Book Review: Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out by David Gelles

Mindful_Work_bookI was recently approached to read a galley of David Gelles’ new book on mindful work.  As this seemed a timely follow-up to the Happiness MOOC that I had completed late last year (and posted about here), I was happy to agree.  If Gelles’ name sounds familiar, it might be because he was a journalist for the Financial Times and continues his journalistic career today as a business writer for the New York Times.  A long-time practitioner of meditation himself, when Gelles’ began hearing stories of businesses incorporating mindfulness, meditation and/or yoga as a part of employee wellness and leadership effectiveness initiatives, he was intrigued enough to begin a quest which would stretch over a year to interview individuals participating in workplace meditation from as many corporations  as possible.  What results is an interesting narrative about the current state of mindfulness and meditation in the American workplace today.

More than just a treatise on the benefits of mindfulness both on an individual level (which he also discusses at some length), and for workplace effectiveness as a whole, Gelles explores the programs and innovative individuals at a number of different American corporations, providing an inside view of corporate mindfulness today. Corporations discussed include Apple, General Mills, Newman’s Own Organics, LinkedIn, Google, and Green Mountain Coffee to name a few.  Gelles also discusses the teachings of a number of the key influencers in the development of the mindfulness movement as well as exploring some of the newer research concerning the apparent influence of mindfulness practice on the neuroscience of the brain and its effects on supporting the body’s immune system and counteracting the symptoms of burnout.

At General Mills, we are given a peek into an executive mindfulness session led by Janice Marturano.  It is interesting to note that Maturano just published her first book last year entitled Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership;  while I have not yet had an opportunity to read her book, early reviews are extremely positive, including having her title named as a 2014 Nautilus Award Winner. Marturano is also the founder of a non-profit organization, the Institute for Mindful Leadership, offering retreats and workshops on the topic.

Gelles provides a very short set of instructions for individuals new to meditation on pages 258-259 (right after the Acknowledgements section of the book).  He also provides a number of resources for further exploration on the topic.  In addition to the Greater Good site from Berkeley and the Mindful Magazine, both of which I listed in my resources for the Happiness MOOC article, he lists a new (to me) site for academics wishing to follow the latest research in mindfulness: Mindfulness Research Monthly, a publication of the American Mindfulness Research Association. While much of the site is restricted to members, the Mindfulness Research Monthly journal is open access with issues back to 2010.  This is a valuable index for scholars in mindfulness topics.

I have been much more aware of mindfulness, meditation and positive psychology since completing the Happiness MOOC in December.  Like this author, I have been surprised by the frequency of topics of this ilk showing up in academic and business settings as well as in mainstream magazines and talk shows.  While I lack the formal training and intensive saturation retreats that Gelles has experienced, I have long been aware of the positive stress-busting benefits of contemplative music and yoga relaxation exercises. Participating in such exercises, I have felt the calming of inner chaos and the slowing of my heart beats as I focused on the yoga movement or music being played.  When I lived in the Eastern United States, I had a beachfront retreat center that I would visit for a day or weekend whenever I could.  Spending a day of quiet contemplation, I would become once again more fully aware of the immense power of the God of the universe, and how my troubles were just a small, incidental cog that would resolve themselves naturally when it was time.  The sound of the surf, the distant chimes from the meditation walk area, and the absence of the chaotic noise in my daily world all worked together in a unique healing way that I have missed since moving to a different part of the U.S.  This book was a good reminder of how I can bring moments from this experience into my workday even now, helping me to re-center and focus more clearly on the tasks before me.

 

Gelles, David. Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out. Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2015.

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