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Marieke van Vugt

Creating a compassionate organization

speakers panel during Meditation & Human Values in the Workplace conference speakers panel during Meditation & Human Values in the Workplace conference Anne-Laure Amayon/Lerab Ling

The second day of the Meditation & Human Values in the Workplace conference moved from the individual to the organizational level. We started out by hearing from Federico Daini-Jôkô Procopio, a Zen monk who also works with many organizations and businesses. He opened our eyes to seeing our colleagues as marvelous human beings, rather than as ways to make profit. He also made the point that since we spend so much time at work, we may just as well try to make it a place to work with ourselves and eventually maybe to become buddhas. He invited us to see how actually from one moment to the next everything is possible, if you can just open your eyes. This way of seeing was really quite an eye-opener for me: maybe we can really try to see our organization or business as a place where people come together to develop their talents, and find themselves. Rather than focus on maximizing profit we could see business as a way to together contribute to society.

Maureen Cooper contrasted the much more Buddhist-inspired talks with a mention of the Dalai Lama's books on secular ethics (e.g., Beyond Religion) and his call for a global community based on respect. Most important for that is the development, discernment, and compassion. As a way to give us hope, she told the story of a group of bonobos, who formed a much more compassionate clan after the most agressive males had passed away due to eating poisoned food. While we suffer from a lot of stress due to an imbalance between the increasing demands of our work and our lack of control over our work, we can change our attitude. And what turns out to be quite powerful to changing our attitude is an awareness of how we treat our colleagues. Michael Carroll later echoed this by emphasizing the benefits of practicing the slogans for mind training ("lojong) in the workplace. While we may not always have the time to sit still for even a minute, we can still carry these ideas with us in whatever we do.

Michael Chaskelson told us a very powerful story about how mindfulness brings considerable benefits: a repeat offender was able to see his urge to attack a person, and was able to suspend that and thereby prevent literally hundreds of thousands of euros in costs for medical care and the criminal justice system. At the same time, such a profit-based view is not what it's all about, Michael Carroll emphasized, it's about being truly human. Federico inspired us to not do great things but rather do whatever we accomplish with a sense of beauty and grandeur. I thought that was a very inspiring thought. Moreover, rather than necessarily always stopping to do meditation, he encouraged us to sit while walking, sit while working, sit while partying--in short, to always maintain that attitude.

Another value that was discussed was "agility" by Michael Carroll. He lucidly explained how these days the most important thing a company needs is self-organization so it can respond to change. This agility is cultivated in meditation much more so than attention training. I very much agree with that and think that is one of the most important directions for future scientific research: how can we measure the tendency to get stuck in things, or conversely, mental fluidity that is characteristic of agility. Also Olivier Raurich discussed how meditation is much more than attention training. He showed how compassion is a very important consequence and facilitating factor of meditation. What I also found interesting is that he warned about potential wrong ways in which you can practice meditation: when you only concentrate and forget the openness and compassionate aspect, and when you block out the potential negative aspects of yourself such that they remain below the surface. According to Michael Chaskelson, meditation involves furthermore a view of seeing everything as impermanent and insubstantial. I very much agree, and think this is an important thing to keep in mind when we study meditation scientifically, as well as when we practice it in our own lives.