A Mindful Alternative to Meditation
By John J. Murphy
Meditation is an immensely helpful practice to bring harmony, balance, and inner peace into one’s life. It’s also a great way to boost creativity and improve performance. That’s why I do it every day to center myself, open my heart, clear my mind, and let go of anything weighing me down. Having said this, I am often asked about alternative practices or “tools” one can use to boost consciousness and elevate awareness. It’s not a bad idea to have more than one tool in your toolbox.
My first response to this question is contemplation. It is a tool used to transcend the dualistic, ego thought system and see things differently. One of my favorite quotes from the poet Rumi is, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I think this statement summarizes the practice of contemplation quite well. It challenges us to look at things without judgment, without duality, without condemnation, without the idea of right and wrong, us and them, win and lose. It confronts the ego, the insecure, false self.
I use contemplation throughout the day. It is often easier and more practical than meditation, especially in business and team settings. Yet, it can accomplish many of the same results as meditation – opening people up, challenging assumptions, boosting creativity, and triggering innovation. For example, here are several “contemplation” tools I share with my clients frequently as a business consultant.
- Process Mapping: We use this tool to map a process end-to-end to get a team to “see collectively as one.” Often, team members know their own part of a process, but they have no context for the bigger picture. There are a variety of different types of process maps, each with an important function, and sometimes it’s a good idea to use more than one or integrate one with another. For example, you might want to add a timeline (from a Time Value Map) to a Functional “Swimlane” Map, showing the process in terms of who does what (the swim lanes) from start to finish including steps, sequencing, and timing. This usually triggers a lot of “Aha!” moments for team members. Wow, it takes us that much time? Wow, we have that many steps in the process, or that many people involved? The mapping process is not intended to be judgmental. We are not criticizing the process or condemning it. We are simply trying to understand it – with an open mind and with facts and data. We are searching for context and not just content.
- Silent Brainstorming: This is a process where we give everyone on the team a pack of post-its. We then give them 5-10 minutes to come up with ideas (e.g. root causes to a problem or possible solutions), writing one idea per post-it and sticking it on a whiteboard or wall. We then have a facilitator “affinitize” the post-its (ideas), placing them in categories. Typically, we have 40-50 interesting ideas within 10 minutes which we then categorize into 5-8 categories. There is no judging or criticizing ideas. It is an open, exploratory process and it gets everyone thinking and participating. We can also see “redundancies,” meaning we already have some prioritization, alignment, and consensus for multiple ideas.
- The Third “Right” Answer: Often people get trapped between two options, Option A and Option B. Again, this is a common expression of the dualistic ego mindset and we end up debating who is right and who is wrong or why one position is better than the other. We even tend to say things like, “Don’t come to me with a problem without a solution.” This at least challenges people to take some ownership for solving problems, but it often puts them in a “box.” They become attached to whatever idea they come up with. Try this contemplative practice as an alternative. Challenge your team to come up with at least three solutions to any problem, Option A, Option B, and Option C. This gets them thinking outside the box – or the first right answer. And do not be surprised if you end up choosing Option D, often a hybrid of the first three options.
- Forcefield Analysis: This tool is great for contemplating the reasons to do something and the reasons not to do it. In other words, why do it? And why not do it? You simply have your team (or you can do it yourself) list all the “forces” for making the change, and then you have them list all the forces against making the change (e.g. risks). Why write a book? Why not write a book? Why enroll in this class? Why not enroll in this class? Why change this process? Why not change this process? We then focus on eliminating the forces against us (i.e. removing obstacles).
- Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA): This contemplative tool is used to identify and mitigate risk. It essentially challenges an individual or team to identify anything that can go wrong (e.g. components), why it could fail (potential causes), how serious the failure would be (rating the severity), how likely it is to happen (rating the likeliness), how detectable it would be (rating detection), and most importantly, what countermeasures can we use to eliminate or mitigate any risk factors. FMEA is closely related to the “forces against” component from the Forcefield Analysis process.
Of course, there are other tools available to us to teach and practice contemplation. Like meditation, it helps center us and calm us down. It challenges us to open our minds and see possibilities we may never have considered. It teaches us to examine both sides of every coin, the perfect balance of life. With contemplation, we begin to recognize that there are no problems without solutions. Everything is meant for a reason – a positive reason. We just need to look for it. This practice reduces skepticism, cynicism, negativity, finger-pointing, and blame, replacing it with mindful discernment, optimism, patience, awareness, and higher intelligence. I find contemplation extremely useful, both personally and professionally. Let me just add that I still meditate daily as well. The two practices work very well together.
John Murphy is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, and coach and has been for over 30 years. He has traveled as many as 51 weeks out of 52, teaching in dozens of countries around the world, with languages and cultures he knew little about.
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