I was listening to a CBC radio science show recently called Quirks + Quarks which featured a deep dive into Mindfulness.
The host had on Dr. David Cox, the medical consultant to the creators of the popular meditation app “Headspace”. Headspace is a practical and popular meditation app that is free and a good starting place for many. I really loved Dr. Cox’s simple and clear explanation of the difference between mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. It has also since provided me with renewed motivation to keep up my practice of mindfulness meditation. Here’s how he described the difference between the two:
Mindfulness (Being Mindful) – This is a state of mind and how you are “being.” Being mindful is when you notice things inside yourself and outside of yourself. You are aware of various aspects of the present moment you are in. In particular, you are able to acknowledge your thoughts and emotions – without feeling compelled to act on them or to turn them off. By recognizing your thoughts and emotions, and labeling them as such, you are distancing yourself from the emotions and thoughts so they are less likely to control you. This heightened sense of self-awareness and awareness of what is truly happening around you (vs what your thoughts or emotions are causing you to distort around you) is the ultimate relaxed state. When we are mindful, we are open, relaxed, clear. You know the state (we all do) and can access it in the moment. Just stop right now. Notice your breath. How about your body (any aches and pains? Been sitting too long?). What are you thinking about what you are reading? What’s the lighting like where you are? The sounds around you? Music or not? There is much to notice in the present moment and yet even the noticing is from a place of calm and centeredness. How do we get to this place with ease and frequency?
Mindfulness Meditation (Doing Mindfulness Meditation) – This is a skill you do and practice. One purpose of practicing this skill is to build up your ability to be mindful, to enact and be in a mindful state with greater ease and frequency. Practicing mindfulness meditation is, says Dr. Cox, like using the weight machines that build up your ability to do an activity (like playing tennis). The whole point of meditation according to Cox, is to do meditation “cycles.” Every cycle is one repetition – like a rep in the gym. Each cycle has four parts to it:
- Focus on something happening right now (eg: focus on your breath but it could be focusing on your feet as you walk).
- After a little while (it could be a few seconds or minutes) you will be distracted and your mind will wander.
- After a little while of your mind wandering, you will realize you have forgotten to notice your breath (or whatever present moment object you chose to focus on).
- After you notice, you bring your attention back to the present moment object (your breath, your feet) – again.
These four steps are one “cycle.” This “cycle” will happen many times during the time you sit – whether it’s 5 minutes or 15 minutes. Doing these cycles strengthen your capacity to be mindful.
Many of the clients I work with don’t come to me to learn about how to be mindful or how to do mindfulness meditation. Most are busy supervisors, managers, leaders who want support and learning for how to cut through conflict in the workplace stressing them out. However, the more I have studied the links between stress, conflict and the brain, the more I have come to see the clear connection between an agitated brain state and a diminished capacity to deal with the everyday (and not so everyday) conflicts.
In fact, I’ve started to ask my leadership/conflict coaching clients about their meditation and mindfulness practices. Some are opting to increase how they incorporate little moments throughout the day to sit for a moment or two in mindfulness. Others are choosing to add a quiet 3 minute sit to the start of their day (before the coffee is even brewed!).
These practices for being more mindful won’t take away the fact that an employee might be disgruntled, or that they have a work relationship to repair. However, being more mindful will give leaders the resources and capacity to stay with conflict and to engage it well – because that is what conflict requires of us.