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.

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)