Former Buddhist monk Greg Burdulis helps companies tap into the power of mindfulness--and evolve their businesses.
From the back of the conference room, Gregory Burdulis looks like an ordinary enough guy. Of medium build, bald, wearing a cotton turtleneck tucked into not-too-tight jeans, Burdulis is a former Buddhist monk who works with companies (such as ad agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky) to explore how mindfulness can impact and evolve business. What creative possibilities open up when employees get in touch with what’s happening right now, outside of conditioned thinking?
Among other things, meditation has some very practical side-effects. It has been shown to improve cognitive function, focus, and response to stress, says Burdulis. It also reduces pain, distracting thoughts, and negative attitudes. Which is why, I suspect, big companies like Google, Comcast, and Procter & Gamble also have mindfulness programs, and why Burdulis was invited to speak at New Hope Natural Media's breakfast meeting this morning.
“Science has shown that our brain has evolved to be negative. If you were a caveman and you heard a twig snap and thought ‘threat!’ then you survived. We evolved to be quick, alert, and hypersensitive,” says Burdulis.
But that evolutionary advantage, wired deep inside our brains, is also what holds us back personally and professionally, he says; it causes unnecessary suffering. “The more you practice mindfulness, the more you see that these unconscious thoughts are like a burning coal in your hand. You see that they are causing you pain and you naturally let go.” A sense of well-being results.
That all sounds good, you might say, but what does this mean for companies on a day-to-day basis? Creativity levels in happy employees are up to three times higher, Burdulis explains. “What gives businesses the most competitive advantage today? Employee engagement,” says Burdulis.
Over the years as an editor at Delicious Living, I’ve seen more and more science backing up what Burdulis teaches, that mindfulness literally changes your brain. “When your mind changes, your brain changes, too,” say Rick Hanson, PhD, and Richard Mendius, MD, in their book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. This change in brain structures can have a tremendous impact on health. In fact, the most recent research shows that meditation practice may increase lifespan.
I have been impressed so much by these findings that about a year ago—when mounting tensions at work, the pressures of motherhood, and the unexpected death of a peer had me spiraling—I took up meditation more seriously. (For a quick exercise you can do right now, see my colleague Caren Baginski’s 4 Steps to Drop Into Peaceful Meditation—At Your Desk.)
I’d like to report that I instantly accessed bliss and have been an unruffled worker-bee ever since. But when I sit down at the end of a long day, it’s often the usual cascade of self-recrimination and a never-ending list of unfinished must-dos that I face. And yet, every once in a while, I do uncover a more spacious mind-set. The cascade continues to gush, but it becomes just a small part of the mental landscape. In general, I am more energized and uplifted; at work, creative solutions seem a little more obvious. I feel that I can more clearly listen when coworkers knock on my door.
In his book Wise Mind, Open Mind, Ronald Alexander, PhD, puts it this way: “Most of us are taught that creativity comes from the thoughts and emotions of the mind. The greatest [artists] recognize that the most original, and even transformative, ideas actually come from the core of our being. Core creativity emerges when we’re in a state of open-minded consciousness, which evolves from mindful inquiry.”