Our editor Alicia Buller ventures into central London in search of some spiritual sustenance.
On a busy, rickety lane in Covent Garden, bodies jostle for space in the summer heat. But just yards under this street lies an oasis of calm. Arti Lal, head of the Inner Space centre, is dressed in ancient Brahma Kumaris white robes. She ushers me into her subterranean haven with a pure, wide smile.
Lal came to work at the centre 20 years ago and she hasn’t looked back since. “I’m OK. I have everything I need,” she says, tugging at her robes. “I have shoes, clothes, a roof over my head.”
Inner Space is backed by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, which is working at all levels for positive change. The centre offers free spiritual classes for punters who are frayed by the relentless pace of modern life. Most of the sessions are full – seven days a week.
Lal says that today’s modern trend for seeking mindfulness has made her job easier in some ways.
“Twenty years ago, people may have just knocked on our door, but now we can go and seek them. We have enough social media followers,” she says – showing just how far the millennia- old tradition of mindfulness has come. But today’s peace seekers aren’t always seeking nirvana; some of them are seeking return on investment.
Anisha Bhavsar, a meditation teacher at the centre, points out why this spiritual practice is ineluctably good for business: “Mindfulness has side effects – you clear the crowding in your brain and you get your space back.You can think in a clearer, faster and better way. It makes you more present and your interactions with people are less edgy.”
This all makes for good corporate performance, which is why thousands of companies across the world from Google to Apple to PricewaterhouseCoopers have weaved mindfulness into their employee strategy.
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment.You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practise it.”
Away from the calming climes of volunteer-run Inner Space, mindfulness has become big business. And no wonder. The cost of stress at work in the US alone is as high as $300 billion, according to the World Health Organisation. Life’s stresses are faster paced and more myriad than they’ve ever been. Louise Chester, who is director at Mindfulness at Work Ltd, says that being mindful means ‘being aware’ – enabling greater clarity and insight in the present moment about the thoughts, emotions and sensations we experience.
“If every person was more aware of the impact of their thoughts and actions, not just in the workplace, but in every sphere of their life, they would naturally make more compas- sionate and wiser choices,” she says.
“If these choices are aggregated in more conscious business behaviour then the ripples of these actions reach far and wide. And as the future of humanity beyond the next 100 years hangs in the balance, the world really could become a place that future generations could thank us for.”
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Photo Credit: Harry Koopman from flickr