On the Complex Relationship between Meditation and Productivity

With the great Black Friday deals at Amazon and other bookstores around it is now time to order the most inspiring books on your bucket list by the holidays. I am very much looking forward to having the time to catch up on reading.

My most recent purchases for this upcoming holiday season include books on the several aspects of meditation, mindfulness and creativity.

With meditation and mindfulness having become popular and widely researched practices, there is an abundance of great literature as well as excellent, in-depth online content available on these topics. Reflecting on the main purpose behind meditation and mindfulness practice, however, should perhaps be highlighted more in these sources – and reflected on in-depth by anyone who has an interest in these topics.

Charlie Amberlan, the founder of @dailyzen Twitter account, has written a great article on this issue called “The Real Benefit of Meditation”.

Amberlan describes the relationship between meditation and late capitalism as follows: “At some point during the strange confluence of “self-improvement” ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries, Zen became tied in with the cult of productivity. Meditation is often sold as a cure to the modern worker’s ailments— lack of focus, lack of creativity, lack of organization.” Much of this is obvious by the related literature and online content.

The clarity and calmness that one achieves during meditation has many benefits, of course, like Amberlan also states in his article. But what is meditation, then, in its essence, besides experiencing the crystal clear state of mind ultimately achieved by the means of it?

In Amberlan’s view we are in danger of bypassing the original purpose of meditation. “Meditation is an easy sell to companies and workers because it makes you a better person”, Amberlan states, and continues: “But it improves you through detaching you from desires, attachments, and the need to improve.” It is exactly the detachment of these structures of our minds that makes us transcend our prior capabilities. In Amberlan’s words: “In detaching from notions of superiority, you become superior.”

The bottom line is that “basic professional or creative benefits are merely surface-level symptoms of the deeper changes that occur in the mind of the person who meditates every day”, says Amberlan.

Accordingly, Amberlan encourages to “stop practicing spirituality as a way towards productivity or as a means to an end”. Amberlan continues: “The whole point is that it is a means to itself. In doing it for its own sake, you learn to live for its own sake.”

The surface-level secondary goals seem to dominate the thoughts of many of those practitioners who are above all focused on improving their performance at work via the means of meditation or mindfulness.

I firmly believe that ultimately the goal and purpose of meditation and mindfulness practice should be to eventually transcend these more mundane goals. And I believe, like Amberlan, that achieving a superiorly clear and calm state of mind means that the practitioner is focused on applying spirituality in most, if not every aspect of their lives.

Read the full article by Charlie Amberlan, “The Real Benefit of Meditation”:

https://medium.com/@dailyzen/the-real-benefit-of-meditation-dfa983c2e557

or

Read and join in to follow Daily Zen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dailyzen

About Meditation and Mindfulness

I thought today I’d take a minute or two to talk about meditation and mindfulness.

Many people immediately associate mindfulness with deep insight meditation, which starts by focusing on the breath. However, mindfulness can be about many other things besides that.

A number of well-known companies, Apple and Google as perhaps the most prominent examples, are now implementing mindfulness programs for their employees. In the meanwhile, our organization is currently participating in a large-scale research project on practicing compassion at the workplace.

My interest in this subject matter, mindfulness and compassion, sparked over 10 years ago when I was visiting Tibet. The trip was extraordinary. Getting to know the political situation in the Himalayas as well as immersing in the rich culture of the Tibetans made me, eventually, take up spiritual practice. By this I do not mean that I am particularly religious, but rather that I attempt to simply apply some methods of spirituality in my everyday life.

As it is, like many of us, I am currently leading a fairly busy life. Over the years, having also suffered from this situation from time to time, I have come to realize the need of incorporating some mindfulness principles into my daily life.

It is not always easy. To begin with, meditation is perhaps not the best method of mindfulness nor relaxation for me. But the idea of doing nothing and simply focusing on the moment can and perhaps should be applied whether or not one assumes the correct posture. Like most people do, I find that taking small breaks during the workday makes me more productive and reduces stress. And likewise, fully focusing on one subject or task at a time certainly helps in getting the best result.

At home, I have a few reminders of paying attention to mindfulness around. One of these is a thangka. For those that are not familiar with the term, a thangka is basically a traditional Buddhist painting, originally created for meditation purposes, as an aid for meditation. Even though I find meditation to be too hard for me, the thangka is a constant reminder of the importance of spiritual practice.

Not every method works for everyone. That is why I decided to seek for a concise list of different ways to practice mindfulness at the workplace online to add to this post, and found this one by Laura Vanderkam. Some good starting points for the journey towards mindfulness by Laura are listed in her article below.