"Mindfulness," a concept with its roots in Buddhism, has become a catch-word in many corporate environments. Benjamin Robinson, President and CEO of the New York City-based marketing firm Market-Based Marketing ("MBM"), has also implemented many other aspects of the Buddhist traditions into MBM's offices in order to improve employee performance.
For instance, MBM has a meditation room where employees can clear their minds so as to allow for new advertising ideas to fill their empty mental space. At the start of every MBM staff meeting, Robinson formally sets the group's intention: "To act and think skillfully and mindfully, in order win more clients and sell more stuff to more people at ever-increasing prices, so as to boost the American economy and world prosperity, beginning with MBM executives." And the meetings end with a five-minute "metta" meditation, during which company employees send well-wishes to clients with outstanding invoices, wishing them wealth, integrity and an eagerness to pay their bills.
However, Robinson noticed that despite the company's various Buddhist trappings, some MBM employees still weren't quite "getting" the Buddhist philosophy. And so, Robinson hired an American-schooled Buddhist monk to lead an innovative three-day employee training program in corporate Buddhism. The monk, Dorothy "Dolly" Lama, holds master's degrees in business, religion and psychology, and has over eighteen years of corporate leadership experience.
Dolly Lama started off the MBM training by teaching employees some Buddhism basics: life is meaningless, the cause of suffering is attachment, and the key to the end of suffering is the elimination of craving.
"So you see," Lama explained to MBM employees, "if you're feeling unfulfilled, underpaid or generally dissatisfied with your work, that just means you've achieved a deep understanding of the inherent meaninglessness of human existence. The only way to end your suffering is to let go of your desires for material pleasures - because they'll only end up disappointing you and creating more suffering."
The training had a profound impact on MBM employees.
For executive assistant Jessica Rhodes, the Buddhism training inspired her not to ask for a raise from her boss.
"I work really hard and make only twelve dollars an hour," says Rhodes. "But when I realized that I'd still experience unhappiness even if I were making enough to pay my bills, I saw that a raise would only be a band-aid and would numb me to the human experience of suffering. More money might bring me some carnal pleasures like a warm and safe apartment, but those pleasures would be transitory and fleeting. Whereas being mindful and noticing the deprivation and financial hardship that pervade my life could bring me true insight into the nature of human suffering. And that's priceless."
Jonas Caldwell, lead copywriter for an MBM advertising campaign on behalf of oil company BP which challenges the science behind research purporting to prove global warming, recounted, "For me, Dolly's seminar shed some light on the whole issue of professional fulfillment. I'd been upset that my work wasn't meaningful, wasn't contributing to any sort of greater good, wasn't pursuing any real truth or new understanding of science but instead was motivated purely out of profit.
"But Dolly's training helped me realize that even if I were working for, say, a solar power company or helping starving children in Somalia, I'd occasionally feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied with that work, too. Dolly helped me realize that the only end to my mental suffering is to completely surrender my attachment to getting fulfillment from my work, and to embrace my dissatisfaction as fundamental to my human condition. Only then will I be able to appreciate what the present moment has to offer."
Marissa Nyrobe, MBM Vice President of Sales, echoed Caldwell's sentiments. "The concept of mindfulness was huge. Dolly taught me that instead of trying to escape the feelings of guilt and discomfort that pop up when I exaggerate the truth in order to win an account, or misrepresent a product in order to improve sales, I should sit with those feelings. And instead of turning to sedatives like alcohol to numb myself, my only responsibility as a Buddhist practitioner is to truly experience those feelings and pay attention to the physical sensations manifesting in my body, which in my case is usually in the solar plexus area. Now when I feel guilty about what I do and sense my chest tightening up, I notice it, breathe into that area, and breathe out. And then I'm good!"
Caldwell, Nyrobe and Rhodes are not alone in the spiritual shift they experienced following Dolly Lama's corporate Buddhism seminar; other employees realized that, in their time at MBM, they'd actually experienced nirvana, defined in Buddhism as the extinguishment of passion and worldly desires - essentially, an overarching "nothingness."
"I thought I hated my job, and turns out I've been experiencing nirvana! Who knew?" said an incredulous MBM sales representative, Luke Mandell. He patted his ample belly and added, "Plus, the fat Buddha statue in the conference room makes me feel better about my gut."