CEO, lecturer calls meditation a good investment

San Diego Union Tribune: As far as investments go, Atul Thakkar says nothing provides a greater return than meditation. A former electrical engineer, Thakkar is the co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Attronica, a Maryland-based computer and information technology company. He recently gave a lecture at a Sn Diego coffee house, and expects to continue to spread the word about the benefits of meditation. Read more here.

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Mixing meditation, yoga, and money management

Brent KesselUS News and World Report: Brent Kessel, cofounder of investment firm Abacus Portfolios, isn’t your typical money manager. He wakes up around 5 a.m. to meditate for 45 minutes and then practices yoga for an hour and a half before making his way to his desk. In his new book, It’s Not About the Money: Unlock Your Money Type to Achieve Spiritual and Financial Abundance, Kessel, 40, combines his wealth management expertise with his yoga and meditation practice to encourage readers to solve their financial problems by turning inward. U.S. News interviewed Kessel about his unique background and approach to personal finance. Read more here.

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From bookshelves to boardroom, ‘mindfulness’ is hot spiritual trend (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Indiana)

Psychologist Henry Grayson says his book, “Mindful Loving,” might not have been a bestseller if his publisher had stuck to a title he’d suggested: “The New Physics of Love.”

Three months ago, Body & Soul magazine added the phrase, “The Natural Guide to Mindful Living” to its cover. Mindfulness — living consciously in the moment — has become “just that significant” in American culture, said editor-in-chief Seth Bauer.

Mindfulness books and tapes are frequent bestsellers. Mindfulness training is a staple at seminars, retreats and spas. Hospitals and psychologists are teaching mindfulness as a means to handle everything from chronic illness and addiction to stress and depression.

“There’s a sense that what is missing in our lives is a real connection to what we do, what we think, how we relate to people and how we take care of ourselves,” said Bauer. “Mindfulness brings all of those things together.”

Even corporate America is on board. Some businesses now offer mindfulness workshops to improve concentration, employee relations and ethics. Last year, Spirituality & Health magazine featured an article titled, “Lessons from Mindful Corporations.”

Spiritual trend watchers say mindfulness has become to the 2000s what angels were to the 1990s. Maybe bigger, though there may never be a TV show called “Touched by a Mindful Person.”

“Most of the time, we’re just going, going, going — operating on autopilot,” said Gary Stuard of Dallas, a former Buddhist monk who teaches mindfulness meditation at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.

“Mindfulness is about paying attention so you don’t go about life absentmindedly,” he said.

Experts say mindfulness is cultivated. The most common way is by sitting in quiet meditation and observing one’s breath. Some people count breaths as they inhale and exhale. Others follow the rising and falling of the breath or some other variation.

“The point of mindfulness meditation is not to zone out but to tune in,” Stuard said.

The challenge comes when the mind drifts. Each time that happens, people are told to take notice, then return to their breath without judging their thoughts and emotions.

“Your breath draws you into the here and now,” said Grayson, the Mindful Loving author. “People are realizing that they spend so much of their lives worrying about the past or thinking about the future that they miss out on the present.”

The point is to bring awareness to all aspects of life.

Whether practiced for spiritual, health or other reasons, mindfulness is all about conscious living. (If you’ve ever mindlessly stuffed yourself while watching TV, you know something about unconscious living.)

Bonnie Arkus, executive director of the Women’s Heart Foundation in West Trenton, N.J., said she dropped 10 pounds in a month by combining the South Beach diet with “mindfulness eating.”

“You’re not just watching what goes into your mouth,” she said. “You actually taste the food because you stop to enjoy it. You’re not just inhaling it on the run, so you tend to eat less.”

Mindfulness is integral to Buddhism, an ancient religion that has enjoyed waves of popularity in America.

In the 1960s, the influence of the Beat writers, such as Allen Ginsberg, became widespread.

The 1970s celebrated Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

In the 1990s, Hollywood stepped forward with “Kundun” and “Seven Years in Tibet.”

And now, whenever the Dalai Lama visits, he’s greeted by crowds befitting a rock star.

Many say the seeds for the current mindfulness craze were largely planted by the 1975 book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.

“Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves,” wrote the monk, who lives in France.

Some Buddhists are troubled that mindfulness in the American mainstream is being commercialized in ways that have nothing to do with spirituality.

“It’s not just mental training or a self-improvement technique,” said Sharon Salzberg, a well-known Buddhist teacher, author of spiritual books and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass.

For Buddhists, mindfulness is embedded in ethics and compassion.

In spiritual circles, mindfulness is a path to inner awakening. In the medical community, it’s seen as a path to better health.

More than 200 U.S. hospitals and clinics use mindfulness training to promote mental and physical health.

Austin family physician Paul Keinarth, on the verge of burnout, turned to mindfulness meditation four years ago. Racing thoughts, worries and stress plagued him. He had difficulty sleeping. He was emotionally distant from his family.

“The change has been dramatic,” said Keinarth, who now teaches mindfulness courses. “I’m living my own life as it unfolds now instead of living a lot of stories about what happened to me or to other people. My relationships to my family and to my patients have vastly improved.”

Dr. James Ruiz, a radiologist from Baton Rouge, La., said his interest in mindfulness began when his 6-year-old son was an infant. When the baby would cry in the middle of the night, he would hold him while doing a walking mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness has changed the way he parents, he said.

“Being up in the middle of the night with a child in distress is not what drives you to madness,” he said. “What drives you crazy is that you want to be back in bed. Mindfulness is letting go of that, accepting the reality and attending to what’s in front of you.”

The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School uses many techniques to teach mindfulness. One exercise involves taking 20 minutes to eat two raisins. Participants notice how the raisins look and smell. They feel the texture. And finally, they taste.

Mindfulness isn’t alternative medicine, but complements traditional medicine, said Saki Santorelli, the center’s director.

“This approach which used mindfulness was pretty radical when the program started,” he said. “But we showed the medical community that it wasn’t taking advantage of its greatest ally — the patients themselves.

The link to Buddhism isn’t emphasized, he said.

“People who come to our clinic don’t care about Buddhism or any -ism,” he said. “They’re suffering and want relief. Mindfulness helps them tap inner resources.”

But some in the medical community say more scientific studies are needed.

“Given the potential benefits and increasing popularity of mindfulness training, it seems critically important,” Ruth Baer of the University of Kentucky’s psychology department, wrote last year in a scholarly paper.

Being disciplined about meditating is the hardest challenge, many people say.

At the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, people gather every day to meditate. Executive Director Helen Cortes said 200 students may pass through in a year, but only a few will stick with it.

“Not everybody likes sitting still for 25 minutes or an hour,” she said. “But there are other choices. People need to follow their own temperament to develop mindfulness.”

She said sweeping the floor, mowing the lawn, washing dishes and even cleaning toilets can serve as mindfulness meditations.

“We remind people you wash dishes not in order to get them clean, but rather to simply wash the dishes,” she said. “You feel the water, smell the soap, be aware of your body when you put the dishes away.”

Scholars say concepts similar to mindfulness are found in other religions — the daily cycle of prayers said by Christian monks, Orthodox Jews and Muslims. These observances are ways of paying attention to the presence of God in all things.

Original article no longer available…

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Iowa town booms on Eastern ways (Washington Post)

Kari Lydersen, The Washington Post: When Eric Schwartz decided to move his financial services business from Silver Spring here to southeastern Iowa so he could join other practitioners of Transcendental Meditation in 1992, he worried that clients and colleagues might think he was a little crazy. “Some people think TM [Transcendental Meditation] is some kind of cult or devil worship,” he said. “I thought it might be negative for my business, that customers would freak out.”

Things turned out just the opposite.

With much lower overhead, he found revenue for Cambridge Investment Research rising from one year to the next. He went from a gross revenue of about $500,000 a year in the D.C. area to more than $50 million in 2002. The magazine Investment Advisor named him broker-dealer of the year in 2003. He credits Transcendental Meditation, which he began practicing as a freshman at Amherst College in 1971, for fueling his success.

“Even if investors or customers aren’t interested in TM, they are attracted to the fact that I moved here to do this, that I’m concerned about more than just making money or having an ocean view,” said Schwartz, who is considering changing his title from chief executive to chief spiritual officer. “That’s the kind of business they want to be involved with.”…

Many other people in Vedic City and neighboring Fairfield feel the same way. The community founded by followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ meditation guru, has become an entrepreneurial mecca of the Midwest. Followers began flocking to Fairfield after the establishment of the Maharishi University of Management in 1974, and Vedic City just outside the limits of Fairfield was incorporated in 2001, the first new Iowa city to be incorporated since 1982. Residents estimate that one-fourth of the 10,000 people in Fairfield and Vedic City practice TM.

Other successful businesses run by TM devotees include MarathonFoto, billing itself as the largest event photography company in the country; Creative Edge Master Shop, which manufactures intricate floor and wall murals out of marble and granite for Disney, the Chicago Bulls and other clients; and the Raj Ayurveda Health Center, a spa which draws national visitors paying hundreds of dollars a day. City officials say more than $200 million in venture capital has been invested in Fairfield and Vedic City companies during the past 13 years.

“For a small town in the Midwest to have so many successful businesses is really unbelievable,” said Rashi Glazer, co-director of the Center for Marketing and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, who spends summers in Fairfield. “It means something’s going on here.”

Vedic is a Sanskrit word meaning “totality of knowledge.” Residents live in spacious homes designed with entrances facing east, small onion domes called kailashes on top and rooms oriented to correspond with the cycles of the sun and moon. Practitioners of TM generally meditate for 20 minutes twice a day.

The area’s TM practitioners are not just being noticed for their entrepreneurship. For 15 years, the fully accredited Maharishi University of Management has been conducting studies funded by the National Institutes of Health on the effects of meditation on cardiovascular health, with a specific focus on how meditation can benefit African Americans with a high risk of heart disease.

“The physiological effects of this technique include a high degree of orderliness in the brain waves, which seems to spread throughout the body with lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, less reactivity to stress,” said Robert Schneider, a physician who completed a fellowship in hypertension at the University of Michigan Medical School and now serves as dean of Vedic medicine at Maharishi University.

Vedic City passed a resolution banning the sale of non-organic food and runs an organic farming operation that sells produce to Whole Foods Market and other outlets in Chicago and across Iowa. Farm director Dean Goodale notes that the farm includes one of the few greenhouses in the region that grow plants in soil rather than with hydroponics.

“Conventional farmers associate soil with bacteria and they want to kill all the bacteria,” he said. “But bacteria serves a purpose in making certain nutrients available to plants. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Across the street from the farm is the start of a housing project called “Abundance Ecovillage,” which will be powered by solar and wind energy. Vedic City and Fairfield receive federal grants from agencies including the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture for developing renewable energy sources and running recycling and composting programs.

“The composting program will make use of yard waste from the city, kitchen waste from the Raj restaurant, plant waste from the farm and manure from [a nearby] organic llama farm,” said Kent Boyum, an aquatic toxicologist who directs Vedic City’s Energy Department-funded Rebuild America program. “The compost will be used in the greenhouse and marketed as specialty soil from Vedic City.”

Residents say most people moved here from the coasts to study meditation and related practices at Maharishi University or to send their children to Maharishi School, an elementary and high school that includes meditation, Sanskrit and ayurvedic medicine in its regular curriculum.

“There weren’t many jobs for people moving in, so they had to become entrepreneurial and create jobs,” said Ed Malloy, a TM practitioner who is president of Danaher Oil Co. and was elected mayor of Fairfield in 2001. “Meditation is about really perfecting and exploring human potential, so it makes sense these people tend to be highly motivated and creative.”

Jonathan Lipman and his wife, Pam Whitworth, quit careers in Washington to move to Fairfield seven years ago. Since then, Lipman, a former president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, has designed only Vedic-style homes. Whitworth, an artist, started a business making pillows out of old kimonos and other fabrics imported from Japan, which are sold in an exclusive store in Manhattan and have been featured in home design magazines.

“She figured it was either get a job at Wal-Mart or start a business,” Lipman said.

Mario Orsatti, a Philadelphia native who studied with the Maharishi in Europe and moved to Fairfield in 1978, noted that the growing acceptance and popularity of alternative medicine and Eastern philosophy are also key to the area’s success.

“It was a lot different 30 years ago,” he said. “There was a lot of suspicion of things that are foreign, things from India. Today lots of people are doing yoga and meditation, looking at our tradition and saying, ‘That is so cool.’ Lots of small midwestern towns are dying, but Fairfield and Vedic City are thriving. People are moving here instead of moving away. Iowa would love to see this happening everywhere.”

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Zen and the art of good business (Sydney Morning Herald, Australia)

Review of “dotZEN – Practical tips and thoughts on Business, Marketing, PR and the Internet from the Diamond Sutra,” by Dr Seamus Phan and Ter Hui Peng, McGallen & Bolden Group 2003, ISBN 981-04-5645-X

Buy Phan and Ter’s book now – not because it’s flawless (it’s not) – but because its Zen Buddhist path to business and management/leadership will be the next big thing for touchy-feely weekends and MBA curricula.

The book could easily have been named “Feng Shui For Your Business”, or “Goodbye Western Aggro, Hello Eastern Calm” but neither are as sexy or saleable as dotZEN.

Ironically, while dotZEN is a criticism of Western aggression (and an implied criticism of Sun Tzu’s much lauded Art of War), it is a Buddhist version of some Christians’ prosperity gospel: believe and grow rich.

The back-cover blurb, by author Ron Kaufman, says Phan “marries global business, Eastern culture and Buddhist philosophy in a diamond text that will open your eyes, ease your mind, and make you lots of money!”…

dotZEN is a quirky, endearing, infuriating book that is bursting with refreshing ideas that won’t be in Western-based MBA textbooks. For example, how can your product stand out? “The answer is spirit, or soul,” Phan and Ter advise. And how do you show you care for your employees? “Rather than provide caffeine for your people,” the authors suggest, “opt instead to provide `chill-out’ rooms where stressed employees can relax for 15 minutes or so before getting back on (sic) work again.”

The basic structure of each chapter is a traditional Zen koan (an apparently simple thought embodying great wisdom) written in the English alphabet and traditional Chinese characters; an overview; a case study followed by suggestions for action; and finally a “BitZen” meditation.

dotZEN also has a number of annoying non sequiturs that leave the reader struggling to follow Phan and Ter’s allegedly Zen conclusions.

The final chapter – on internet survival tips – is the best example. The koan on which the chapter is based is “Don’t judge the Buddha through the 32 marks”.

Phan and Ter tell the reader that the Diamond Sutra, from which this is taken, is showing us “that what seems to be true may not be and what seems to work may not either”.

The authors then offer 25 pages of tips on security, spam, viruses, branding and search engines before finally making the point that “not everything on the internet can be trusted completely”.

Their final BitZen, which concludes this chapter and – incidentally – the book, is that “much as we may believe technology to belong to geeks and gurus, it is as accessible, and increasingly more so, to all of us. It simply takes patience, and an open and learning mind”.

Er, yes, but isn’t this verging on the bleeding obvious?

Don’t get me wrong. dotZEN is a useful and important book. Australian bosses would do well to read the first chapter on business, service and quality in which Phan and Ter conclude that “service is not a cosmetic surface but must be deeply rooted and entrenched in the culture of the organisation, or even the nation”.

Continuing the emphasis on having the right people serving customers, the authors warn “many corporations neglect people development in the holistic manner, opting for short-term fixes such as motivational talks and training programs”.

Feng shui is now a relatively well-known import into Australian thought, alongside life coaching, alternative therapies and various New Age practices but Phan and Ter bring a much wider and deeper perspective to it in relation to business.

They encourage business to be good neighbours and to “learn to be gracious and think of your environment”, in contrast to the Western competitive and exploitative view of business and the earth.

They explain the Asian concept where feng shui demands that “for someone to prosper, the neighbours should be taken care of as well”.

Both Phan and Ter are Chinese speakers with English as a second language, and this shows in the occasional “Chinglish” sentence which could do with firmer editing.

For example, when Phan illustrates a point about excellent customer service, he writes “both men went out of their paths to make sure I did not buy a dud”.

A more thorough editing job would have changed “paths” to “way” – a small but jarring error in a book that is about excellence.

Maybe this is due to the fact that a public relations company, and not a traditional publishing house, has produced the book. The PR company is Singapore-based McGallen & Bolden – of which co-author Ter Hui Peng is associate director.

The book ends awkwardly with suggestions about diet that point to a book that Phan has co-authored with his brother, Ching Jung, who is described as a champion body-builder. Continuing the family connection, CJ (as he’s cutely called) has done the line drawings for dotZEN.

Despite these picky criticisms, Phan and Ter have the experience and credentials to give dotZEN some muscle.

Ter has a Masters in Science in Training and Development (Leicester) and Phan has a PhD in business-quality management. He also, according to the book’s blurb, has done “cutting-edge patent-pending biotech research in the areas of autoxidation”!

dotZEN – Practical tips and thoughts on Business, Marketing, PR and the Internet from the Diamond Sutra, Dr Seamus Phan and Ter Hui Peng, McGallen & Bolden Group 2003, ISBN 981-04-5645-X, $US11, 192pp inc index.

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Zen in the Office (Buddhist News Network)

ZenWise: You see your coworker close their eyes for a minute. Are they dozing? Pondering lunch? Or could they be meditating? Mini-meditation breaks are gaining in popularity at work and at home. The benefits of these brief time-outs, according to author and Zen-at-work expert Lee Godden, include reduced stress and improved productivity.

Godden says, “From Feng Shui’s art of design to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, many people have already applied some sort of Eastern approach to their daily lives. Zen in the office is a natural next step. It teaches business professionals how to refocus on making money in an ethical manner.”

A longtime Zen practitioner, Godden is a former sales executive with Compaq and other Fortune companies. “In my twenty years in sales I’ve heard all the jokes and slurs,” says Godden. “Salespeople can’t be trusted, they have no ethics and they’ll do anything for a dollar.”

“Doing business with a Zen mind,” Godden says, “helps people sell passionately, succeed financially and grow personally.” Godden speaks at business conferences and trains corporate sales teams. His ‘Sell More Using Zen’ classes at The Learning Annex in Los Angeles will be held March 30, April 29 and May 26.

“You build long-term customer relationships by focusing on trust, credibility and ethics. The first step is to reflect on why you chose selling as a job, what you value, and how similar you are to your customers. Meditation can help. Mindful salespeople sell more and suffer less stress. They also enjoy their jobs more. The bottom line is that customers prefer to buy from mindful salespeople.”

Several Fortune 500 executives have praised Godden’s approach. Leslie Des Georges of EMC Corporation says, “This takes relationship sales to a whole new level.” Harry Silverglide of Extreme Networks, Inc., says, “This is something a salesperson could proudly share with their customers and say, ‘This is the way I do business.’” Oregon University business professor Dr. Fred Phillips says, “I want to deal with salespeople who have read Lee Godden’s ZenWise Selling.”

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