Meet Megan Spencer, a Media Arts Professional with over 25 years experience. She has studied and practiced Mindfulness Meditation since 2009. She is also an MBSM* Meditation Practitioner and Teacher, who now lives in Berlin.
So Megan, can you give us a brief description about what Mindfulness is?
I love Dan Harris’s simple definition in the animation – he nails it!
There are a number of “technical” definitions floating around, so to ‘cut and paste’ it all together into one: Mindfulness includes ”gently paying conscious attention to the present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgmentally, with curiosity, openness, kindness and compassion.”
I would also add, “without harsh self-criticism” – without beating yourself up! We tend to do a lot of that.
For me, Mindfulness is a way ‘to be’ in the world – a way that helps take the struggle out of everyday living: you operate from a position of present moment awareness instead of being stuck in the ‘time warp’ of worries from past memories and anxiety about the future.
It’s also the opposite of ‘mindlessness’: we notice each moment and pay attention to them, instead of ‘editing’ them out of our awareness by either pretending they’re not there, or being so lost in thought they pass us by… The getting “carried away” part of it, again, as Dan Harris says in the video: missing our life, one moment at a time.
I also feel that there’s a certain kind of honesty and maturity to living mindfully: it’s really a way of giving each moment of your life your full attention, without distraction, struggle or harshness. It winds up being a more sustainable, enjoyable and fulfilling way to approach life – and to doing business.
How did you first get into the practice?
I experienced some health issues after enduring an extremely difficult work experience. I found my way to Mindfulness Meditation twofold: as way of dealing with the harmful fallout from that stressful situation, and seeing the value in learning it as a kind of ‘prophylactic’ against stress and future health issues. Life is always changing: part of accepting that is acknowledging that it will also always throw difficult and stressful challenges at you. So how do we go about dealing with them?
A great advocate and speaker about this is Arianna Huffington, founder of HuffPost: I LOVE her approach to Mindfulness and Meditation. She sees it as key to EVERYTHING she does. And she has brought Mindfulness practices into her company – including ‘sleeping rooms’ for employees who are sleep-deprived. She understands that the biggest asset to her company is ‘human resources’. If you look after people, they will reward you with everything they’ve got.
What’s the best way to achieve this state of mind, of Mindfulness?
Learning Meditation is one way to get there: it helps you to consciously observe your present moment experience, through the broader “lense” of awareness – but it takes practice.
It’s a simple concept, but difficult to do! Largely because we are so ‘rusted on’ to busy-ness, stress and distractions – and thinking. When you sit down and begin to meditate (which is the “formal” practice of mindfulness), you discover there’s a lot more going on in those minds of ours than just our thoughts.
Meditation isn’t about achieving, it is about practicing – the practice of ‘non-doing’. Just sitting with things as they are, not thinking about them, rather experiencing them fully, as they occur in the entirety of your body and mind. It’s an understanding that comes from experience, not thinking. You know it when you feel it: it’s wisdom.
Meditation (and Mindfulness practice) takes some courage and a fair bit of discipline, but once you start the path – and stick with it – the benefits do unfold. Your whole inner – and for that matter outer – world can change.
That’s very interesting: to what extent can it benefit your professional life?
Working mindfully means working smarter. If you pay attention to what your needs are (as opposed ticking off a never-ending list of ‘stuff to get though’), you tend to be more productive, less exhausted, and make decisions from a calmer and clearer place.
If you look after yourself more, you tend to look after those around you more. You tend to listen better to other people, and with empathy – key to forming good working relationships.
Listening better is also fundamental to creating change, especially in environments where there might be ‘resistance’ or fear of that. To have the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”, and then to act on finding a solution to a problem from that place, is such an advantageous skill to have, both in life and in business.
When you listen with 100% of your attention, undistracted, and with a feeling for the how other person might be “right here, right now”, the communication process is strengthened. You can address the problem at hand – and/or their needs – directly, with a deeper sense of connection and understanding. These skills are handy to have when it comes to presentations too – communicating with empathy makes you a better storyteller!
Looking after yourself – and your real, present-moment needs – also means you’re able to better enjoy your work, therefore really invest in it, become more creative, productive, resilient, and it also helps to create a better workplace culture.
Creating space for yourself, means creating space for ideas to just come to you… Things like that can come from Mindfulness, and Meditation practice.
Could you say that Mindfulness connects, and in return benefits your personal life too?
Yes – and I’m really glad you asked this! As I’d like to stress that ‘mindfulness’ isn’t just a strategy to get the “edge on an opponent”, or some ‘woo woo’ magic trick to make us all feel nice…
It’s a unified, integrated way to be, and requires some inquiry and practice. It’s not a magic bullet or an ‘add water and mix’ solution. It’s really about getting to know yourself – and how your mind works – on a deeper level. And about changing your relationship with the way you usually ‘go about your business’ – the business of life and, everything else.
In the video Dan Harris claims mindfulness practice could be as relevant today as running. Do you agree?
Yes! As running – or, as my teacher used to say, as important as brushing your teeth each day.
I agree with Dan Harris: I also see Mindfulness as a “superpower”. It allows you to not miss a moment of your life, and live at your full potential and capacity – whatever that might be. Which is liberating, exciting and powerful, in a very different way.
It has transformed aspects of my own life – especially when it comes to health and relationships. It allows you to bounce back better from problems and take control of your life, ironically, by being better able to ‘let go’.
It doesn’t mean you’re meant to be perfect or feel the same all the time – that would be ridiculous and ‘un-human’. But Mindfulness and Meditation practice can take the sting out of living when times turn tough. It can make life so much more rewarding on a moment-to-moment level.
You get to see the big picture while living the minutae of your daily life: now that’s powerful.