Meditation is a subject full of misconceptions and misunderstandings, yet those of us who do it regularly can’t imagine life without it. It’s one of the best kept secrets around but fortunately it’s becoming more and more mainstream.
In fact at the leadership level it’s becoming an essential skill. Mark Bunn, author of Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health sums it up nicely when he says, “Twenty years ago meditation was seen in the business world as something for weirdos. Ten years ago people started to see that maybe there was something to it. And now, you’re at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t meditate.”
We’ve both been meditating for more 18 years now and in this post and this podcast episode we wanted to share some of the benefits and insights we’ve picked up along the way. We both practice and recommend Transcendental Meditation (TM) but if you’re drawn to another technique, then by all means do that. The important thing is that you meditate.
And while our focus is on people leaders and managers, we certainly recommend meditation for anyone with a pulse. We could argue that those with leadership responsibilities have more to benefit as their decisions can have far reaching impact but, in truth, that can be said for all of us.
If you aren’t meditating already and want to give yourself an edge though, read on (or listen in) to find out why it’s a good idea to do so and how you can get started.
Perhaps the overarching benefit of meditation is that it allows us to get out of our own way. By silencing the inner dialogue you can let go of resistance to ideas or creativity that might not otherwise be heard through all the ‘noise.’
This is a good time to address one of the many misperceptions about meditation. It’s not about sitting cross legged having cosmic experiences (except when it is of course :-). This is where a lot of people get impatient or think they are doing it ‘wrong’ because they are restless and unsettled.
Sometimes, especially for beginners, that’s all that it is. Even for experienced meditators sometimes it is just white noise and the monkey mind dancing all over the place. And that’s ok. The mind and body still receive benefit from this experience.
Even if you consider yourself to be too restless or extroverted to settle down enough to meditate ‘correctly’ we can assure you there is no truth to this. I (Jan) am one of the most extroverted people known yet still meditate calmly and effectively.
Evidenced based research tells us that meditation increased coherence of the brain and supports neuroplasticity. That’s a fancy word for change in the brain.
Dr Joe Dispenza, sums it up in his book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. He talks about rewiring and refiring the brain while in a meditative state to allow it to function more effectively.
And in the modern environment where we have to deal with a lot of ambiguous information and make decisions on the fly, it is important for the brain to be able to take in a lot of that information and to have the ability to change. Compare the information burden we all had 20 or 40 years ago to the information burden we have now and you’ll understand it’s even more important for us to adapt to change than it ever has been.
Meditation also allows us to develop a thicker cortical wall in the brain which has been linked to a slower decline in brain function with age.
If you’re a fan of facts and figures, you might like to take a look at The Truth about TM, a website full of studies that make meditation a compelling choice. It covers a lot of the well being benefits, not just from the mindset point of view, but also from the physical benefits that arise from meditation. They reference 27 different health benefits on this page alone.
We’re all familiar with the idea of a power nap but a meditation is like a power nap on steroids. In 20 minutes you can feel as refreshed as if you’ve had a 2 hour sleep, some even say an 8 hour sleep.
Some meditation experts, and certainly TM teachers, might advocate against meditating as soon as you wake up but there’s something about that time of day that is conducive to meditation. Even before you take care of the essentials, brushing teeth, toilet, grooming and perhaps exercise, give yourself five minutes or so to meditate. Take the opportunity to ride the brain waves before it kicks into gear.
And if that’s not a winner for you, find a regular time that you can commit to so you can create a meditation habit. Before you start work, after you get home or even before you go to bed. Whatever works for you.
Routines change and interruptions will happen of course but if you make it important enough, you can create time for it. Many people even meditate multiple times per day (The TM recommendation is twice a day for 20 minutes each).
Time and place go hand in hand when it comes to creating habits so a regular environment is going to help you to establish your meditation habit. It doesn’t matter where it is, it can be your bedroom, your favourite chair, even a quiet corner in the office.
If you’re working for a modern business that has rooms set aside for meditation, then take advantage of that and use it as much as you can. And if your office doesn’t have a meditation room perhaps you can exercise your leadership and become a catalyst for setting one up.
As with the time component, routines will change so don’t let that become an excuse not to do your meditation. Because we travel often, you’ll usually find us meditating on the flight home ahead of enjoying a glass of wine and a Netflix download on the phone. It’s not exactly a peaceful environment but it can still be a refreshing experience.
There are plenty of options to be taught meditation by someone with suitable teaching skills, both free and paid. But you can of course try meditation on your own. You’ll find more than 2 million videos on guided meditation over at YouTube but you don’t even have to do that.
You can have a go right here and right now in fact. Just close your eyes and use your breath as a point of focus. Start by taking a few deep breaths to settle yourself down then just notice your breathing. Notice when you inhale, notice when you exhale. Repeat. Keep doing this for five or ten minutes or however long suits you.
You can even have a go at an open eye meditation, focussing on a single object such as a flower or, even better, a candle flame.
Do it with or without background music, something instrumental ideally. Baroque music is great as that tends to be around 60 beats per minute which helps induce a meditative state.
If your mind wanders or starts some inner dialogue, ‘This is silly. I can’t do this. What’s for dinner? Did I leave the iron on?…’ then just notice that and bring your attention back to your breath. It really can be that simple.
More than anything, resist the urge to judge or berate yourself for not doing it ‘right.’ Just the fact that you sit down and have an intention to meditate puts you ahead of most of the population. Give yourself credit and you’ll find yourself more inclined to stick with it.
You may even find a mantra, a word or sound that you repeat in your mind, helpful to keep you on track. It can be a sound that’s meaningless to you or it can be a word such as peace, joy, love, ease. If you go down the path of Transcendental Meditation, your teacher will give you a mantra that will be suited to you and they will teach you how to use it effectively.
Please give meditation a serious go. Beyond the experience itself, you’ll open yourself to a myriad of personal and professional benefits that you can’t even imagine right now. And please let us know how you get on. We’ve had many clients share their experience of meditation with us and would love to hear yours.
Meditation - Your Secret Leadership Weapon