CAREER Is meditation your key to the corner office?
Is meditation the shortcut to inner peace and the corner office?
Iam sitting on the floor. My legs are crossed, and my eyes are closed. In front of me is a small silver tray, and upon it, in a semicircle, are five candles that throw a dancing light against a foottall statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god revered by Buddhists and Hindus alike. Ganesh is playing the tabla, the tuned Indian drum. Despite this, Ganesh, too, is silent.
There are six of us here for the daily meditation class at Vancouver’s Chopra Yoga Centre. Moments earlier, led by our heavily tattooed, just- got- back- from- Mexico- andit-was-amazing guide, a one-sizefits-all mantra is dispensed—we are free to use our own—and, upon the chiming of a bell, we begin.
In my mind, my mantra is front and centre. But in my jacket pocket, my business cards are at the ready. See, according to recent hype, meditation may be a shortcut to not only inner peace but also a corner office.
At least that’s what a spate of articles would have you believe. Young professionals, we are told, gather at Ziva Meditation’s New York City or Los Angeles studio to meditate in groups and network their way to better careers. Suze Yalof Schwartz, a former fashion editor at ELLE U.S., Vogue and Glamour, has launched Unplug, a drop-in centre conceived of as a sort of “SoulCycle for meditation” in Los Angeles; she counts lawyers, bankers and other Type A careerists among her target market. h
And for several years now, Wisdom 2.0, an annual conference that marries technology and mindfulness, has drawn large crowds seeking to inject a bit of bliss into their digitally based lives.
Meditation groups are apparently the new career-networking hubs. Forget about those crowded bars. Throw away that private-golfclub membership. If you want to get ahead, pass the bliss—and throw a non-compete clause into that contract for employment. Call it the shotgun marriage of Dale Carnegie and the Dalai Lama.
Which sounds rather crass, of course. But that’s hardly the entire story. “I don’t care why people come to meditation; I just care that they come,” says Emily Fletcher, 36, the founder of Ziva Meditation and a former Broadway actress who received Vedic meditation training in Rishikesh, India.
Occasionally, admits Fletcher, business connections are made. But most times, career growth is a by-product of meditative practice rather than a direct consequence of, say, sitting cross-legged next to a Wall Street financier or Hollywood film mogul. “It’s not ‘Oh, I met this person and they gave me a job,’” says Fletcher. “What I hear, more often than not, is ‘Emily, I started writing this book that I’ve been wanting to write for 10 years.’ The veil of resistance that plagues so many of us starts to lift once you start meditating.”
At one time, meditation had, er, “cultivated” some sketchy optics and seemed destined to be a fad. “Yogic flyers,” led in Canada by illusionist/ Transcendental Meditation (TM) devotee Doug Henning, attempted liftoff—literal, not spiritual—in 1993 by hopping around cross-legged on national television in a failed attempt to levitate; the Beatles and their entourage, flower garlands wrapped around their necks, hung out at TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Himalayan ashram. “I love those boys, but they put my work back 30 years,” the controversial spiritual leader reportedly said later. (Charging neophytes $2,500 probably didn’t help. TM has since dropped the price.)
Recently, however, meditation has been rebranded, and much of the repositioning has been buttressed by science. Credible studies tout the physiological and psychological benefits of mantra-based meditation, from relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression to lowering blood pressure and enhancing cognitive abilities and working memory.
Last November, in an overview of extensive recent research, a Scientific American cover story entitled “The Neuroscience of Meditation” concluded that meditation has an impact on several regions of the human brain and can “rewire the brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body.” Other benefits? A calmer, more focused mind—not exactly a bad trait to have when you’re trying to make your way in the working world.
Some high-profile practitioners have added lustre, if not necessarily cred. On their way to their 2014 Super Bowl championship win, the Seattle Seahawks’ coaching staff promoted meditation as a way of keeping their players’ eyes on the ball, so to speak. In his book, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH, former Blue Jays slugger Shawn Green credits meditation with helping him achieve 328 career home runs.
Oprah Winfrey, Goldie Hawn, Russell Brand and Lena Dunham are advocates. Even business leaders have embraced the practice, among them hedge-fund billionaire Dan Loeb and Ford Motors’ executive chairman, Bill Ford. In January, delegates to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, crowded into a conference room and, instead of debating macroeconomic theory, meditated silently. And, closer to home, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson launched Whil.com, a meditation initiative promising bliss to business executives who can spare just one solitary minute each day. The motto? “We promise nothing. You achieve everything.”
Which sounds pretty good to me. Back at the Chopra centre, as a second bell chimes to end our group session, I’m pretty sure even Ganesh might agree. h
Meditation groups are apparently the new career-networking hubs. Forget about those crowded bars. Throw away that private-golf-club membership.