London Evening Standard: If you have ever watched Tiger Woods play golf, you know the look. Brim pulled down over the eyes, which are locked on some point far down the fairway.
Despite all the hubbub, he is locked into the moment.
His opponent stands off to one side gnawing his knuckles, knowing another defeat is just a few holes away. Credit meditation for Woods’ extraordinary focus.
An essential part of Tiger Woods’ success is what he calls “staying in the present” and not letting his mind wander off to hoisting a trophy or depositing another million-dollar cheque.
While other golfers may live in the future, at the moment Woods plays his shots, he is apparently free of the conscious worry which plagues the weekend duffer.
And he puts much of this down to meditation and the Eastern philosophy, mostly Buddhist, he learned from his Thai mother.
In addition to his early morning workouts and hours on the driving range, he also meditates daily.
The value of meditation has long been known to those who practise it. David Lynch, the director of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, established a foundation for “consciousness-based education and world peace” inspired by his 30 years’ practising transcendental meditation.
Lynch’s ambition is for children to spend one class a day “diving within”, so they can better deal with stress and be more creative throughout their lives.
In the United Kingdom, William Hague has credited his meditative practice with helping him ride the roller coaster of politics.
With so much stress in the economy, meditation is also gaining popularity with business executives.
After the past couple of years, who couldn’t use half an hour a day to tame what Buddhists call “the wild horses” of the mind?
One of the most prominent advocates of meditation is William George, a Harvard Business School professor and board member at Goldman Sachs. George started to meditate 35 years ago while running the medical devices firm Medtronic.
He calls meditation “the single best thing that happened to me in terms of my leadership”. He says that it “enables one to focus on what is really important; and I haven’t had high blood pressure since the Seventies”.
Pointing to the recent financial crisis, George told Bloomberg News: “I think meditation in these times has an important role to play.
“If you take Wall Street versus Warren Buffett, he has made much wiser decisions than Wall Street has.
Now, I don’t know if he’s a meditator, but he’s calm, thoughtful and he stays clear. Wall Street’s trading floor is exactly the opposite.”
Firms ranging from Apple to Google and organisations such as Nasa offer free meditation classes to their employees these days.
It is regarded by these firms as far more than Eastern quackery or a luxury like free cappuccinos.
Meditation not only helps focus but it is also an effective preventative treatment of stress-related illnesses that cost businesses billions every year.
Google has held regular meditation sessions at its offices around the world for the past two years.
The firm believes that it helps employees develop their “emotional intelligence”, which in turn benefits the company.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the head of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts and one of meditation’s greatest champions, calls meditation an act of love, towards oneself and others.
He is a particular favourite at technology firms.
During his talks, he often brings a tennis ball and drops it to signify the act of dropping into the moment.
He argues that greater knowledge of the mind, attained through meditation, helps business people sweep away the tacit assumptions which so often lead to problems.
In a modern society where so many people suffer from attention deficit disorders, he says, it is all about doing, with little recognition of being. The consequence is that people struggle to rest their minds.
Three years ago, the Dalai Lama supplied 12 Buddhist monks to a team of American neuroscientists so they could study the neurological effect of meditation.
The scientists found that by meditating for tens of thousands of hours, the monks had altered the structure and function of their brains.
It appeared that the monks’ brain waves oscillated at a different rate from those in people who never meditated. They were capable of much more focused thought.
The research was called into question by other scientists but it did prompt a wave of interest in how humans might be able to use meditation to change the function of their brains for the better.
One of the most popular forms of meditation for corporate types is Vipassana, which translates as “insight”.
There are Vipassana centres all over the world, founded by SN Goenka, a Burmese entrepreneur. An introductory retreat involves 10 days of “noble silence”.
Days begin at 4am followed by 11 hours of private and group meditation interspersed with meals and lectures. Once they leave, students are advised to meditate twice a day.
Keith Ferrazzi, an expert on networking and author of the best-selling book Never Eat Lunch Alone, says that the 10-day Vipassana meditation is the one time of year when he stops networking and clears his mind.
The key to networking, after all, he says, is “not being an asshole”.
People are more likely to want to know you if you exude the calm and confidence of the seasoned meditator.