More and more people are taking the opportunity to turn off electronics and find some alone time to center in and savor the spacious silence. Before radio, television, computers, iPods, etc., our ancestors had easier access to natural periods of quiet solitude, fulfilling a basic human need. Now with every waking moment plugged in, that solitude has to be purposely created. So it’s not surprising that meditation has been fully embraced at this time in history.
At the beginning of this trend in the West, some religious leaders thought the practice of meditation was a foreign religion that would, by its nature, turn people away from God. Since in practice it can actually deepen one’s understanding of whatever spiritual tradition one follows, that concern has died down considerably, and the more contemplative aspects of Christianity and Judaism have been enlivened by a new understanding of their value.
But still, ‘new’ things are scary, especially for those who hear about them but don’t try them to see for themselves. So the latest concern making its way around the blogosphere is whether meditation is being offered and encouraged by corporations in order to make workers docile.
Well, good luck with that! Meditators are doing an active practice that increases awareness of the natural moral compass within each of us. They are the least likely people to mindlessly do someone’s bidding, especially if that bidding encourages them to violate that moral compass.
It is part of the meditation practice to notice, question and calm our reactivity to external experience. So is meditation sedation?
Hardly! At the same time that we are less reactive to external experience, meditation also creates awareness that empowers us. We see how in each moment we have choices. By training our minds to stay present, we develop mindFULLness, not mindLESSness.
I have seen it happen first-hand in my own community. It is fairly typical to say you can’t fight city hall, but the citizens of my neighborhood had decided to try. The first meeting descended into rancor with one neighbor storming out in the middle because he didn’t feel his position was being heard. While speaking with the meeting leader afterwards, I suggested she might want to be more inclusive and less angry. So she put me in charge of the next meeting. (You’d think I would know when to be silent!)
The purpose of that next meeting was to prepare ourselves to speak to the town council about our concerns. It was important to represent all the concerns, but not repeat them, causing the mayor to feel they had heard enough, and end the session. So as neighbors arrived for this preparation meeting they were asked what their main concern was and what experience, skills and resources they had to address that concern. Then they were sent to the table that matched their primary concern. Each table then brainstormed to come up with compelling facts, create brief statements; then they chose the person at their table best equipped to represent that idea to the town council, and made sure that person had everything they needed to do a great job.
The city council was impressed by the well-coordinated, clear-spoken, friendly and civilized nature of our presentation, and they let us deliver it with a thoroughness that would not have otherwise been possible. I was delighted to see democracy in action in the way it was meant to be done.The council decided to delay the vote, do more research and meetings within the community, and eventually most of our concerns were met and compromises were made. We each have this capacity to make a difference in this way, and the responsibility as citizens to do so.
As more people become mindful, and have their fears of ‘other’ replaced by an understanding that we are all expressions of the same life force, whether we call it ‘God’ or energy or don’t name it at all, then we are more empowered to face the challenges of our times with a life-loving enthusiasm.
This is not mindlessly chewing our cud, ignoring what is going on. We are fully engaged but in a way that takes into account the understanding that life is impermanent, that we are all interconnected, and that we create suffering through clinging, grasping and pushing away.
If we have a regular practice of meditation that allows us to access our intrinsic sense of connection so that we care about the well being of all, and if we include this moral component to our inner investigation of the way of things, then we find we have a moral compass, or if you prefer, a pitch-perfect tuning fork, to recognize when something is harmful. In fact, our bodies register when something feels wrong — whether we have said or done something unskillful, or whether we are able to see that our work is not wise livelihood. We can physically feel it if we are paying attention!
Docile? I don’t think so!
Any company that provides opportunity for meditation to its workers will ultimately be glad of it. Although it’s impossible to define common traits of any group, people who meditate regularly are more likely to enjoy teamwork than if these same people did not meditate. They are less likely to whine, gossip or sabotage. As mentioned earlier they have the capacity to change the energy in a meeting or in a company from rancorous to collaborative.
Regular meditators are healthier than the average person so they will be on the job. They are steadier and more balanced than they would be without meditation, so the climate of the workplace is more conducive to reaching clear and reasonable goals. I mention reasonable, because a meditator is unlikely to be driven by fear, or the belief that some future moment will create personal happiness. A meditator is more likely to be present, to question assumptions, to be an active listener, a creative problem-solver and a clear-sighted leader (though it might help if they are a Toastmaster too!) If the company is providing a useful product or service, has fair business and employment practices, then offering meditation practice to its employees is indeed a very wise move. But please, don’t expect docility!
For example, we are in drought here in the Bay Area, and the hills that usually turn green in the winter are brown because we have had hardly any rain, and what little we did was way back in the early autumn. I have noticed that I suffer this drought. I suffer seeing the dryness. I suffer worrying what this will mean, how long the drought will last, and how our garden will survive, etc.
In the meantime, the sky is blue, fruit trees are blooming, the sun is shining and the air is delicious. There is nothing I can do to make the drought stop. I have the power to conserve water more consciously than ever, but nothing I can do will make the rain come any sooner. I heard someone on local news refer to this warm pleasant weather as ‘a guilty pleasure’.
I do feel guilty, and so many people I talk to during the day seem to feel it as well. As beautiful as the weather is, we get caught up in this sense of distress. What causes me distress is my fear of the future. When I am purely in the present moment, I am mindful of limited resources, but also enjoy the weather while it lasts.
If you live in Marin County, CA, here’s a link to the MMWD 25% voluntary reduction request.
If you live in an area that has been experiencing record cold or record heat, I send you metta (loving-kindness)! Be mindful and take extra good care of yourself.
Our practice of meditation and our exploration of the Buddha’s teachings helps us to understand the difference between what we are empowered to do and what conditions we learn to accept with grace.