Mindfulness has role in workplace

By Ged Cann

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Stephen Archer   Photo / supplied
Stephen Archer Photo / supplied

There is no one better to learn mindfulness from than a Buddhist monk, and after 13 years practicing, Stephen Archer now uses his experience to create more effective and healthier work places.

Mindful business places is a concept that is beginning to catch on, with a number of government departments and banks bringing Wellington-based Stephen on board.

Stephen's interest in mindfuless began in his late teens.

"I had an awareness that my mind was not a particularly peaceful place to be living inside of, and I was attracted to a possibility of enjoying my mind than suffer it," he said.

He said he immediately noticed a difference, and soon took on the monk name Nyanaviro, which is a combination of two works - Nyana is from the sanskrit word meaning spiritual knowledge and viro, from the word for energy.

The mind, Stephen said, is a natural environment and mindfulness a way of becoming sensitive to that environment.

"It's about recognising the mind itself inherently is not disturbed but is quite peaceful just in the way that any natural environment is not disturbed and actually demonstrates balance and harmony," he said.

Although the office can hardly be described as a natural environment, Stephen said people were highly adaptable to deal with the stresses of information overload and the pressures of a knowledge economy.

He describes the modern workplace as a made-up concept, but said the fact that they were still made up of human beings meant the same principals from ancient teachings applied.

"It's all made up - even the nine-to-five concept. When they first created mills and factories and required people to work those hours people would just wander in really late because it was a novel concept. Before that, your work was seasonal.

"A hundred years ago, 80 per cent of men worked in agriculture, meaning you went to work and you were trained to use your body. These days we go to work and we're sitting in front of computers. In other words, it's a knowledge economy and most of us are paid to use our minds."

When Stephen enters a workplace he will introduce the concept of mind training.

"It's not about putting more information or content in, but learning how to still the mind. You can develop the mind but their definition is not filling it will knowledge. It gives us a greater capacity to engage and sustain our quality of engagement," he said.

The number one complaint Stephen hears is people feeling overwhelmed with information leading to short attention spans. He points to Google and other progressive workplaces which already incorporate mindfulness into their operations.

"They allow people to move more with their own authority and allow for diversity and creativity. What I witness in some government departments is the culture's all the same. People are required to march in step and that dampens people's capacity to be creative."

Other recommendations include creating a quite room for stillness and rumination and completing some form of physical activity every hour.

Stephen said the benefits he witnesses included greater communication skills and personal wellbeing.

"The biggest obstacle is information overload. People get hundreds of emails a day and they're suffering from attention fatigue. There's a false belief that more is better.

"The big thing is creating more simplicity in the workplace. For people to do better quality work and sustain good wellbeing you need to bring discipline into the area of what you're doing with your attention."

But Stephen said it is not so much self-analysis as self-awareness.

"In years gone by people probably thought that felt a bit touchy feely, but we're finding more and more there's a huge attraction to mindfulness ... It's not like we're ringing bells and burning incense, it's just normal. People who say its a bit hippyish, I say get over it. It's 2016 and we need to be doing this."

He said one generation ago going to the gym and being a vegetarian was strange, and just as they became mainstream Stephen believes mindfulness will as well.

"There's a good evidence base. The people who enjoy a good level and wellbeing - particularly mental health - are those who spend more time in the present and those who experience more negative emotions like anxiety and stress tend to spent more time worrying about the future and mulling over the past."

Stephen said with the Mental Health Foundation actively encouraging mindfulness and the changes he has seen in the past two years he was encouraged that it would not be too long before the concept was in most workplaces.

- Hamilton News

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