Mindfulness expert and Newcastle resident Charlotte Thaarup offers guidance for individuals and businesses coping amid the coronavirus.
How did you come across mindfulness, how did it change your own life views, and what led you to pursue it?
I came across mindfulness in 2007 because I was looking. I was looking for something better than what I and everyone else was using for coaching and training. I had been meditating for some years before so I was also looking for something that would integrate what I experienced there with what I offered the workplace. I was looking for something that was not based in a false understandings.
Understandings that say that once I get a the right car, partner, house, job, it all done etc then I will be happy. I was looking for something that was not a concept but real, that matched reality.
Once I took it on I soon realised how much neuroscience backed it up and of course it also matched 100 per cent my own experience, so I knew I was onto something. Very quickly (in hindsight too quickly), I partnered with a colleague in the US and we started offering Mindfulness as professional development to psychologist, endorsed by the Australian Psychological Society.
It didn't change my life so much before I took it on as a professional offering, other than I felt I had found my home. I had insights and it resonated as 'truth' but the deeper change came later, gradually. The biggest change by far was connecting with my body. And not just connecting with it but allowing life's challenges to be processed with a body focus and then not surfacing from that until the ride is over. I did not know that I was anxious, I thought I just needed to get the next thing done then I would be fine. Not realising that is anxiety.
Is Mindfulness accepted within the business and medical community as playing a tangible role in our health?
Yes, more and more it is. When I started it was still considered something a little 'hippiesh' but it is the most researched thing anyone can introduce to the workplace. Research is clear this works. We used to go and swing in robes hoping it would translate into better teams without a shred of evidence, with mindfulness there are literally hundreds of thousands of research articles showing how effective it is. By now I have worked with some organisations for 7-8 years who are doing all their training based in mindfulness - the techniques, science and insights that it offers. Some of these organisations offer mindfulness training in the workplace every day.
At one point the head of HR from one of these organisations said that when people come to her with stress and frustrations her first question is whether they are attending the mindfulness practice. And if not for them to come back after a few more sittings, she said it always shifts things. Often participants have said that things have gotten lot worse around here, yet I feel better. For our EMBA candidates there was so much enthusiasm, I think everyone wanted to implement more mindfulness into their workplaces.
What are the main tenets of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of observing our reactive mode or our autopilot mode. In effect, we react to each moment based in what we have stored or learnt from the past. That shows up as body sensations, feelings and thoughts. In mindfulness we learn to observe this without thinking it is 'me' but rather it is something that is arising, or being triggered based in a combination of our past experience and this moment. The responsibility part comes in through us being responsible for managing the reactive part in us.
How can mindfulness help our wellbeing?
Along with a healthy diet, good and enough sleep and exercise, mindfulness is the best way to reduce stress and anxiety. With high stress and anxiety, wellbeing is not possible as the body is dealing with the perception of a danger and resources are going into that rather than cell maintenance and repair or from a thinking perspective being proactive and creating good relationships. Taking it further though it opens us up to seeing the magnificence of the world, to kindness, to gratitude. It helps us not sabotage our relationship as it generates the ability to respond rather than react.
How can it help a business?
By dialling down the reactive and stress we come into better ways of functioning. When stressed empathy goes off line and so does moral reasoning and our ability to manage our impulses, in effect when stressed we just want to feel good now without any concern for the impacts.
That is not useful when it comes to decision making, to clarity of thought, to collaboration. Furthermore, mindfulness practice helps us see challenges not as personal but rather for specifically what they are, it helps what we call external coding. I believe that customer service starts by having a healthy culture making it easy for staff to be kind to customers and mindfulness supports healthy cultures, reduces conflict and helps us navigate the interpersonal in a healthier way.
The consistent part of leadership is self awareness and self management, mindfulness cultivates that and propels that, I see it as the most powerful tool for any leader.
Businesses are closing at knots and under pressure with the coronavirus. How can mindfulness play a support role?
Mindfulness can help us see a bigger perspective so we don't feel this is the end of the world or the end of our careers. It can remind us that this will pass. It can also help us appreciate what we have, what is good in our lives. When we have one problem it easily overshadows everything else. Mindfulness helps not do that.
We can say that we just need finances to get through but my experience working with many organisations and individuals over a long time is that most were not thriving, irrespective of high profits. Most were regularly feeling overwhelmed, stretched, and not grounded. Key is not just that our business survive but how do we travel through the situation.
Life feels like it is on standby but it isn't, Covid-19 and what it brings is also life. Strong inner resources is the key in getting through challenges because who we show up to be is key, particularly in leadership.
What is your latest Mindfulness program about?
We have recently completed a Mindfulness@Work online program initially to reach people in the regions as often when I did quotes it was one of the challenges for organisations with many smaller offices.
The program covers everything that a good Mindfulness program should cover, how to ground and calm ourselves, how to be less reactive, good decision making, how to show up being proactive, how to deal with difficult emotions and also dealing with conflict.
Mindfulness in effect covers all the essentials required for creating a good culture and for staff resilience.
We are doing a special on this during this Covid-19 affected time, making it very affordable. It is eight videos, audios, manual and work pages, email prompts. We are also offering free meditations at 5.30 and I am offering a free coaching session for anyone who is feeling the stress due to Covid-19.
Many people don't have time for exercise at the moment, let alone mindfulness. How can they practise it during their day?
Time is really about where we place our attention. What are we making most important? We have tended to be human doings rather than human beings. Mindfulness is about caring about how we travel in life, what is the quality of our experience.
My experience is that if I feel low or irritated then I know it is time for a good walk and mindfulness practice. In effect a low mood, stress, anxiety or anger is a reminder or a catalyst for doing my mindfulness training. We know this as a challenging time and we know that relationships are going to be challenged. So to safeguard and protect your emotional wellbeing and your relationships mindfulness is the thing to turn to.
Sleep, exercise and mindfulness they are the foundations for wellbeing. Mindfulness practice not only enhances our day to day life it is like credit in the emotional or resilience bank account when things become really difficult. I have had some big challenges in my life also very recently and I am so grateful to have a system full of mindfulness insight and habits that makes navigating this so different to how i would have handled things before mindfulness.
What is important for people to remember at the moment from a Mindfulness perspective?
That it will pass and not to get swept up in thinking about it. Stay present to what is in the moment and that all we ever have to do is manage the moment, one moment at a time. Protect your mind from unhealthy media, ensure you get enough sleep, that you exercise and do mindfulness and don't forget to dance and have fun if at all possible!
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
Contact Penelope Green: firstname.lastname@example.org