"Is Mindfulness Enough?" by Jim Schaffer

I was on the Acela Express last week, sitting next to a high-level HR benefits consultant, and I opened up to him about my desire to move full-time into being a mindfulness trainer. “Ah, mindfulness,” he replied. “Well of course there is great interest in that right now, but you’re going to find it very tough out there because there are a ton of people in the field.”

I smiled. Many of us on this site have engaged in discussions and debated whether or not the “McMindfulness” phenomenon is a good thing for business or a bad thing. Here’s my take on it: It’s a good thing, but it’s not nearly enough.

At least not for the people I’m trying to reach. I have spent every business day for 42 years as either a first-line salesperson or a manager of sales teams. Though beginning a daily mindfulness practice nearly 30 years ago transformed my entire life and career, twenty minutes of meditation plus a few purposeful pauses throughout the day wouldn’t have done much at all if I hadn’t also begun at that time, through the study of dharma principles, to rearrange the way I processed life itself.

If that sounds too ethereal, let me be utterly clear. Teaching people to be present and surrender to the present moment is a powerful thing. But for salespeople, managers, customer-facing service people and others in high-stress professions, it doesn’t take you far without understanding something of the other principles from the tradition that promotes it. I don’t think we need to go into the kleshas, the six paramitas, annata, shunyata or dukkha, but behind the Pali and Sanskrit words lie great wisdom that can easily be communicated in English.

Here are four things I think someone in business who is being trained in mindfulness needs to know:

  1. You are being asked to do something not found in nature: instead of rising and falling, business demands that you rise and rise and rise again. You need to know how to balance that conundrum, not deny it.
  2. You must understand impermanence: you cannot cling to pleasure and avoid pain. That messy behavioral sink you live in everyday IS business----it is not a problem which needs to be solved.
  3. Lighten up----it’s not so personal! You are not the center of this drama. EVERYTHING is interrelated. Mindfulness practice will help you train your mind to be joyful regardless of how things are going at the moment.
  4. Our primary purpose at work should be to take care of one another (colleagues, customers, even competitors). That doesn’t mean you should forget about your goals, it just means not holding them so tightly that you miss the fact that you are not getting anywhere----you are already there!


Folks in these positions also need to have faith that they will not lose their competitive edge, understand that a mindfulness practice does not promise that things will begin to go smoothly, and that this is more than filling their heads with yet another group of steps they need to remember (in fact, one of the first things I focus on is helping them see how harmful much of their training has been and how to begin to strip it away).

So by all means, let’s bring greater consciousness to the business world. But as all of you on this site know full well, that requires more than a new skill you can buy that will help you be more focused and successful. It also requires some understanding of the dharma, some loosening of attachments, and a deep knowledge that we don't embrace the present moment just to win more often, we embrace it because that is all there is.

Jim Schaffer is a mindfulness trainer and consultant who has had a decades-long career in the corporate world, primarily in advertising and market research. He has been conducting workshops and speaking on mindfulness in business since 1990. Jim helps organizations and leaders develop the ability to see things clearly, focus on getting results, and maintain high morale & deep resilience, regardless of what is going on around them. He has been a featured speaker at the Boston Whole Health Expo and the Babson College International Symposium on Business and Spirituality. Jim lives with his wife in the Boston area.  www.jimschaffer.com

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