Mindful Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, who popularised the idea of emotional intelligence (EI) in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, maintains that EI underpins mindfulness.

In fact, in his earlier book, The Meditative Mind, he shares his experience of different traditions of meditation.  Thus meditation and mindfulness were part of the framework shaping his popular later work on EI.

Goleman acknowledges that he was not the first to use the phrase, emotional intelligence.  Many other authors had written about this concept before him. Two of these researchers, Salovey & Mayer (1990) describe EI as follows:

The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use that information to guide one’s thinking and action.

Based on this definition, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute identifies the five elements of emotional intelligence as follows:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

(Source: 2 Day workshop on Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence for Leaders)

Both the definition and identified elements of emotional intelligence call for action, not just awareness and thinking.  As discussed previously in relation to lifelong learning, understanding is a necessary aspect but there is no sustainable learning without action.

The relationship between emotional intelligence and mindfulness is bidirectional – as we grow in mindfulness we are better able to exercise emotional intelligence; building emotional intelligence concurrently develops mindfulness.  Both involve being present in the moment.

In future posts, I will discuss each of the elements of emotional intelligence individually.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

From Outer Landscape to Inner Landscape: The Growth of Awareness

In my previous post, I discussed mountains and rivers as a source of meditation and their predominance in Chinese landscape art. I also focused on the Shan shui tradition of landscape painting where the artists expressed their thoughts and emotions about a physical landscape in their painting.  In this way, they revealed something of their inner landscape.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, describes each of the traditional five senses in terms of a landscape, e.g tastescape and touchscape.  After discussing each of the five senses, he introduces “mindscape” and describes its role as follows:

…ultimately it all comes down to what we call, by extension, mindscape.  Without the discerning capacity  of our minds, there would be no knowing of any landscape, inner or outer.  When we become aware, when we rest in the knowing, we are resting in the deep essence of mindscape, the vast empty spaciousness that is awareness itself.  (p. 234, emphases added)

He maintains that as we grow in mindfulness, we can gradually gain access to mindscape – that unadulterated awareness that is a deep insight into our inner landscape and our outer reality.

With this awareness comes the realisation that everything is passing – our sensations, thoughts and emotions.  They are here today and gone tomorrow.

Awareness increases our insight into our inner landscape and how we tend to cling to things that we want. It enables us to let go of our disappointments generated by the past and fears about the future.

Awareness leads to full acceptance of ourselves as we are – with our bodies and our quirks.  However, being able to access full awareness, mindscape, does not mean that we will not go backwards towards lacking acceptance or engaging in internal conflict.  As Kabat-Zinn points out “that is part of the human condition”.

He goes on to say, encouragingly:

But, there may very well be a gradual shift in the balance over time, from more inner conflict to more equanimity, from more anger to more compassion, from predominantly seeing only appearances to a deep apprehending of the actuality of things. Or there may be so at times  but not at other times. (p. 235)

As we grow in mindfulness, we begin to see things as they actually are – we become less likely to project onto people, things or events, our negative perceptions shaped by our own life experiences.

Accessing mindscape, opens us up to full awareness of our inner landscape so that we can realise our full, creative potentiality, develop deep insight and self-compassion as well as compassion for others. In this state, we can find true peace and tranquility

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mountains and Water: Source of Meditation

I took the photo above when returning at dusk from a boat trip on Lake Como as the mist descended on the mountains and water.

When viewing this scene as it appears,  you could focus on what you can see.  You could look at the shapes, the trees, the contrast of light and dark, the colours and the sun reflecting on the rippling water.  Alternatively, you could focus on any one of the other four senses – taste, touch, hearing or smell.

We are reminded by Buddhism that there is also a sixth sense, the mind.  It influences our perceptions through our thoughts, emotions and mental images. (China Buddhism Encyclopedia)  So when actually experiencing this scene, you could experience peace, tranquility or even anxiety.

As we have mentioned previously, what you see is not what I see because of our different experiences and our interpretation of those experiences. Our minds, like our other senses, are continuously free roaming – they are not in our direct control unless we reign them in as we grow in mindfulness.

It is interesting that mountains and water featured very prominently in Chinese landscape painting over the centuries and in different traditions.  Mountains and water had different meanings within the various traditions of Chinese landscape art. For some, it evoked a sense of freedom, for others, the perfect balance between Yin and Yang energy. (Karen Albert, Mountains and Water in Chinese Art).

Shan shui (literally, “mountain-water”) landscape painting, for instance, sought to give expression to the artist’s inner landscape – thoughts and feelings generated by nature – rather than provide an accurate representation of reality. (“Shan shui”, Wikipedia.org)

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of nature and to use mountains and water as a source of meditation – opening up the possibility of exploring our own internal landscape.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Multitasking or Single Focus?

I drafted my previous post about support for meditation while in Hong Kong en route to Italy.  Now that we are in Lake Como in northern Italy, I have been able to reflect on my experiences in Hong Kong.  This post is a result of those reflections.

During our Hong Kong stay we visited Chi Lin Nunnery which is a functioning monastery for Buddhist nuns. The Nunnery is an exquisite structure and in the cloisters surrounding the central gardens are sculptures made from Yantan Stone, each with an inspirational subscription.

The inscription for the stone sculpture in the image for this blog post highlights the value of a single focus. The text is taken from the Trainings on Landscape Painting written in Dahua in Guangxi Province China – a province famous for its natural beauty and the influence of its artists on the evolution of landscape art in China.  The text can be seen below:

It reads:

The key to everything is that we should focus on one thing at one time.  Otherwise, we will not be able to concentrate on the essence.

It is interesting that the Chinese knew about the deficiencies of multitasking long before neuroscientists demonstrated through research that multitasking is inefficient, consumes vital energy and is counter-productive.

Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, neuroscientist and author, addresses the negative impact of multitasking in his book, The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

He maintains that constantly changing our focus through multitasking drains our neural resources.  In the process, we are consuming our vital glucose reserves which is why multitasking makes us tired.  It also increases our stress levels.

According to Dr. Levitin, multitasking also negatively impacts our capacity to discriminate, e.g. discern the difference between fact and fiction.  He also argues that when we are multitasking we are storing information in a part of the brain that is difficult to access – so information is incorrectly categorised in the brain.

Other neuroscientists have also demonstrated that multitasking is inefficient and impacts negatively on our productivity and creativity.

in contrast, a single focus is an essential element in building creativity. Dr. Levitin, being a musician himself, studied the behaviour of great songwriters and musicians, like Eric Clapton and Sting, and found that their capacity for a single focus and ability to be-in-the-moment were key factors contributing to their creative success.

As we grow in mindfulness, we increase our capacity to maintain a single focus during our daily endeavours thus increasing our productivity and creativity and avoiding the downfalls of multitasking.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

We Need Support to Build Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, reminds us that we need support for our meditation if we are to build mindfulness. This support may take the form of a routine, technique, books, audio tapes or a support group. He cautions, however, that we need to gradually reduce our reliance on this support. Otherwise, we will create dependence on one form which will result in goal displacement.

He likens meditation support to scaffolding which is used to build a house. Eventually, however, the scaffolding has to be taken down once the house is built. It may be used again if there is a need for house restoration or renovation. So it is with the support for our meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that if we do not eventually remove the scaffolding, our support mechanisms, we will not realise the deeper levels of mindfulness that enable us to gain penetrative insight into our real selves and our full potentiality. The deeper levels of mindfulness are only reached as we remove the barriers to this insight.

He likens the deeper levels of mindfulness to the insight of Michelangelo.  He is reputed to have said that he sees the final form of his sculpture in the block of marble. His work as a sculptor is to chip away the bits of marble that prevent the final sculpture from emerging – he works to remove the barriers to emergence of the final perfect form.

As we grow in mindfulness through an ever-widening range of mindful practices we remove the blockages to achieving deep insight and reduce our dependence on particular support mechanisms. Mindfulness becomes increasingly a part of our daily life and way of being in the world with all its distractions and disturbances.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that we are aiming for what the Tibetans describe as a state of non- meditation as we gradually remove the scaffolding that is our meditation support system:

That scaffolding is helpful in aiming and sustaining your practice, yet it is also important to see through it to actually be practicing. Both are operative simultaneously moment by moment as you sit, as you rest in awareness, as you practice in any way, beyond the reaches of the conceptual mind and its ceaseless proliferation of stories even, or we could say, especially, stories about meditation and you. (Coming to Our Senses, p. 100)

By gradually removing the scaffolding, we are moving our focus from our support mechanisms to actually being mindful.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of Hans on Pixabay

 

 

Persistence with Mindfulness Creates its Own Reward

In previous posts, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can provide pain relief in situations of chronic pain and alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis.

From my personal experience, I can confirm that being mindful in the midst of pain or the relentless itch from psoriasis is not easy.  However, I have found in both situations that mindful meditation has been extremely helpful.

In 1997, my back collapsed and I could not stand for more than two minutes or walk more than 10 metres without experiencing excruciating sciatic pain that travelled down to my ankles.  On top of this, I had pneumonia which aggravated the pain whenever I coughed.

I spent 18 months having all kinds of treatment – chiropractic, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and osteopathy.  There were times when I had to lie on my back on the floor, alternating one hour on and one hour off.  When you are lying on the floor, there is not much you can do except meditate – which is what I did to achieve some degree of pain management.

More recently, I have found that mindful breathing focused on the part of my body that is itchy, has provided some relief.  This is difficult to do because the temptation is to seek distraction rather than focus on the source of discomfort.  However, as I mentioned in my previous post on psoriasis, research has demonstrated that mindful meditation can actually enhance the healing benefit of whatever form of treatment for psoriasis you are undertaking.

We know from experience that conscious breathing can help us manage pain when, for instance, we are undertaking painful physiotherapy or remedial massage.  Research shows that conscious breathing, combined with focused attention, actually speeds up the healing process.

While the pain or itching discomfort can remind you, and motivate you, to undertake mindfulness meditation, this practice in turn helps you to grow in mindfulness – with all its attendant benefits. So, there is a two-way dynamic operating – pain and discomfort precipitate mindful practice and the latter reinforces other forms of mindfulness that you have developed through different techniques.  Also, as you grow in mindfulness, it gets easier to be mindful when experiencing chronic pain or discomfort from psoriasis.

What I found helpful too is to visualise a future state where you are healed – in my case, visualising returning to playing tennis again on a weekly basis, a state which I eventually achieved after mindfulness meditation in concert with multiple treatments for my back problems.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of illustrade on Pixabay

Dementia, Ageing and Mindfulness

We all experience physical degeneration of the brain through ageing.  However, the impact of this degeneration varies from person to person.  There are genetic factors that come to play but also life experiences and lifestyle.

Professor Michael Ridding of the University of Adelaide argues that “cognitive reserve” explains to some extent how some people can continue to maintain effective cognitive function despite the presence of significant physical brain damage.

He explains the concept of “cognitive reserve” as follows:

This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology [physical brain degeneration or atrophy].  To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

He goes on to explain that life experiences such as education level, amount of social interaction and occupations that place a lot of demand on our brain and capacity to think (such as managerial or professional roles) all contribute to the development of “cognitive reserve”.

Our brain incorporates multiple pathways and connections that break down over time.  However, as indicated in a previous post, brain plasticity enables us to develop new pathways and connections.  This is why it is recommended that we learn a new language or do crosswords to help stave off dementia if we are not doing cognitively demanding work.

Mindfulness is another lifestyle factor that can contribute to the capacity to function effectively despite physical brain degeneration.   In fact, mindfulness has been shown to restore brain grey matter and reduce the thickness of that part of the brain, the amygdala, that controls our fight/flight response (including panic attacks).

A recent review of the research literature on the relationship between meditation and “grey matter atrophy” [physical brain decline], suggests that meditation results in an increase in “grey matter volume”, offsetting decline in brain function.  The effect of meditation is considered to enhance “learning, memory and emotional control, as well as activities like self-awareness and compassion”,  thus slowing down the onset of dementia.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can offset the natural decline in our physical brain and ward off, or diminish, the effects of dementia.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image sources: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Creating a Workplace Culture of Well-Being Through Mindfulness

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, the authors challenged what they call “neuromyths” – basically, misunderstandings arising from misguided interpretations of neuroscience findings.  They argued that many leadership development programs are based on these “neuromyths” and result in considerable waste of financial resources and employee time.

One of the myths that the authors challenge is the concept that the brain’s development is fixed at an early age and that little change in the brain’s structure can occur over a person’s lifetime.  However, recent neuroscience has shown that rather than being fixed in structure, the brain exhibits “plasticity” throughout our lives.  The research of this phenomenon has been described as follows:

Brain plasticity science is the study of a physical process. Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities.

Research into the power of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction demonstrates, for example, that there is a real physical change in brain gray matter resulting in increased capacity in areas such as learning and memory processes and emotional self-regulation.

Health insurer, Aetna, has taken this research seriously and built their employee development programs around the ability of mindfulness practices to enhance mental capacity and reduce stress.  By 2015, more than twenty five percent of their 50,000 employees had participated in at least one form of mindfulness training.   Aetna’s aim was to reduce stress in the workplace and the associated loss of productivity and employee well-being, while simultaneously generating high performance.

As a result of realised benefits in the workplace, Aetna has increased their commitment to mindfulness training for employees.  In 2017, they created a Mindfulness Center with the explicit aim of “developing a workplace culture of well-being“.  The Center provides mindfulness activities a number of times each week and is designed to host future presentations and courses conducted by experts in the area of mindfulness.

Aetna has made this very substantial investment in mindfulness training because they have seen that their managers and staff, as they grow in mindfulness, reduce their stress, increase their resilience and develop high performance.

Aetna is certainly not alone in investing in mindfulness training for managers and employees – and in realising the associated benefits.  Google, for example, has trained more than 4,500 of their employees in mindfulness and emotional intelligence over the last 10 years.  The derivative program developed by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) is providing mindfulness training to leaders in thousands of organisations in the public and private sector on an ongoing global basis.

A recent Mindful Leaders Forum in Sydney was an extension of a forum that is contributing to the global development of mindfulness in the corporate world:

In three years, 1500 executives from more than 350 companies have come together to explore a new style of leadership.  It’s all about helping individuals, teams and organisations to thrive in the digital age.  It’s part of a global movement that’s sweeping across the corporate world where innovative companies such as Google, LinkedIn and the Harvard Business School are using evidence-based tools to unleash creativity, productivity and purpose-driven performance.

The Sydney-based forum included presentations by Marque Lawyers, Westpac Bank, e-Bay, Australian Army and Medibank.

Organisations world-wide are investing in the development of mindful leaders who can build a workplace well-being culture that generates the dual goals of employee wellness and high performance.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of WolfBlur on Pixabay

 

Mindful Meditation to Reduce the Symptoms of Psoriasis

In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can help the management of chronic pain.  In this post, I will focus on the beneficial effects of mindful meditation for the management of psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can last for weeks, months and even years and can recur at anytime.  This skin condition is thought to be an autoimmune disease that typically manifests as a rash or skin lesion that can be exceptionally itchy and results in dry, cracking skin that can be painful.  The skin problem is exacerbated because people with psoriasis, consciously or unconsciously, scratch the itching skin which intensifies the itch and increases inflammation of the skin.

This vicious cycle can contribute to emotional and psychological problems.  People who suffer from this skin condition may feel embarrassed to be seen out in public and may withdraw emotionally leading to depression. The negative emotional effects are aggravated by the difficulty experienced in attempting to heal this persistent skin condition – a debilitating disease experienced by 450,000 Australians and over 125 million people world-wide according to the Skin & Cancer Foundation.

There are numerous triggers to cause psoriasis in an individual – stress and infection being two of the major triggers.  The inability to isolate the primary trigger for an individual adds to the anxiety experienced by the psoriasis sufferer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned mindfulness expert, undertook research in support of an approach to curing psoriasis using meditation as a means to heighten the effect of the treatment.  His research involved two groups of people receiving treatment for psoriasis, one group practising meditation during the treatment and the other group, the non-meditators, taking the treatment as normal.  He found that “the meditators skin cleared at four times the rate of the non-meditators”.

In discussing these results (which have been confirmed by other researchers), Kabat-Zinn suggested that the positive effect of meditation on the rate of healing of psoriasis is related to the connection between the body and the mind:

And it is a beautiful example of the mind/body connection because you’re doing something with your mind and something is happening in the skin.  So it just doesn’t get any better than that.

The Psoriasis & Skin Clinic offers a number of meditation methods to reduce the stress associated with psoriasis and to build emotional resilience while suffering from this skin condition.  They suggest a form of body scan meditation which involves concentrating on a specific part of the body where itching or pain is experienced., breathing deeply and focusing your mind on that itching or pain to reduce or alleviate the discomfort.

They also suggest another meditation/relaxation technique which involves experiencing, or thinking about, a peaceful or inspiring location and using this focus to release any troubles or worries that may be causing you stress.  Their instruction for this exercise is reminiscent of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness:

If you are sitting on the sand on the beach, feel the setting sun warm your face, feel the breeze on your skin, smell the ocean air, taste the salty tang on the breeze, hear the waves washing right up to you and as you hear each and every wave, release all of your stress and throw it onto the waves to wash out into the ocean.

As you grow in mindfulness through mindful practices such as these meditations, you will be better able to manage the discomfort of psoriasis and assist your healing process, whatever treatment method you adopt.  The experience of itching or pain can even become a catalyst to mindful meditation to relieve the discomfort.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

 

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Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief

As we grow in mindfulness we start to learn the many ways that mindfulness can improve the quality of our lives.

The quality of life of many chronic pain sufferers has been improved through mindfulness meditation for pain relief, pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This resource which is available in CD format or audio download, provides an insight into how mindfulness can help you manage chronic pain as well as mindfulness meditations that can be used for pain relief.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), maintains that current neuroscience research supports the idea that the more we become aware of the pain in our body and mind, the better we are able to manage pain and improve the quality of our life.  The research shows that awareness of the body-in-pain compared to distraction from pain, has a greater benefit and provides a more sustainable release from the physical and emotional impact of chronic pain.

We all experience the unwanted parts of life, pain and suffering, at some time in our lives – some people for longer than others through the experience of chronic pain.  Mindfulness meditation can help us relieve not only the physical aspects of pain but also the emotional impacts which can take the form of frustration, depression, annoyance, anger and the inability to concentrate.  We can expend so much of our energy and focus just managing the pain that we are quickly exhausted and unable to concentrate.

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an introduction to his mindfulness meditation for pain relief and this free resource, which includes meditation practice, can help you realise the potential benefits of this approach for improving the quality of your life:

Jon Kabat-Zinn assures us that through mindfulness meditation we can come to realise:

  1. we are not alone in experiencing pain; and
  2. learning to live with pain is possible.

He makes the salient point that managing pain is part of the work of mindfulness itself and that by participating in mindfulness meditation for pain relief, we are immersing ourselves in the global mindfulness movement that is raising global consciousness – people all around the world are becoming more mindful and we are contributing to this movement that promotes peace, harmony, loving kindness and awareness of others and nature.   Our self-compassion through pain management is contributing to compassion for others.

We can grow in mindfulness in many ways.  The drivers for our motivation to practice mindfulness can also be many and varied.  If you are a chronic pain sufferer, this experience could provide the motivation to develop mindfulness for pain relief.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of Sae Kawaii on Pixabay