Last week, I was reminded of an article that was published in Harvard Business Review last year, “The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time.” In it, the authors go into how quiet time benefits everything from learning and memory to creativity, to increasing employee morale and productivity. Wonderful! But the authors fall short.
At the end of the article, the authors suggest four steps to create periods of quiet:
- After a meeting, sit for five minutes of quiet time.
- Take time outdoors in nature.
- Try “fasting” from media and technology.
- Try a meditation retreat.
While all four seem logical and reasonable, one of them is not like the other. A meditation retreat is very different from the three preceding suggestions, and I believe needs further explanation as to its potential benefits so that it will be actually considered and tried.
Finding the Space Between Our Many Thoughts
The mind is conditioned to think. Like our biceps bend our arm at the elbow and our triceps make our arms straight, thinking is what the mind does. Most people experience their own consciousness as a serious of thoughts, some random (a thought from an event yesterday as you drive to work), some emotional (“I can’t believe I made that mistake again“) and some intentional (“I really need to solve this problem.”). We tend to experience thoughts as one, followed by another, followed by another. Again, that is how our mind is conditioned.
Meditation is the process of learning that:
- We can change the conditioning of our mind.
- There are actually spaces between each thought (i.e. stillness).
- We can learn to focus and concentrate on those spaces (i.e. sitting in stillness).
- Sitting in those spaces has long-term positive benefits.
One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that you must empty your mind. Even if you could empty your mind of thoughts and emotions in one moment—like turning over a glass to empty it of water—a new thought would come in the next moment. (Remember, the mind is conditioned to think.) Meditation is about learning to identify, recognize and let go of a thought or emotion and returning to the stillness between two thoughts.
Science Shows the Results of Meditation
Why would anyone undertake such a practice? Because of the results. In recent years, science is finally learning what Eastern philosophers have known for millennia – meditation has powerful positive effects on the human experience, including calmness, creativity and stress management.
Recent findings have shown:
- Meditation can decrease stress in healthy people.
- Meditation can reduce inflammation in the body, including inflammation associated with heart disease – the #1 cause of death in the U.S.
- Meditation can improve the immune system.
- Meditation can improve telomere length – extending the life of our cells, thereby our own lives.
- Meditation can even improve cognitive performance – particularly in older adults
On a personal note, I have been practicing mantra meditation for 20 years. As many of you, I have faced both professional and personal adversity throughout my life. In addition, I come from a family tree with generations of anxiety and depression.
My paternal grandfather was one of 10 cousins in his family. Six of them committed suicide as a result of depression – including my grandfather. That’s a strong argument for a genetic component of depression. Amid all the challenges I have faced, it is no exaggeration to say the practice I began 20 years ago has changed the arc of my career and my life.
I’m happy to discuss meditation and my experience with it with anyone who might like to learn more. Just drop me a note.
Keep cultivating your culture!