision.  It’s that I see the decision as kind of emerging on its own, which is a little bit strange, but again, it ties back to that aspect of, you know, the not sell or, you know, not (over) identifying. (Middle manager and academic in higher education)

Thus, a more integrated or balanced leadership style was the first and most represented theme of the mindful leaders studied followed by greater self-regulation, the topic of my next blog essay.

This essay is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders with a projected publication of December 2017.

Leadership, Gun Violence in America, and the Necessity of a Global Mindshift

Illustration of world map in human head, vector

These last few weeks have me dazed and confused. No doubt, we live in uncertain and complex times. It seems that life, as we know it is in a major state of flux and flurry. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as global climate change, gun violence, growing inequality, global terrorism, and mass extinction of species, just to name a few.

Given the scale of our collective challenges, leaders are called to “show up” with their gifts, talents, and resources and ask, “How can I contribute to real solutions that address the global challenges most concerning and meaningful to me?  Real leadership and real solutions call us into our higher natures. It does not separate, rouse hate against some “evil other,” nor play to our animalistic fears. Consequently, real leadership and real solutions necessitate a global mindshift, because underlying all our mayhem is a separation consciousness that operates from an either/or mindset.

As Einstein and many others have stated, we cannot and will not solve our most pressing challenges with the same thinking that created them. Consequently, solving our most urgent global challenges requires a global mindshift to more holistic thinking and acting. However, holistic or integral thinking does not mean that everything is equal. It requires movement from either/or thinking to both/and thinking as well as discernment of breadth and depth.

Ideally, as highlighted by American philosopher Ken Wilber and numerous other thought leaders (e.g., Warren Bennis) a holistic or integral mindset needs to include the individual “I” or subjective, the collective “we” or cultural, and the collective “it” or systems (social and natural) dimensions. Leaders have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help midwife this essential global mindshift at every level of society. While there are numerous areas demanding more holistic thinking, for this essay, I would like to focus on one critical issue on many hearts and minds, gun violence.

Gun violence tragedies are ravaging our lives in increasing numbers. Approximately 30,000 Americans die from gun violence annually (www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org).  A holistic or integral mindset would require questions and solutions from the four basic areas highlighted above. For example, possible questions include:

  •  The individual “I”: How do individuals cultivate ethical sensibilities? What role do identity and human consciousness play in gun violence? What role might contemplative practices play in helping people thrive in a changing and uncertain world? How can individuals increase capacity for peaceful conflict resolution? What type of capacities do people need to live peacefully in uncertain times? What is true security? What role does fear play in gun ownership? How does a person decide if he/she needs a gun? If one decides that he/she needs a gun, how does one decide what type of gun?
  • The collective “we” or cultural space: What role does the prevalence of violence in our movies, music, video games, television shows, books, etc. have on our gun violence crisis? How do we continue to heal our cultural wounds of racism?
  • The collective “it” or systems space: What would responsible gun reform public policy look like? How do we hold our elective officials responsible for upholding all of the Constitution—protecting our right to bear arms, providing for the common defense and promoting our general welfare? How do we continue to right the systemic wrongs of racial discrimination, inequality, and poverty? How do we ensure that our elected officials put our (the public) interest over corporate interests? How do we address growing inequality in America?

Gun violence in America is a complex and difficult issue, and I do not claim any expertise here. However, like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by our current gun violence crisis, and I offer these questions as a starting point. Furthermore, I yearn for real leadership and real solutions on this issue, which I propose will only come about through a global mindshift to more holistic thinking and acting.

Consequently, 21st century leadership requires a global mindshift from either/or thinking to BOTH/AND thinking. Sounds good, but how do leaders go about making this type of perspectival shift?  This is THE question of personal transformation for which there are no easy and definitive answers. However, we start where we are and begin the transformative journey toward psychological maturation or self-actualization and awakening (please see the essay, Waking, Up, Growing, Up, and Showing Up). There are numerous transformative practices, East and West, to help facilitate this global mindshift. However, presently meditation is the most evidence-based transformative practice available. Furthermore, the power of meditation is enhanced with a wellness lifestyle that honors body, mind, spirit in self, society, and nature. Yes, this is a tenuous and lifelong journey, but it promises to be the greatest adventure one will ever take!

Revised 1/13/20

Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to More Conscious Living and Leading

Mindfulness-Meditation-Toronto-Bay-Street-chinese-young-manager-meditatingAs mindfulness meditation grows in popularity, more people are beginning to realize that meditation is not what they thought.  Actually, I was one of those people. In April-June 2010, I completed introductory meditation courses with the Boston Shambhala Center and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, with The Center of Mindfulness affiliated with UMass Medical School in Worcester, MA. Since that time I have had a regular sitting practice.  While I still see myself as a beginner, I have noticed significant changes in how I see and relate to my own thoughts, feelings, and life experiences as well as other people and  the world. Thus, I see tremendous value in starting and maintaining mindfulness meditation as a path to more conscious living and leading.

The primary difference I have noticed since starting the practice is the mental space it has given me, which has allowed me to start (notice, I stated, start—smile) responding to situations in a more constructive manner. I readily admit to being a self-help book connoisseur. I am also a lay student of psychology. Prior to starting my sitting practice, intellectually, I was able talk about “moments of awareness” and the “gap” or space between stimulus and response where one has the freedom to choose. However, the gap eluded me, and I frequently (particularly in difficult situations) reacted out of habitual patterns such as defensiveness even though I deeply desired to respond in a more constructive way.

As evidence by a plethora of magazine articles, news stories, blog essays, and books on the topic, there is a growing interest in the West in mindfulness meditation practices frequently associated with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Vipassana (or Insight) meditation, and Zen Buddhist meditation. This growing interest is not surprising given the mounting research findings indicating extensive beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation on mental health and well-being, physical health, self-regulation and interpersonal behavior.

As highlighted in the expanding body of mindfulness literature (including my doctorate research),  through the process of intentionally focusing nonjudgmental awareness on the contents of mind, the mindfulness (meditation) practitioner begins to strengthen ‘the observing self’. By cultivating the capacity to witness emotional states, practitioners begin freeing themselves from habitual patterns in a way that enhances self-regulation and fosters conscious living. My life experience and research affirms this conclusion which is what the Eastern traditions (and some Western contemplative traditions) have been teaching for over 2,000 years.

Meditation…. it is not what you think! If you are tired of living out the same old tired scripts, then I invite you to choose to live more consciously by starting a mindfulness meditation practice. Before you start, I highly encourage you to get instruction from a trained and seasoned mindfulness meditation instructor. The technique is simple; however, if not executed properly you might as well be surfing the Internet.

(Revised and reposted from former Paradigms 4 Progress blog May 2016)