Mindfulness and Technology

Perhaps the most interesting intersection in the business world is between mindfulness and technology, as they appear to pull in opposite directions. The practice is all about slowing down and emptying the mind, while the digital revolution is speeding up our lives and filling our heads with vast quantities of information.

Despite this, they have a long history together. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was fascinated by Zen Buddhism, for one thing, and mindfulness has been linked for decades to the Californian lifestyle, where many technology companies are based.

So it is no great surprise that Thay, who has sold more than 2m books in the US, was invited to Silicon Valley by Google and was also asked to lead a private day of mindfulness for CEOs of 15 of the world's most powerful technology companies.

Thay's core message to the tech leaders he met was to use their global influence to focus on how they can contribute to making the world a better place, rather than on making as much money as possible.

He and a group of monastics spent a day at Google's headquarters, spending time with the senior management as well as leading around 700 employees through mindfulness discussions and sitting and walking meditation. So many staff wanted to take part that the company had to open up two additional locations to live stream his lecture.

Thay speaks of the sharp contrast between the normal frenetic pace of work at the technology giant and the sense of peace that came from sitting in silence during his day of mindfulness on the Googleplex campus. "The atmosphere was totally different," he says. "There's a silence, there's a peace that comes from doing nothing. And in that space, they can realise the preciousness of time."

During his visit, which was themed "intention, innovation, insight", Thay met a number of senior Google engineers to discuss how the company can use technology to be more compassionate and effective in bringing positive change to the world, rather than increasing people's stress and isolation, both from each other and from nature.

When they create electronic devices, they can reflect on whether that new product will take people away from themselves, their family and nature," he says. "Instead they can create the kind of devices and software that can help them to go back to themselves, to take care of their feelings. By doing that, they will feel good because they're doing something good for society.

At the day-long retreat with the CEOs, Thay led a silent meditation and offered a Zen tea ceremony before talking to the group of largely billionaires about how important it is that they, as individuals, resist being consumed by work at the expense of time with their families: "Time is not money," he told them. "Time is life, time is love."

Back at his Plum Village monastery, near Bordeaux, Thay says of his trip: "In all the visits, I told them they have to conduct business in such a way that happiness should be possible for everyone in the company. What is the use of having more money if you suffer more? They also should understand that if they have a good aspiration, they become happier because helping society to change gives life a meaning."

The trip was just the beginning, he adds. "I think we planted a number of seeds and it will take time for the seeds to mature," he says. "If they begin to practise mindfulness, they'll experience joy, happiness, transformation, and they can fix for themselves another kind of aspiration. Fame and power and money cannot really bring true happiness compared to when you have a way of life that can take care of your body and your feelings." 

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/thich-nhat-hanh-mindfulness-google-tech