This article appeared online at Forbes.com at 4/30/2012 @ 9:24PM posted by Todd Essing.
There’s a new search program at Google, but one without a magic algorithm. This program lets you search inside yourself so you can find, well, yourself. Cleverly titled “Search Inside Yourself,” it’s a free course Google provides employees that is designed to teach emotional intelligence through meditation, a practical real-world meditation you take with you wherever you go.
The program was reported in yesterday’s NY Times and described in Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan who also teaches the course. It’s a rock-solid business-friendly mindfulness course in three acts: train your attention, develop self-knowledge and self-mastery, and create useful mental habits (video aboveGoogle’s Chade-Meng Tan on Mindfulness Search Inside).
That Google takes care of the minds of its employees should not surprise. Companies that fly high are learning to take care of their own, and the perks need to be more than free beverages and foosball tables. This is especially true at Google.
Employees coming from fast-paced fields, already accustomed to demanding bosses and long hours, say Google pushes them to produce at a pace even faster than they could have imagined.
Instruction in mindfulness, in being able to reflect rather react, is a genius perk to provide. The article does a nice job reporting how it helps those Googlers lucky enough not to get stuck on the waiting list; more people want to take it when offered than can be accommodated. With effectiveness and popularity in mind there’s a few more things that need to be said.
All Mindfulness is Good Mindfulness
It doesn’t matter where or how you develop mindfulness. Doesn’t matter why. Doesn’t even matter what you do: meditation, yoga, prayer, therapy, gratitude, science-help practices, hiking, painting, exercise, etc. It’s all good.
Any practice or activity that supports reflection over reactivity, encourages feeling feelings rather than acting on them, and opens awareness to what is really going on is of benefit. Slow down, notice, and savor is a great way to build mental wealth no matter where or how. It just is. All mindfulness really is good mindfulness.
Take a Deep Breath When Your Job Sucks
There’s a huge problem with the Google ”Search Inside Yourself” path to greater mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Huge. Namely, most people don’t work for Google, or companies like Google. In fact, for many people work is a rather unpleasant experience, and if not unpleasant few jobs offer opportunities for transcendence and personal liberation. For many work is just work.
But don’t think mindfulness doesn’t apply. Having a job that kind of sucks, or sucks some of the time, doesn’t mean that mindfulness is not for you. Perhaps the more your job fails to present opportunities for growth and self-expression, the more you need to cultivate mindfulness; perhaps when you’re working 9-to-5 is when you most need the ability to reflect rather than react.
“You have to detach as much from it as a source of stress as humanly possible while putting in enough effort to stay employed. Just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean you have to put your heart and soul into it.”
Well said Caitlin.
Mindfulness of Other Minds
Practicing mindfulness is always mindfulness of something, including of mind itself. Because of this mindfulness practices are sometimes disparaged as isolated navel-gazing. That is wrong. An important common thread to mindfulness practices is people becoming mindful of other people also having minds.
As you’ll see if you watch the video below, one of the mental habits SIY teaches through instruction and exercise is to think to yourself when engaging someone else that you want them to be happy. The exercises open space for connecting with the fact that other people are having thoughts and feelings and are not just some object generating a reaction in you.
In my exchange with Caitlin Kelly I asked her about her own personal experience with mindfulness practice. She described her experience with an 8-day Buddhist retreat, including something very interesting about mindfulness of other minds:
“Every teaching session, two to three a day, began with 10 to 20 minutes of meditation and chanting — which I had never done before. It was powerful to do this in a large group of about 75 people, men and women of all ages. The communality of it is really important — which is key, I think to the SIY classes. You have tremendous support for this risk you take.”
Or as the SIY book itself states,
“For the benefits of meditation to become widely accessible to humanity, it cannot just be the domain of bald people in funny robes living in mountains, or small groups of New Age folks in San Francisco. Meditation needs to become “real.” It needs to align with the lives and interests of real people.”
–via the Dust Jacket of Search Inside Yourself
No One Likes Change
I know change is hard. And I also know there are many profound, personal, and often seemingly intractable reasons people have trouble implementing changes like those taught in SIY, or in any mindfulness practice. In fact, part of how I make my living is bearing witness to the pain impending change causes. Even the most desired outcome can at times feel like a Sisyphean task. But I’ve learned that change is possible. With patience, understanding, and kindness, even Sisyphus can be helped to leave that damn rock alone and get on to other things.
One way to approach change is to start small, give yourself a success experience. Make it bearable, bite-sized. Go hear a lecture before reading a book before changing your life. So, here’s a video of Meng giving a lecture. It’s very Google-centric, making Google-ish points like making the most of opportunity because you will now have a deep knowledge of self. But its a good place to start, or to continue.