A few months ago I wrote a post: “Are good story tellers happier in life and business“? I received an overwhelming response to it, so, with this in mind I decided to continue the subject in this weeks blog.
When we look at the constant and repetitive process of our own thinking, we see how habitually it creates a sense of self and other. The power of storytelling can access unconditioned and untarnishable space of mind; how storytelling can render the mind more pliable and alive with possibility; and the power of fairytales to move us personally.
Reflecting on this now, I see how it is a perfect example of how stories call to stories. While listening to a story, a child experiences all the emotions that are present: whether it is fear, determination, courage, kindness, or gratitude. Usually, storytelling is the domain of the adult; the teacher, librarian, or parent. Making space for children to tell their own stories acknowledges the value of their experience, while also reinforcing their sense of themselves as able to care for others.
Mindfulness sets the stage for this kind of reciprocal sharing, in which the positive values of friendship are powerfully reinforced, first through the images of the folktale, and then through the children’s association of their own life experience with the events of the story they’ve just heard.
We maintain our world with our inner dialogue. A woman or man of knowledge is aware that the world will change completely as soon as they stop talking to themselves.
When mindfulness is focused on the process of thinking, an entirely different dimension of existence becomes visible. We see how our ridiculous, repetitive thought stream continually constructs our limited sense of self, through judgments, defenses, ambitions, and compensations. Unexamined, we believe them. But if someone were to follow us close by and repeatedly whisper to us our own thoughts, we would quickly become bored with their words. If they continued, we would be dismayed by their constant criticisms and fears, then angry that they wouldn’t ever shut up.Finally we might simply conclude that they were crazy. We do this to ourselves!
Stories have value. As an author, I have come to respect their evocative power, I share many stories and quotations daily. But even these stories are like fingers pointing to the moon. At best, they replace a deluded cultural narrative or a misleading tale with a tale of compassion. They touch us and lead us back to the mystery here and now.
Perhaps the most interesting intersection in the business world is between mindfulness and technology, as they appear to pull in opposite directions. The practice is all about slowing down and emptying the mind, while the digital revolution is speeding up our lives and filling our heads with vast quantities of information.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a famous Buddist monk whose core message to the tech leaders was to use their global influence to focus on how they can contribute to making the world a better place, rather than on making as much money as possible.
He and a group of monastics spent a day at Google’s headquarters, spending time with the senior management as well as leading around 700 employees through mindfulness discussions and sitting and walking meditation. So many staff wanted to take part that the company had to open up two additional locations to live stream his lecture.
Thay speaks of the sharp contrast between the normal frenetic pace of work at the technology giant and the sense of peace that came from sitting in silence during his day of mindfulness on the Googleplex campus. “The atmosphere was totally different,” he says. “There’s a silence, there’s a peace that comes from doing nothing. And in that space, they can realise the preciousness of time.”
During his visit, which was themed “intention, innovation, insight”, Thay met a number of senior Google engineers to discuss how the company can use technology to be more compassionate and effective in bringing positive change to the world, rather than increasing people’s stress and isolation, both from each other and from nature.
When they create electronic devices, they can reflect on whether that new product will take people away from themselves, their family and nature,” he says. “Instead they can create the kind of devices and software that can help them to go back to themselves, to take care of their feelings. By doing that, they will feel good because they’re doing something good for society.
At the day-long retreat with the CEOs, Thay led a silent meditation and offered a Zen tea ceremony before talking to the group of largely billionaires about how important it is that they, as individuals, resist being consumed by work at the expense of time with their families: “Time is not money,” he told them. “Time is life, time is love.”
Back at his Plum Village monastery, near Bordeaux, Thay says of his trip: “In all the visits, I told them they have to conduct business in such a way that happiness should be possible for everyone in the company. What is the use of having more money if you suffer more? They also should understand that if they have a good aspiration, they become happier because helping society to change gives life a meaning.”
The trip was just the beginning, he adds. “I think we planted a number of seeds and it will take time for the seeds to mature,” he says. “If they begin to practise mindfulness, they’ll experience joy, happiness, transformation, and they can fix for themselves another kind of aspiration. Fame and power and money cannot really bring true happiness compared to when you have a way of life that can take care of your body and your feelings.”
As Jon Kabat-Zinn sums this up quite well when he quotes:
“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”