Popular media have been reporting a lot about two things which, though not presented as such, are related. First, a plethora of reports indicate research shows that the practice of meditation can have profound health benefits. To denizens of university campuses of the 1960s and 1970s when Transcendental Meditation was the rage, such reports are not news.
The other strain of reports has been about the dangers to mental functioning of ubiquitous technology. For example, its publisher Harper Collins, describes iBrain by Dr. Gary Small, this way: “One of America’s leading neuroscientists and experts on brain function and behavior, explores how technology’s unstoppable march forward has altered the way young minds develop, function, and interpret information. . . . While high-tech immersion can accelerate learning and boost creativity, it also has its glitches, among them the meteoric rise in ADD diagnoses, increased social isolation, and Internet addiction.”
How are these two things related? I think they represent opposing faces of the same coin: the relationship of our minds and the world around us.
We human beings often describe ourselves as “creatures of habit.” Another way to say that is that we like routine. Our predilection for routine is not surprising. We have evolved such ways to save the huge amount of energy our brains require and that we must supply by securing food. If we can do things on autopilot, our brains have to work less.
The downside of this routinizing is that we often pay little attention to what is happening around us and fail to see the new and unusual hidden in routine events and tasks. If we travel the same route to work or school every day, so we really see our surroundings as we travel?
Similarly, the time we spend with technology also steals our attention away from the nuances and details of the world around us and our interaction with it. No wonder we are often at a loss for ways to be innovative, to be truly engaged with our work and lives, to feel interest in and excitement about what we do every day.
And that is where meditation comes in. The practice of meditation can teach us to be mindful. Mindfulness helps us notice the world and the people around us and, potentially, to be more actively and constructively involved.
Many researchers on leadership argue that a mark of leaders is being ever attuned to their experiences and learning from them. Mindfulness is the pre-requisite for such learning.