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our interview with gelong thubten: creativity, compassion and completeness – the power of meditation

Gelong Thubten became a Buddhist monk 24 years ago. From 2005 he spent four years in a strict retreat on a Scottish island cut off from the outside world, and today specializes in bringing mindfulness to businesses including Google and Siemens. Gelong Thubten is speaking in our New Velocity segment; here he outlines some of the many benefits of a mindful approach in our digital age.

Is our sedentary, digital lifestyle antithetical to physical and emotional well-being? Or is the situation more complex?

I think there are many complex layers of experience which create the rich reality of our lives, and which cause both happiness and stress, so it isn’t easy to generalize in answering this question. But it’s important to note that we weren’t actually designed to spend our time sitting behind desks looking at computer screens. This can certainly lead to a decline in well-being, as it increases both mental and physical stress. The advancement of technology has many wonderful benefits, but it does cause higher levels of mental distraction and impatience. So, we need to carefully look after our minds, now more than ever. Exercise is very important, especially to combat the sedentary nature of our lives, but we cannot exercise constantly, so something internal is needed additionally to transform the situation.

What role can mindfulness and meditation play in our endeavor to balance work and life?

These are highly effective tools for bringing balance. They help us to maintain good mental well-being, genuine lasting relaxation and positive mind states. It is our thoughts and reactions about our work and our lives that determine whether we are happy or not. Meditation and mindfulness help us to transform our reactive mind, allowing for a more creative response to life and a deeper sense of compassion in every situation. When the mind becomes more flexible and positive, the sense of division between ‘work’ and ‘life’ can start to melt, so that there doesn’t need to be a conflict between the two, and instead a sense of completeness can begin to emerge.

“People assume you have to be religious to meditate. But actually you don’t.”

Recent developments in neuroscience are providing evidence for phenomena long observed by the Buddhist tradition. What is the most exciting aspect of this, for you?

Science has now been able to prove that meditation works. We can see a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as significant changes in the brain and its activity, making for a healthier mental environment. I am particularly interested in research around the hormone oxytocin, which is part of the chemistry of happiness, security, love and well-being. There is exciting research into compassion meditation and its effects on brain and body, proving the understanding long held in the contemplative traditions such as Buddhism.

You have worked with many companies. What is the most common cause of suffering or dissatisfaction among today’s corporate employees?

I don’t feel that the corporate world is all about suffering. There can be areas of great inspiration and creativity. But the downside is that when people are expected to work as fast as their computers, there is a feeling of exhaustion and being overwhelmed. Also, we can start to lose motivation, the work becomes uninspiring and meaningless, unless the person knows how to boost inner strength and positive outlook. We do live in a culture that tends to enhance feelings of discontent and “lack”, and appreciation and gratitude are less prevalent. This societal trend can infect corporate life with an ‘ennui’ and subtle feelings of incompleteness.

Many people are put off by the idea of meditation because they have a misconception of what it is. How do you help people initially start with meditation?

Maybe those misconceptions are because people assume you have to be religious to meditate. But actually, you don’t. Many people practice it as a mind training tool, and of course these days they call it mindfulness. In fact, it is a highly effective life skill. Another misconception is that people think you have to empty your mind to meditate. That’s actually impossible and pointless, but many people struggle, thinking they have to do that. Actually, it is about focusing the mind and finding happiness. Rather than ‘emptying,’ it is about filling one’s mind with joy. The best way to start learning is to practice short moments of mindfulness many times a day, so that it becomes a habit. These are to be practiced even while busy, while moving, while working. Then a daily practice starts to emerge, and longer periods of sitting meditation become possible. These can be woven into a busy life where there isn’t much time, and the practice can still bring good results.

watch gelong thubten’s & alexander schlaubitz’ talk at me convention

Finding Meaning in a Sped Up World

Disclaimer: The views of me Convention speakers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either Mercedes-Benz and/or SXSW.