Interview with Gelong Thubten – How does mindfulness work for us?

Gelong Thubten is a Buddhist Monk who teaches on Buddhism, Meditation & Mindfulness. Big enterprises like Google regularly invite him to work with its employees in order to raise their mindfulness. At the WiWo D-Suite from 12 – 13 October he will speak about how we can be more mindful in the Digital Age. We talked to him in advance of the event.

1. Thubten, you’re interested in the effect mindfulness has on our brains and bodies and how we can achieve a better Work Life Balance. What exactly is mindfulness and how does it work for us?

Mindfulness is meditation practice, but it’s taught without involving religion. Mindfulness provides techniques that help to focus the mind, reduce stress and increase mental clarity. Very often we’re not fully in control of our mind states, in that we tend to have a lot of automatic stressful reactions to things, or moods that we would rather not feel. Training in mindfulness can help us to make choices in terms of how we think and feel, as it helps us to let go of negative thoughts or distractions. The scientific research into the benefits of mindfulness is very interesting as it shows better brain function and body chemistry. It’s particularly interesting to look at the research into how mindfulness training can reduce the stress hormone, cortisol.

2. What would you recommend today’s stressed employees to achieve a better balance between their work and personal life?

I think it’s all about integrating mindfulness into every aspect of our lives. I find it useful to teach mindfulness methods that people can apply in their daily lives: at their desks, in meetings, while walking, traveling and while doing things. It’s all about generating awareness and focusing on the present moment. They learn to practise tiny “micro moments” of mindfulness, and this brings peace and calm to busy situations, and helps people stay focused and in a positive mind state. Work life balance becomes easier when the mind is calm, and then we can feel less burdened by our work.

3. Do you think we lose our ability to be mindful in the digital age?

The digital age has created so much opportunity, but it also brings a lot of pressure to our lives, and it has made us more distracted and often unable to “switch off”. We are now expected to work at the same pace as our computers! So we have become less mindful, but if we train in the techniques we can restore the balance. Actually, I think we can use technology to help us train in mindfulness. I am building a mindfulness app called Samten, which is coming out in early 2018, and this (and of course there are many other mindfulness apps) will allow people to get their phone or other devices to train them in the development of inner peace and calm.

4. You spent 5 years in total silence without speaking one word. Do people talk too much today or do they talk about too many irrelevant things?

Actually I was in retreat for four years and then for another year. During the retreat we were silent for 5 months, and for the rest of the time talking was minimal, as we were mainly in our own rooms doing long sessions of meditation. I do think that we often talk mindlessly, just filling the silence with chatter. There’s nothing wrong with talking, but if we’re more mindful, we can better conserve our energy. Then our words will perhaps carry deeper meaning, more weight. Also mindfulness training helps to increase compassion and awareness of others. Sometimes we use our words unskilfully, letting our moods spill over into our conversations. But if we train in mindfulness, we could have more constructive interactions.

5. You work with employees of big enterprises, like Google. What can companies do to become more mindful?

I think it’s great when companies provide mindfulness training for their staff, as well as creating the space for onsite rooms or areas for rest and reflection. These can be used by staff for mindfulness breaks during the working day.
Another key point is that when senior leaders learn mindfulness, it affects all those around them, and this can change the whole atmosphere of the company.

6. Could businesses even increase their efficiency by deploying mindfulness training and meditation?

Definitely. If staff are less stressed and more focused, efficiency will increase. There is certainly a “business case” for mindfulness. Staff can work with more precision and clarity, making less mistakes. Also they will find it easier to maintain their positive motivation and a sense of inspiration.
Mindfulness is more than just wellbeing, it’s about learning to optimise our mental performance, like a finely tuned sports car!