Corporate Meditation Can Promote a Workaholic Culture

Mindfulness meditation is at risk of being separated from its beneficent roots, which grounded the practice in ancient philosophical/religious systems that emphasized ascetic virtues.

Mindfulness meditation is at risk of being separated from its beneficent roots, which grounded the practice in ancient philosophical/religious systems that emphasized virtues like patience, kindness, and a detachment from worldly possessions.

According to the new book Mindful Work, written by The New York Times reporter David Gelles, meditation is changing the face of corporate life as companies like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America introduce the practice. But are such organizations atoning for crimes alleged or simply trying to boost their bottom line? Does it matter which?

A growing number of scientific studies support the claim that locating the center of consciousness, via simple exercises like concentrating on the rhythm of your breath, reduces stress and makes you more productive. And if HR departments are encouraging meditation in the workplace, all the better.

Not so fast, says British journalist Oliver Burkeman. The purpose of meditation is larger than meeting end-of-day deadlines. Just because an activity is good in itself — like teamwork — it doesn't follow that companies do good when they impose it on their employees — like weekend corporate retreats meant to build cooperation.

"It’s easy to see how meditation could serve a similarly ideological purpose as an enabler of workaholic culture, rather than a counterweight to it — making a bad situation just a little more bearable, and therefore, in the long run, perpetuating it."

Mindfulness meditation promises many earthly gains — more peace and productivity — while also transcending our material world, helping practitioners experience the divine, or at least the purity of their own consciousness. But we shouldn't separate the practice from its philosophical/religious roots. As Losang Samten, spiritual director of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia, explains, being mindful is inseparable from being kind and patient.

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