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Video Transcript

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Bringing Mindfulness to Work

Meditation, like the foundations of software, is built on top of a binary state: an inhale and an exhale, a breath in and a breath out, a one and a zero. We often believe that to engage in meditation, we need to place ourselves in a room of absolute silence, to dress in comfortable linens, and to be utterly still and alone. But this image could not be further from the truth! To meditate is to foster mindfulness, and presence is an activity that can be performed anywhere, and with others—even at work.

Learning how to be mindful amongst others

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute—or SIYLI—is a globally recognized nonprofit that works towards making the development of leadership and emotional intelligence more accessible. It achieves this primarily by running public workshops or bringing them within organizations. The workshops emphasize mindfulness as the foundation of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, both qualities essential to effective leadership. Although it draws on Buddhist traditions, the actual practice itself is secularized, composed of exercises to build a bridge between science and contemplative wisdom.

I am the Chief of Staff on the Engineering team here at Heroku, and after attending one of SIYLI's gatherings, I was convinced that employees at Heroku would appreciate the lessons they offered. I felt that their program could give us tools to navigate with resilience the conflicts and stress inherent in modern work life. There was just one slight problem: SIYLI conducts its courses over two days, in a face-to-face environment, while Heroku is a remote company with employees distributed unevenly across the globe. Work happens through video chat, and there wasn't a meeting room for SIYLI to gather everyone into. I needed to figure out how to adapt SIYLI's physical-space model for Heroku's unique culture.

Establishing a virtual program

We partnered with SIYLI to establish a virtual version of their program. The content would stay similar. The biggest change comes in its delivery. SIYLI's original program is very intensive, and if it were just moved online, no one would want to sit in a video call for eight hours. Instead, they rebuilt the program as six two-hour sessions over the course of two weeks. By using the Zoom online platform, they could maintain the essential sense of interactivity, with multiple breakouts for participants to practice what they're learning in smaller groups.

Most of the work-related mindfulness programs focus on wellbeing and stress-reduction. What I appreciated about the SIYLI was that it went beyond these aspects to transform how we show up and interact at work. In particular, the program offers a way to relate differently to conflict. In a work environment, there are always conflicts, perhaps between teams dependent on one another, or disagreements on the priorities of features. In a distributed office, it becomes easy to avoid entering conflict (or to ignore it) because there's no one present in your physical space. However, this only hides the conflict; it doesn't solve it. I believe that, culturally and socially, most of us have never been taught how to deal with conflict, which is all about learning how to interact better with people. Heroku's program takes a look at not just verbal interactions, but ones over text, where the opportunity for misunderstandings are much higher, due to lack of vocal nuance and physical clues.

The benefits of mindfulness

These mindfulness techniques aren't just designed to make people better employees. The skills extend to one's personal life at home, too. This is, of course, another area full of tensions and conflict; in fact, we should expect that every part of our regular lives will have these "negative" situations.

To support these practices on an ongoing basis, we formed a Mindfulness Guild. (Guilds are an organizational pattern where groups independently self-organize around topics across the organization, with discussions occurring at various points throughout the week, due to different time zones.) In the Mindfulness Guild, we practice a bit together, and we share how the practices are going, challenges we're facing, or successes we’ve had. It's become like a support group for people interested in applying meditation to their life.

Participants in Heroku's program have taken note of the transformation that occurred within them. They've assessed that even during hard and painful situations, rather than immediately freaking out, they're able to control their reactions and respond to them in constructive and positive ways.

Getting started

Are you interested in learning more about SIYLI and Heroku's adaptation? Our podcast, Code[ish], has an episode titled Mindfulness at Work, which contains my full interview with Raúl Barroso.

The Responsive Meditation Guide is an open source guide to assist practitioners in their mindfulness journey.

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