Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Mindful of the mindfulness room

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about mindfulness. I spend quite enough time in my own mind already, thank you. I was born gazing at my naval (metaphorically speaking), staring off into space. If I could find it, I’d scan in my “formal” baby portrait. Am I looking at the photographer, grinning gummily? Nope, it looks as if I’m pondering great thoughts, which, at that point in my life was wondering whether there’d be Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo or Scotch Broth for lunch. Or asking why my Uncle Charlie, who lived downstairs, hadn’t yet bothered to come by to meet me.

There was a reason: a family crisis coming to a boil. Charlie, who had been married and never divorced, had gotten engaged. The happy couple had been furniture shopping at Paine’s Furniture in Boston. And then Sue sent out invitations to the wedding. A cousin in the know got one, and the family dervished into a whirl to stop Charlie from becoming a bigamist. The brilliant solution was to have my mother – with her then still quite pronounced Chicago accent – call Charlie’s fiancée and, without identifying herself, let Sue know that Charlie already had a wife. (Charlie and Sue, by the way, remained a couple until Charlie died 25 years later.)

Anyway, lack of mindfulness has never been my problem. (And, yes, I know that I’m really not perfectly defining mindfulness here, mindfulness being about omming into your stream of consciousness. Come to think of it, I was a pretty mindful baby…)

But when I was back in a corporate setting, taking part in plenty of off-sites on both leadership and rank-and-file-ness, staying in the moment, being mindful, was one of those things that were occasionally encouraged.

Mindfulness is in the news these days, especially now that Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff, has “decided to outfit the company’s new offices with dedicated areas to promote employees’ well-being.”

We’re not talking about gyms or nap rooms here. Not that kind of employee well-being. We’re talking about a place for folks to get away from text, phones, emails and all the other distractions.

…"as we build facilities around the world, we're now going to have a mindfulness section on each floor," [Benioff] said. This space will not be for employees to make phone calls or take meetings, but rather to fully step away from the intensity of work. When someone enters one of the rooms, he or she will have to do so without bringing along any gadgets like a cell phone or computer.(Source: Huffington Post)

The idea came to Benioff based on a workshop that had been held at Salesforce HQ last fall. The workshop was given, not by the usual cheerleaders and/or shrinks manqué who specialize in rah-rah and/or let’s fall into each other’s arms backwards and blindfolded. No, Salesforce hired monks from a mindfulness center in France, a place called Plum Village.

Well, you can’t send everyone in the Salesforce workforce off to the French countryside every time they need to get a mindful jones, so he’s putting the mindfulness room in the workplace.

Benioff is onto something.

It’s extremely easy for me to imagine what the Salesforce workplace is like. My career was in high tech; most of my clients are tech companies.

The pace is intense, the workspaces are open, everyone’s collaborating, and even when you’re not in that open workspace, you’re expected to be “on” from early in the morning until late in the evening, and to check in on weekends. These “requirements” are never explicit, yet it’s just how a lot of tech companies roll these days. When your boss texts you at 10 p.m. on Saturday, you tend to respond – at least by 10 a.m. on Sunday. You are, after all, a team player, someone who wants to make the place succeed, someone who at least wants to pretend that their work and life are seamlessly balanced (which means, of course, that the distinctions between the two are blurred). And, unless you’re careful, it’s pretty easy to let your “normal” workday – i.e., the time logged at the office - be completely interrupt-driven. A text here, an online collab session here, a quick confab in one of the confab pods (open, of course) that are scattered around.

I put in some time in cubicles, but most of my full-time career was spent in offices. If I had to work in today’s work environment, I’d probably have a nervous breakdown.

Bring on the mindfulness rooms!

The ones that Benioff (“who has hosted dozens of monks in his spare home in San Francisco”) envisions will have sections for reading and sections for meditating.

They will be centrally located on each floor, in order to encourage employees to take a break from their regular work and slow down.

After all:

“It’s an anxious era. The antidote to anxiety is mindfulness,” Benioff told The New York Times last year.

But this being 2016, you can’t just have mindfulness sitting out there all on its lonesome.

The company is also entertaining the possibility of creating a meditation app geared toward specific goals, like unwinding from a pressing deadline or calming down after a tense exchange with a coworker, [Plum Village brother Phap] Linh said. (It would be the single digital activity allowed in the mindfulness rooms.)

Of course, for me having an app would be incredibly anxiety-producing. Good thing I’m not full-time in the modern workplace.


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