Diliana: We’ve had quite an interesting conversation with you about the Bulgarian language translation of the word ‘mindfulness’. We translated it as ‘self-awareness’. The English word ‘mindfulness’ is a translation too of the original term. Tell us more about this.
Stassie: Mindfulness is not the most delicate translation of the word ‘sati’, in the language Pali in which most of the ancient Buddhist texts have been written. Sati roughly means ‘the process of awareness’. But to be able to fully understand it in the context in which it is used in Buddhism for the last 2500 years, one should perhaps know more of the context of these texts. Being aware is only the literal, superficial meaning of the word sati, or mindfulness, or if we translate it in Bulgarian – осъзнатост. It’s not that easy to find a wholesome equivalent carrying all the meaning of such a concept. Not because we think that Bulgarian language is limited, but because ‘mindfulness’ has already been loaded with more than one meaning. In my understanding, ‘mindfulness’ means awareness, (a result of my doing specific practices), it is also a process for training our minds, our attention and eventually, the wiring of the brain. In addition, mindfulness is also a system of behaviours and a wholesome way of life.
Before coming to our Bulgarian audience and readers, Mindfulness, similarly to ‘yoga’ has become popular in the USA and UK. Few people know, actually, that ‘yoga’ means an egg yoke in Sanskrit. Not many say though ‘I’m going to do yoke now’. Therefore, I am not trying to translate ‘mindfulness’ into Bulgarian anymore. No need for that. Especially when understanding the whole concept one can only do through engaging into practicing it.
Diliana: It’s been known that one can develop and increase their Emotional Intelligence through practicing mindfulness. What is the mechanism of this?
Stassie: Just to mention here – the person, who wrote Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman, was also one of the first Westerners practicing and researching mindfulness in the US in the early 70’s. Together with Jon Kabat-Zinn – the ‘father’ of the most popular Mindfulness programme – the 8-Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – and Richie Davidson, another neuro-scientist and medical doctor, they started practicing mindfulness as young students during their travels in India in the ‘60s. Then they brought these practises to the US. Daniel Goleman keeps practicing mindfulness to this day and his original idea on Emotional Intelligence is directly linked to the process of attaining full awareness and being mindful with your life. Mindfulness is a deliberate directing of one’s attention onto a chosen stimulus or experience, that we perceive here and now – without judgement, detached from any emotional reaction, with kindness, trust and acceptance of the experience as it is, (not as we want it to be).
We can’t be emotionally intelligent without being aware and accepting of what our emotions and feelings are, and without knowing how to wisely respond to them. EI is based on practicing mindfulness. We can practice mindfulness in each of our daily routines. It’s not a ‘thing’ that we have to find additional time for. The way to do our daily activities, the attention, the precision, the attitudes make them mindful or mind-less.
EI is a system of human capabilities – we all have these to an extent. To increase their strength, we must give it a go and just be consistent with our daily practice. Mindfulness practices and the officially accredited mindfulness-based training programmes, (MBTPs) are guaranteed and neuroscience proven methods for cultivating EI.
Diliana: It seems to me that many people are actually practicing mindfulness – having their own practices, acquired through their life experiences, but are not aware that they’re practicing it. Am I right? Why did Mindfulness become that popular?
Stassie: Some people are naturally more mindful than others. They have learned their life lessons in kindness, inclusivity, gratitude and acceptance, and have found ways to not allow their human nature of stressing and reacting to difficult situations take over their lives. They have learned ways to feel content with life even if they don’t have wealth and abundant opportunities. These people we usually call ‘wise’. Not everyone though is as wise, especially when you are young, or if you’ve lived all your life in a culture where one identifies themselves with their thoughts and emotions. So, my answer here is – to live mindfully – to feel content with our lives and feel happiness from within – to be able to cope with the stresses of today, we need to work deliberately and to cultivate a daily practice. We need to learn to look at our internal and external experiences with wise calm, directed attention, open heart and clear thought.
Diliana: Those who work in the field of EI know about Search Inside Yourself – Google’s corporate programme which combines EI and mindfulness practices. Many articles quote increased business numbers as a result of these programmes. What’s the mechanism behind this?
Stassie: As far as I am acquainted with Google’s programme, that mechanism is as follows: you need an enthusiastic employee who is practicing mindfulness and is willing to do it at work. They can do it during lunch break, or even for 15 minutes instead of a coffee break. Then another employee joins, then another. Soon, it becomes a club. They start to practice regularly. Then a team starts their regular team meeting with a 5-minute ‘arrival’ practice. And then they see that the quality of their meeting jumps up and that everyone feels differently. In a year this ‘habit’ grows and spreads over other departments and offices. In the case of Google, they patched up a programme when they saw it works great for everyone. Search Inside Yourself became so popular, that started living its own life now, beyond Google. People keep practicing it, because in a week or two they already see change – they feel calmer, situations they would perceive as stressful usually are now not that stressful, they find more pleasure in their work, even in the mundane one. When the programme becomes more official and the senior management supports the whole initiative, the measures show between 200-250% return of business investment: higher productivity, more engagement and higher creativity that results in immediate innovation, (best example is actually, SAP). This is the mechanism. Of course, we’ll talk in detail during our workshop.
Diliana: Your theme in the Leadership Accelerator is really practical – you’ll taste mindfulness practices. Please, share something from the ‘kitchen’.
Stassie: The shortest, but also the core and most basic one – I call it -magical – is the sitting posture. Just shifting you body into it already brings some subtle changes in your body’s functioning. The way we sit, no matter where: at work, for an interview, while driving, when dining, affects directly and instantly our brain and mind’s work, the quality of concentration, hence – the quality of our thoughts, and defines to an extent our behaviour. Our bodies exist in 3 dimensions in these states: in stillness and in motion. We can only exist in these 4 postures: – standing, sitting, laying, and walking, (running is a fast walking). We can practice Mindfulness in all these. We always start from taking the position which helps the attention to gather around it. If we’re sitting on a chair, we sit with an upright but not tense back, away from the back of the chair, with shoulders falling away from the ears, not slouching, we rest in gravity, muscles relaxed. The top of the head is pointing straight to the sky, as if an invisible thread is pulling it gently up, the chin is slightly tucked in. Lips are relaxed and slightly open. If you feel it’s right, you may lift their edges into a subtle, almost invisible smile. This is the sitting posture. Sitting without any effort. If we choose, we can sit on the floor, on a cushion, or on our knees with a cushion under the buttocks. One can quickly feel the health benefits of taking this posture regularly.
Diliana: Thank you for coming from UK to facilitate the topic in two of the program’s workshops and presenting to business leaders the concept and practices of Mindfulness.
Stanislava Zaprianova-King will facilitate the workshop “Mindfulness: How to be Successful and Really Mean It” in the second part of Leadership mega accelerator “Emotional Intelligence – Imperative in Business and Leadership” on 01.10.2020.