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Marieke van Vugt

How to practically embody a strong personal ethics in the workplace

Monique de Knop giving her talk Monique de Knop giving her talk Anne-Laure Amayon/Lerab Ling

On the last day of the conference, Monique de Knop shared her experience in being a top manager in the Belgian government. She dissected what wisdom in the workplace really means. Being wise it not necessarily always being gentle. Actually, it is most importantly being solid and stable. She explained how she developed her wisdom by first listening to spiritual teachings, using her meditation as a laboratory to get to know her mind, finding mental calm, contemplating actions, and the finally acting from that ethic. This personal ethic is really important in bringing wisdom in an organization, but in addition you can manifest it in your actions. When you see your workers as a potential to be developed, rather than a resource to be used, then work can be a place where you develop yourself.

In a very recognizable way, Michael Henry talked about the ocean that sometimes exists between the world of contemplation and the world of business. The trick is then to try to find a way to combine the two. For example, he mentioned how encouraging it was that business leaders are starting to talk about their personal practice in public, at the Wisdom 2.0 conference. In my own life, I have been experimenting with this as well. I have been part of a project named Unblocked in which a choreographer used Movement Research to study the mind, and in particular those mental tendencies and habits that prevent people from realizing their potential. My own habit was that of compartmentalizing my meditation practice, my scientific work, and my dance. This very conference was in effect an excellent way to bring my science and my meditation, and even my dance closer together. I incorporated dance in this endeavor during my talk, when I almost danced it at times. Movement is a very powerful way to communicate.

Of course all of these are nice ideas, but how do you practically go about implementing these things? Kimberly Poppe shared with her some advice from a yearly retreat for business leaders that she co-directs: when a team leader in a stressful situation realized he was going to yell at a person on his time when he was stressed, instead he was able to say "now this is not going in the direction where we want to go. Let's take a minute, and then continue." When we did that, suddenly the whole situation became much easier, and as a bonus he hadn't hurt his team member, like he would have through yelling at that person. Monique, in response to a question about how to practise when you are already very exhausted, said that the practice could actually give you energy. Olivier Raurich further added that it was an interesting exercise to actually compute how much time the practice saves you through being more efficient, making better decisions, not having to make up with people after having yelled at them, etc. Another trick that Monique de Knop mentioned was to remember your motivation: before you go to work in the morning, take a moment to check what you're going to really bring to the world, what you hope to accomplish. In the evening you can then check whether you've actually done so, and how you've served the world. Michael Carroll very inspiringly reminded us to see ourselves as a buddha, with tremendous dignity. Then you no longer have to hold up an image of yourself, and you suddenly have many fewer problems. Work can then be a seat from which you give to the world.

Maureen Cooper also provided us with some very practical advice, this time more from the perspective of compassion. For example, when you open up your e-mail, you can sit for a moment quietly as your e-mail loads. Each message you respond to you can check for a moment what this really is about, what is the larger perspective? You can also observe your reaction with kindness, while at the same time recognizing the other person is also another person who wants to be happy. I myself have found it very helpful to sometimes send a well wish to people. Even more useful was advice on holding a meeting. You could consider taking a moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting to settle, and to connect with a very open and spacious attitude to whatever happens. When you notice the other participants as people who all want to be happy, and who are all doing their best, then the whole atmosphere can change. And when things get difficult, you can just be aware of what's happening and try to insert a positive note. Humor can work miracles! I will definitely try this out in the next meeting I have to hold. Finally, she ended with provoking us to work with a difficult colleague and to do something nice for them. Stepping out of your habits in that way can really change things. In short, there are surprisingly many ways to bring meditation and compassion in the workplace, and it's definitely worth experimenting with. And if you want to hear more about these things, I encourage you to check out the streaming videos of this event.