Written by By Mac Slavo, CNN Bangkok, Thailand
It’s well documented that Eastern religions can help people alleviate stress and achieve creativity. But how can meditating on the Zen mountains of northern Thailand help a boss relieve stress at work?
Several years ago, Vanessa Cornick-Thomas , CEO of asset management firm CVC Partners, decided to enroll in a full-time Buddhist religious retreat in northern Thailand. She learned all she could about meditation in exchange for about eight hours a day of meditation classes.
“After one week, I had a new partner, a new colleague, and a new friend for life,” she said.
Cornick-Thomas continues to take what she learned in meditation classes and has since fostered similar practices at her company.
Cornick-Thomas leads meditation sessions for her team and is currently teaching a meditation course for business leaders at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Working to rebuild values
Though research and surveys show meditation to be a beneficial healing process, some experts caution that not all types of meditation and not all new ideas have any merit. That’s why organizations and meditation programs are increasingly highlighting the role that a connection to Buddhist practices and the Dharma – the central religious principle of Buddhism — can play in shaping the way leaders interact with employees.
The owners of Monkeyfield, an educational property and business incubator in New York, for example, opened a gallery dedicated to presenting and selling Buddha memorabilia. Business Insider reports that the art show featured an enormous statue of Buddha on a chair with a small elevator built into it.
“So there you have the chance to have some very intimate chats with this mystical figure,” said Monkeyfield’s vice president of art sales David Guariglia.
Last year, Guariglia released a book entitled “Your Business Happens Here: Rebuilding your work relationships through Buddhist meditation.”
Motherhood, trauma and Buddhist meditation
Peter Tershy , a Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist and president of the Ilan & Peter H. Tershy Institute , founded the institute in 1992 because he felt there was an emerging need in Washington, D.C. for more Jewish counseling.
Tershy also serves as the U.S. director of Transnational Issues at the Wider Bridge Foundation , a nonprofit that promotes the integration of Buddhist philosophy with Western philosophy.
“We wanted to create a model that could reach the vast majority of Buddhists in the Western world,” Tershy said.
In 2000, Tershy published “Success Beyond the 40-hour Workweek”, a book that outlined five strategies for developing greater personal fulfillment and discovering inner strength. The strategy for balancing work and personal life was very popular, he said.
His idea for another book, which addresses the difference between Western and Eastern philosophies on the topic of grief, was also successful, he said.
The book “Grief, Resilience and Buddhist Meditation” has some chapters about grief but also argues that a personal meditation can also help an individual develop resilience.
“It’s very true: Buddhism teaches that the path to healing means that you have to recognize the wounds in order to heal them,” Tershy said.
Stress and suppression
Cornick-Thomas, who teaches meditation classes to business leaders, said the biggest problem faced by these leaders, in her opinion, is the negative influence that stress has on their daily routines.
Having this influence can make it difficult for people to get the most from their lives, she said.
“You feel that the world has just gotten bigger and really it hasn’t,” she said. “The workforces that I meet feel that they have an inherent skill set that they have to adapt to the changing environment that we face.”
Many executives also suffer from problems in the wake of trauma or upheaval. Tershy said these individuals become more prone to pay attention to external stimuli, which leads to less-enlightened communication skills.
“For managers, a quality of leadership is about being alert and attentive to everything that’s happening in the world at all times,” he said.
Tershy’s own experience led him to experience himself more with the passage of time. As a teenager, Tershy’s parents were killed in a car accident that was unrelated to the business world.
When he saw the beauty and strength of the Earth, he felt empowered. Tershy’s parents’ disappearance, in contrast, left him feeling weak. But over time, he remembered the values his parents taught him and developed a new capacity.
“The difference is you kind of not have time to dwell on the past and you don’t have time to have the guilt and the anguish that you used to feel,” he said.