Saturday, September 07, 2013

Is "Meditating to Get Ahead" a good answer for Yun-men?

Again by way of Buddhist Geeks I became aware of this article about the Silicon Valley mindfulness fad.  "Fad?" you say? 

Yeah.  I call it the tech version of the magazine cover indicator.  The magazine cover indicator is related to the fact that a company's stock price tends to go down not long after its CEO appears on some magazine cover lauding his wisdom,  etc. etc.  I never put much stock in Wired or Fast Company, because the world tends to be very different from what they promulgate, at least in the issues that have made it into my hands.

But maybe, hopefully even, I'm wrong.  Mindfulness is obviously very useful, but still...

It’s not just Google that’s embracing Eastern traditions. Across the Valley, quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become staples at many of the region’s most prominent companies. There’s a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute now teaching the Google meditation method to whoever wants it. The cofounders of Twitter and Facebook have made contemplative practices key features of their new enterprises, holding regular in-office meditation sessions and arranging for work routines that maximize mindfulness. Some 1,700 people showed up at a Wisdom 2.0 conference held in San Francisco this winter, with top executives from LinkedIn, Cisco, and Ford featured among the headliners. 
These companies are doing more than simply seizing on Buddhist practices. Entrepreneurs and engineers are taking millennia-old traditions and reshaping them to fit the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, largely atheistic culture. Forget past lives; never mind nirvana. The technology community of Northern California wants return on its investment in meditation. “All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde,” says Kenneth Folk, an influential meditation teacher in San Francisco. “This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.”... 
But Googlers don’t take up meditation just to keep away the sniffles or get a grip on their emotions. They are also using it to understand their coworkers’ motivations, to cultivate their own “emotional intelligence”—a characteristic that tends to be in short supply among the engineering set. “Everybody knows this EI thing is good for their career,” says Search Inside Yourself founder Meng. “And every company knows that if their people have EI, they’re gonna make a shitload of money.” 
Meng has had quite a career himself, joining Google in 2000 as employee number 107 and working on mobile search. But for years, his attempts to bring meditation into the office met with limited success. It was only in 2007, when he packaged contemplative practices in the wrapper of emotional intelligence, that he saw demand spike. Now there are dozens of employee development programs at Google that incorporate some aspect of meditation or mindfulness. And Meng—who was born in Singapore and was turned on to Buddhism by an American nun—has slowly ascended to icon status within the company. More than one Search Inside Yourself student has asked Meng for his autograph. 
There is in fact little data to support the notion that meditation is good for Google’s bottom line, just a few studies from outfits like the Conference Board showing that emotionally connected employees tend to remain at their current workplaces. Still, the company already tends to its employees’ physical needs with onsite gyms, subsidized massages, and free organic meals to keep them productive. Why not help them search for meaning and emotional connection as well?

Because "making a shitload of money" is what it's all about, right?

Geez, Google really could use me I guess. But I digress...slightly...

First of all companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are capitalist enterprises.  Their fiduciary duty is to return money on their investment to their stockholders.  That is their koan (公案);  that is their prime directive.

Their prime directive is not to help you transcend your suffering or to even make it feasible or enable you to easily do so, dear cube-dweller.  That's not to say there's not people in those organizations who want to do so, but rather, the corporate DNA prioritizes the return on investment to stockholders above all else.

On the other hand, there's Yun-men and Case 16:

Unmon said, "The world is vast and wide. 
Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?"

 Mumon's Comment 
In studying Zen, you should not be swayed by sounds and forms. 
Even though you attain insight when hearing a voice or seeing a form, this is simply the ordinary way of things. 
Don't you know that the real Zen student commands sounds, controls forms, is clear-sighted at every event and free on every occasion? 
然雖如是。 且道、聲來耳畔、耳往聲邊。 
Granted you are free, just tell me: Does the sound come to the ear or does the ear go to the sound? 
If both sound and silence die away, at such a juncture how could you talk of Zen? 
While listening with you ear, you cannot tell. When hearing with your eye, you are truly intimate. 

Mumon's Verse  
頌曰會則事同一家   With realization, things make one family;
不會萬別千差         Without realization, things are separated in a thousand ways.
不會事同一家         Without realization, things make one family;
會則萬別千差         With realization, things are separated in a thousand ways.

If you're meditating "to get ahead" your practice is probably going to be very difficult.  If you are having a mindfulness program to "adjust the EI of the employees to increase their productivity" every last one of them will be miserable.

The practice Yun-men describes above is a deep practice that simply isn't concerned with material outcomes.  You might get some good fortune over time as a result of them,  but if you're doing any mindfulness practice for the outcome you will miss the mark.

It's kind of like the magazine cover indicator:  by the time something is over-popularized, it's an indication that whatever people found attractive enough to popularize it in the first place is not accurately rendered; in the CEO's case it's usually over-hype leading to a bubble in the stock price.  In the mindfulness practice situation, it's more of an issue of inaccurate rendering of the practice itself, as reflected in said practices stated goals.  You can already see the outlines of that in what I quoted above from Wired. 

So I guess that means I have to attend much more practice more myself, now doesn't it?  Yes, it does.

I wrote elsewhere that your meditation practice (and I'd broaden that to the entirety of your Zen practice) is of immense value.  It is, but only pursued without the expectation that anything will be derived from it.

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