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Spirituality and the Boardroom: Where Do They Meet?

by Debbie Shapiro(more info)

listed in meditation, originally published in issue 89 - June 2003

We have both been on the spiritual path for over 30 years. This is our life, everything we do is about this. So we posed ourselves the question: how can we use our experience to help this materialistic world? As authors, we had already done two books for charity but that did not seem enough.

Eventually we realised that the best way was to go directly to the materialists themselves. As our society revolves around money, and as business tends to determine both social and political trends, there seems no better place to bring spiritual truths than to the boardroom. Swami Satyananda had taught us that you can do two things with the ego: either build it up to be totally enormous and then go beyond it, or do away with it. There is no doubt that most senior business people have massive egos, so, theoretically, this should not be a reason to stop them from awakening.

Meditation in the Boardroom

Given the chance to introduce meditation to one of the world's most influential boardrooms, we went for it. It all began with one man who happened to be the top executive in a multi-national organization in the UK. He had once met a few yogis while heading one of India's corporations. Now based in London, he was organizing a biannual meeting of his senior team. At a previous meeting they had played golf, this time he thought it would be fun to try meditation. He sent out his PA to buy a book on the subject and she came back with our Meditation Pack. Before long we were on our way to Thailand to teach a group of international CEOs how to truly relax while remaining dynamic, and how to be still. It was a surprising success and turned out to be much more than a passing fad. We were soon catapulted into a new arena with a years contract.

Stress and Spirituality

To be a senior manager, a CEO or any high-powered corporate executive you need to be smart, sharp, presentable and have reasonable charisma. What we found is that, although the top level are brilliant at what they do, emotionally, for many of them, they are shut down, lonely and under enormous pressure to succeed. A split or gap between their professional and personal selves leads to the development of masks and roles – we found deep levels of inner unhappiness and a general lack of authenticity. There was a desert of isolation between the top guy and the employees, between 'them' and 'us'. There was relationship failure, as well as an emotional and spiritual separation or breakdown. And they have little time for personal development. Because their lives are so external, they desperately need to internalize and get to know themselves. These people are geniuses, some of the best minds on the planet, but they invariably lack the resource and spiritual enrichment from the inside.

The popular label that corporates are a separate and evil race is a misconception. They are human beings, struggling to get it right just as we all are, so it is essential that their spiritual lives are not ignored.

The people we are consultants to are senior. When they are happy and coming from a clear and balanced mind it affects their employees. We also work with middle management and, because we are outsiders, they can open up to us. They might tell us that they do not see their senior management living by the company values expected from employees. We relay this back. If the senior management shift the way they operate it works wonders, so we have to start with those who are most influential. Look at the Dalai Lama – he is one of the best businessmen in the world, in charge of millions of people, and yet he brings kindness and compassion to everyone equally. Being kind does not stop him being good at what he does.

The Solution

Our way of educating top management is not about taking them off on retreats (although we do that too), but is more about integrating the teachings into their daily work structure. We have seen managers lobbing heads and demeaning junior staff, creating a difficult atmosphere in the workplace, when a gentler and kinder approach would foster respect and commitment. We have seen many hard working executives isolated by their seniority, unable to spend enough time with their family and children, resulting in high levels of tension. Stress is costing the business world millions of pounds each year in lost hours and under-performance arising from tiredness, distraction and anxiety. But as stress arises from our perception of our ability to cope, so that perception can change and stress levels drop. By integrating meditation into their work day, they develop a resource of inner stillness and soon increase their coping capacity, alertness, mental clarity and communication skills.

Although our work with the multi-nationals began before the Enron scandal hit the headlines, we have noticed an accelerated shift in awareness and attitude since then. There is beginning to be talk about this event (which was heralded as such a disaster) possibly turning into a great blessing. Enron showed that greed does not work. Since Enron – which epitomized what the Buddhists call the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion – there is more interest in how big business can embrace positive qualities, such as insight, honesty, friendship and compassionate action. This is what we call the Enron Effect. The ones who respond to this are those who genuinely want to clean up their act, be true to themselves and work with inner values.

Our intent is to show these people how to grow emotionally and spiritually while also achieving a sense of personal purpose. We believe that the potential for positive change comes from within each individual.

Corporations are made up of individuals; given the right tools, they have the power to transform the world for the better. As Tim Sanders, Senior Management at Yahoo.com, wrote in Fast Company Magazine: "The most powerful force in business isn't greed, fear or even the raw energy of unbridled competition. The most powerful force in business is love. It is what will help your company grow and become stronger. It is what will propel your career forward. It is what will give you a sense of meaning and satisfaction in your work, which will help you do your best work."[1]

As consultants, we sit in on board meetings where we begin with Inner Conscious Relaxation, enabling the executives to truly relax while remaining dynamic, lively and awake at the same time. We teach the importance of silent space, how to take time out to be still and to develop inner resources of peace. We encourage 'wise intention': how to be friendlier, more compassionate and caring so all may benefit; and 'skilful means': how to be real and present in the moment without causing harm.

Good management comes through bridging the gap between the personal and professional so that the individual is operating from a more complete place. If emotional and spiritual needs are not acknowledged, then there is an inner emptiness and no real happiness: without internal harmony, external harmony in the workplace is irrelevant. Silent space dissolves the gap, it creates an inner spaciousness where mental, emotional and spiritual needs are brought together, appreciated and nourished. Since most of the individuals we work with are both progressive and powerful, their main needs are to open their hearts and recognize the needs of others. It is slow work, as you have to work with where they are at and not where you would like them to be at. The senior management have to be willing and wanting, they have to be ready to invite this sort of change – and the people who bring it – into their closed world. But when the opening is there you can step in.

Exercise

We suggest the use of a 'Silent Space' notice that can be put on the desk when five or ten minutes time out is needed, the idea being that nobody should interrupt you when they see the notice. If this is not possible, then the toilet is at least one place where you can be without being disturbed!

Sitting comfortably, with the eyes closed and the back straight, bring your awareness to the natural flow of the breath. Simply watch it enter and leave. Nothing more – the main focus is on constantly bringing the awareness into the present moment. However, as the mind has the tendency to get into distracted and detailed thinking, you need to keep it occupied and focused at the same time. So you silently count one number at the end of each out breath, starting at one ... two ... three ... four ... five, and then starting at one again. If you lose count or find yourself on seven ... eight ... nine, then just start at one again. Continue for five or ten minutes, or however long you have.

All you are doing is watching the breath and being present. Simple to understand, not so simple to do, and yet very effective. Most of us have no idea how to be present, just here and now, without thinking of the past or planning the future. Just being present enables all the different aspects of ourselves to come together as one. It is grounding, relaxing and awakening all at the same time.

References

1. Sanders T. Love is the Killer App. Fast Company Magazine. www.fastcompany.com/online/55/love.html Feb 2002.

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About Debbie Shapiro

Debbie Shapiro is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind (Piatkus 1996) and The Bodymind Workbook (Element 1992). With her husband, Eddie, she is the co- author of A Time For Healing (Piatkus 1994) and Out of Your Mind – The Only Place to Be! (Element 1992). She is also the co-author of The Metamorphic Technique and The Healer's Hand Book. Debbie has trained extensively in different forms of bodywork, Buddhist meditation and Jungian psychology in both England and America; she has been teaching both bodymind therapy and meditation for the past 15 years.

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