Omega: How can mindfulness help us with our challenges around work?
Michael: The data shows that mindfulness can have a real impact in three important ways: one is the discovery of a natural sense of confidence in the midst of today’s unknowns. Another opens up your sense of curiosity about the world instead of needing to be the expert or “get it right.” The third is seeing the pointlessness of toxic workplaces, the completely unnecessary emotions that arise and confuse our workplaces.
When we use mindful meditation to pay attention to certain qualities that have been hijacked or repressed, we experience less stress, more creativity, and greater agility. The practice offers clarity about misplaced and unhealthy emotions versus decency, authenticity, and just being human.
When we work with our minds and emotions, we connect with greater confidence, work through conflict more skillfully, and de-bias our points of view.
Omega: What is the biggest change you've seen in your work over the years?
Michael: When we began in 2001, the main issues were how to be skillful with one another; how to have honest relationships with our livelihoods, with our identities, and our need for security; and how to relate with decency to one another in difficult circumstances. Over time, there’s been a growing and sustained interest in how to apply mindfulness at work.
But the biggest change we’re seeing now is with technology. There are so many issues that we need to face and learn to deal with—primarily the ways that technology has hijacked our level of humanity; how not to work 20-hour days in order to connect globally; and how to influence people in diverse global settings.
The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) that is designed to feel increasingly real is the main headline. We’re just beginning to understand how profoundly numbing it is; how gaming, for example, can be a form of anesthesia that cuts us off from human engagement.
As AI takes over and jobs disappear—one Oxford study says that over the next decade or two AI will perform almost half of jobs in the United States—the work that remains will require social intelligence and creative skills.
Omega: How can mindfulness help us navigate these changes?
Michael: Mindful awareness and meditation will be needed more than ever to unleash those skills. Technology tends to dehumanize. Despite all of the different ways we have to connect, it’s more difficult to get to know people face-to-face. So we need to develop more social intelligence skills.
The practice of mindful meditation is an antidote to lives that are increasingly run by technology. It can support us in our efforts to be authentic instead of numb. This is what’s left for us to learn.
Omega: You first came to Omega years ago as an assistant to Pema Chödrön during her retreats and have been conducting your own programs here for the past several years. What keeps bringing you back?
Michael: In my work with corporate groups, we have limited time, but at Omega, there’s a sense of openness and psychic space that I really cherish. Omega also attracts a more diverse group, people from different kinds of organizations, from all different levels—small business people, educators, scientists—who are all grappling with the challenges inherent in modern livelihoods.
In our quest to “make it” we lose the sense of freshness, of joy. This is not to sound Pollyanna about work: work is hard. But the issue is spiritual—it’s something very deep around who we are, and it’s very important to address. We’re all trying to find a way to do work differently, rather than see it as a tax we have to pay in order to live our lives.
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