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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 43 by journalist daniel Goleman, another Buddhist practitioner motivated by a desire to usefully apply dharma. While it is clear from many studies that emotional intelligence is a key factor in effectiveness in all sorts of spheres, it is not so clear how or if one can develop it. It turns out that—as I have found—mindfulness practice is the most effective way to improve emotional intelli- gence. at Google, the enthusiastic and idealistic young engineers are not looking for calmness or healing, but they are interested in developing emotional intelligence, for work and for their personal lives. Our six-week course there, called “search inside yourself,” uses meditation, journaling, mindful dialogue, and a host of other techniques to improve eI. many of the practices I use there, and in the other trainings I do, are simple extensions of mindfulness practice. they are read- ily adaptable by anyone who would like to use them to develop more mindfulness in everyday life. We’re using an e-mailing practice, for instance, that incorporates mindfulness. you can try it. Instead of shooting off a hurried e-mail, and dealing with the consequences later, take an extra moment. Write the e-mail, then close your eyes and visualize the person who is going to receive it. remember that he or she is alive, a feeling human being. now go back and re-read the e-mail, changing anything you now feel you want to change before sending. We also train in a communication practice called “looping”: when listening to someone, intentionally try to pay close atten- tion close to what is being said, rather than entertaining your own similar or dissimilar thoughts. When the person is finished talking say, “Let me make sure I understand what you are say- ing. I think you said....” and then feed back what you heard. this way the person feels truly heard and respected, and has a chance to correct whatever distortions in your hearing there may have been. Looping saves a lot of trouble and misunderstanding, espe- cially when the communication is sensitive or difficult. there are many more practices like this, simple but powerful techniques to maintain mindfulness throughout the day: • Taking three conscious breaths—just three!—from time to time to interrupt your busy activity with a moment or two of calm awareness. • Keeping mindfulness slogan cards around your office or home to remind you to “Breathe” or “pay attention” or “think again.” • Training yourself through repetition to apply a phrase like “Is that really true?” to develop the habit of questioning your assumptions before you run with them. • Practicing mindful walking whenever you get up to walk somewhere during the day. • Instituting the habit of starting your day by returning to your best intention. my mediation training partner Gary friedman practices return- ing to his best intention by pausing before he sits down to meet his first clients of the day. he silently reminds himself as he places his hands on the back of his chair that he is about to participate in a sacred act—the effort to bring peace to conflict. In these and many others ways you can invent, mindfulness can be extended to practi- cally any situation in daily life. and it will make a difference. I believe the Buddha never intended to create a specialized sphere of life called “religion.” In his time, there was no ques- tion of secular or sacred, church on sunday and work during the week. there was only life and life’s difficulties, and the possibility that with cultivation one could live with less trouble and strife. although many of his teachings were given in the context of the monastic community in which he lived, many more were given to laypeople to make their lives more peaceful and successful. the contemporary application of dharma to so many spheres of con- temporary life would not, I think, seem strange to the Buddha. philip snyder, executive director of contemplative mind in society, and an anthropologist, is fond of saying that a thousand years ago our civilization was profoundly altered by the spread- ing of literacy to the general public from the monasteries where it had been exclusively practiced. could it now be the case, he wonders, that the practice of mindfulness developed for mil- lennia in monasteries and temples will similarly be released and spread throughout the world, with just as large an impact? ♦