In today’s world, we are faced with novel challenges, limited resources, and increased demands for our expertise and time. The constant pressures can deplete our mental resiliency and interfere with many of the hallmarks of leadership excellence including our ability to focus, to see clearly, to cultivate space for creativity, and to embody compassion. In this conversation, we explore how mindfulness meditation can enhance our ability to lead and live with excellence.
Recently, Janice Marturano, Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, took some time to have some discussion around these points. Please click below to her our conversation. And, if you’d like to download the audio, click here and find the “Download” button.
Janice L. Marturano is the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and supporting leaders in the exploration of mindfulness and leadership excellence. She founded the Institute for Mindful Leadership in January, 2011, after ending her 15 year tenure as Vice President, Public Responsibility and Deputy General Counsel for General Mills, Inc. Janice was a strategic leader within General Mills for nearly 15 years before leaving to dedicate herself full time to the Institute. She is the author of Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership and her work has been featured on the BBC, Huff Post Live, and in the NY Times, Financial Times, Saturday Evening Post, Time magazine, Success magazine and LA Times.
These days you hear a great deal about meditation. This kind of meditation, that kind of meditation; all sorts of books describing what it is and what it can do for you. Often meditation is associated with a particular religion or spiritual practice. Let’s clear something up right at the start.
Meditation is not a religion. Meditative/contemplative practices have been part of numerous spiritual practices throughout history. No one owns it.
Meditation is not Prozac. It does not cure or solve anything.
Meditation does not make you a better parent, a better doctor, a better student, help you be less depressed or anxious.
In fact meditation does no-thing at all!
Like everything else that gets exploited, meditation is now neatly packaged for your consumptive desires.
Everybody is touting and selling meditation. Step right up and get yours.
Okay let’s restore some sanity here.
A meditation practice doesn’t help you overcome anything. It just helps you face your life with greater patience, openness and compassion.
If you do meditation for some outcome you’re not doing mindfulness. I’m not sure what you’re doing and it may be beneficial but it is not meditation.
You see, the real practice of meditation has no outcome. You don’t do meditation to get anywhere or achieve anything. If you do, you run the risk of becoming attached to that particular outcome and that interferes with your meditation practice.
So why practice mindfulness?
All the great teachers (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Toltec, Muslim, Native Peoples) have taught one thing:
The only reason to practice mindfulness is this:
to wake up!!!!
To wake up!
A regular meditation practice simply peels back the layers of self-deception to see things clearly as they truly are. The more you wake up, the more you are able to live your life from an open compassionate heart, and a balanced calm mind; from a deep place of innate wisdom. The benefits of awakening move in all directions throughout all your experiences.
Meditation is the awakening of our entire experience, not just our minds; the awakening of our entire body-mind and its sensory experience. This awakening reduces our fear-based reactions and cultivates our natural ability respond to others and ourselves with great patience, openness and compassion. Our senses become alive with wonder and curiosity for past conditionings and limiting attachments.
So let’s stop all this nonsense of trying to practice meditation for any particular outcome.
It comes down to this: Practice this enduring skill for its own sake, and everything else will take care of itself.
The simple yet profound practice of mindful meditation, whether on a cushion or in a chair, or in a grocery line, or talking with another, just keeps you in an open, balanced, and compassionate place that just makes this a better world.
The Path of Simply Being retreat will be a wonderful experience in developing a meaningful and beneficial meditation practice.
You need not have any prior meditation experience. Or you may wish to attend to deepen or re-kindle your practice.
Nearly everywhere one turns these days the language of “mindfulness” is to be found. Its ubiquitous influence is flavoring American culture. Because my professional life is part of the mindfulness movement, I have sensitivity towards noticing the numerous references to mindfulness that are popping up in the media. What I personally find inspiring is not the “Zen” or “mindful” references dotting our media world. What is heartening is the clear shift that happens in an individual and culture each time a person opens to unconditional goodness, wholeness, and worthiness. Can you feel something shifting? Are you curious about the transformative power of the increased number of people practicing mindfulness in America?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the progenitor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, speaks of the healing power of the view and practice of entering wholeness:
When we glimpse our own completeness in the stillness of any moment, when we directly experience ourself as whole in that moment and also a part of a larger whole, a new and profound coming to terms with our problems and suffering begins to take place. We begin to see both ourselves and our problems differently, namely from a perspective of wholeness.
In this time of the spreading of mindfulness, where people in all areas and walks of life, crossing economic and cultural boundaries, are gravitating towards the beauty, power, and genuineness of living life one moment at a time, the need to cultivate a view of wholeness and completeness is paramount to individual and societal transformation. This leads me to my main point: Cultivating an unshakeable view of wholeness, worthiness, and goodness in our own heart requires periods of deep reflection and meditation to uproot wrong views and nourish faith in innate wholeness. It doesn’t happen automatically in our busy lives. It requires intention.
A penetrating question that poet Antonio Machado asks his readers in The Wind, One Brilliant Day has been haunting me for years: “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?” When these words and associated images arise in my mind, I feel a deep longing for retreat practice. Utilizing the gardening metaphor, Maria Rodale offers comparisons between gardens and a human life:
You have to have a vision and Big Dreams.
You have to have patience.
You have to learn how to deal with things that are totally out of your control.
It’s hard to do it alone.
It’s good to be thankful.
Sometimes you have to let things go.
It’s all about love.
This November, Jim Colosi and I will be co-leading a 7-day Mindfulness Meditation Retreat at SMC. Our inspiration is to help teachers and aspiring teachers of MBSR and other mindfulness programs to refine the tools of “gardening” and to support the view of wholeness. Tending to one’s interior garden is the essential work of a group meditation retreat.
Support for the retreat from Saki Santorelli:
“The Mindfulness Meditation Retreat is designed to mirror and express the essential and universal approach of MBSR by fostering a rigorous retreat experience that is independent of any religious viewpoint. And because the themes, practice instructions, and outlook of the retreat are all rooted in the MBSR experience, there will be a natural continuity with our Oasis Institute MBSR teacher training curriculum and criteria. For this reason, and because of the longtime MBSR teaching experience of Jim and Janet, we at the Center for Mindfulness are happy to co-sponsor and endorse this retreat.”
Editors note: Thanks to a recent $2.3 million Templeton Prize Research Grant from the John Templeton Foundation, researchers are revisiting the results gleaned from Shamatha Project and further analyzing those results. In the first two posts of this four-part series we’re offering people unfamiliar with the project the chance to learn more about the project and its researchers. In our third post we will discuss the next stage of this project funded by the Templeton Prize Research Grant. And in our final post we’ll take a closer look at the lead researcher, Clifford Saron.
By Sarah Sutherland
If you’ve ever done a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center, it’s likely that at some point following the retreat, you noticed a difference in yourself. Maybe you felt calmer, or had more patience. Or perhaps you just felt better about your place in the world. And you probably wondered how long the changes would last. If so, you’re not alone.
In the Shamatha Project—the largest and most comprehensive study ever done on the psychological, physical, and behavioral effects of intensive meditation—researchers studied (and still are studying) the effects of meditation on people who participated in three-month retreats at Shambhala Mountain Center in 2007.
“This project represents a true long-term perspective on the developmental consequences of intensive meditation training,” said lead researcher Clifford Saron in a press release from the University of California, Davis, where he is an associate research scientist. “Nothing quite like this has been done before.”
Saron and a team of research assistants, graduate and post doctorate trainees, and nearly 30 investigators and consulting scientists from universities across the United States and Europe looked not so much at what people do while they meditate, but rather at what people do differently because they meditate.
“Three months sounds like a long time to meditate full time, but actually in terms of reshaping the way you regard the world emotionally, it’s not really that long,” Saron explained in a TEDx UC Davis presentation last May. “The study suggests that after three months, retreat participants showed an enhanced ability to keep in mind complex and painful realities without pushing them away. This may be the crucible for the arising of a compassionate response when confronted with suffering in yourself and others.”
With 60 volunteers, recruited mainly from advertisements in Buddhist publications, the researchers created two randomized groups of 30, with the first group entering the three-month retreat, while the second group served as a control group and were flown to Shambhala Mountain Center for testing just like the retreat group. Six months later, the second group completed their own retreat as well.
As part of the project, retreatants received instructions from Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace, the contemplative director of the project and a co-author on study publications. Dr. Wallace taught shamatha meditation and the Four Immeasurables, practices to tame the mind and open the heart.
Shamatha, which is the Sanskrit word for meditation, means resting in a state of quietness, or calm abiding. It is a simple, yet profound practice in which you place your awareness on your breath, following the sensations as you inhale and exhale and coming back to the breath when your mind has wandered off. The point of shamatha, according to Wallace, is to make our minds serviceable—stable and clear—and lays the foundation for cultivating the Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
In contemplating the Four Immeasurables, we generate qualities of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity toward ourselves and toward all beings. Different yet complementary to shamatha, the Four Immeasurables is a heart-opening practice that deepens our relationship to ourselves and to others.
During their three-month retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center, participants meditated alone for about six hours a day and met in groups twice daily for guided meditation and discussion. They also met weekly with Wallace for meditation interviews. The results were astounding. To find out more, read the second in our series on the Shamatha Project: Part II: Analyzing the Results.