Spiritual Mindfulness in Organisations

Spiritual Mindfulness in Organisations

This is the fifth in a series of blogs about virtuous organizations — businesses where employees model the highest aspirations of human kind. In this series, authors Graham Williams and Gerald Wagner draw on examples and insights from around the world — Brazil, USA, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, and Turkey. Readers may be pleasantly surprised by how many virtuous companies already exist! The series addresses what makes these virtuous organizations tick and what practices they have in common, telling compelling stories about the power of positivity. While everyone is likely to enjoy these case studies, organizational leaders in a position to affect culture change are likely to benefit most.

Deepening mindfulness practice in organisations

When a golfer, lines up a putt she is able to climb inside a ‘bubble’ and focus without distraction on sinking the putt. At that moment she is operating in the flow zone. A ‘bubble’ of total attention, concentration and most importantly, in a relaxed state combined with harnessed energy.


Czikzentmihali introduced the notion that we are all at any one time in one of three zones: the flow zone, the panic zone (a place of anxiety, negative energy, disorientation, dysfunction), or the drone zone (where we are listless, bored, drifting without purpose).1

We achieve better outcomes through calm, awareness and focus.  To what we give our mindful  attention we also grant energy, intention and flow. It is now common cause that mindfulness has numerous and wide-ranging benefits for individuals and organisations. This diagram illustrates that as we bring mindfulness to bear (on ‘objects’), subtle yet definite shifts take place, so that results improve – and a virtuous cycle of continuous performance is triggered:


More and more benefit is coming to light: “Mindfulness enhances innate leadership talents necessary to revitalise the workplace. Using mindfulness to develop these leads to ‘cultivating courage, establishing authenticity, building trust, eliminating toxicity, pursuing organisational goals mindfully, and leading with wisdom and gentleness.’”2   “A beautiful quality that sometimes unfolds with groups experimenting with mindfulness is appreciation. Whether it’s in newly-formed groups of strangers or in intact leadership teams, the processes of slowing down and listening more fully and deeply means that people hear things from others that they would ordinarily miss.”3

Mindfulness facilitates resilience, smoother organisational change and transition endeavours. 4, 5

The trouble is that many organisations see mindfulness training as a way to better results, and they make two huge mistakes:

  • Even though mindfulness training can potentially benefit everyone, employers generally fail to appreciate that it is not a ‘one cap fits all’ solution in terms of both content and timing. (Different motivations, intent, personality, degree of readiness, stage of development, level of maturity and a number of other factors determine the speed and degree of positive impact on any individual)
  • They don’t see that, as Amanda Sinclair points out, “Purpose and values are central to mindfulness. Almost inevitably, practising mindfulness calls leaders (and each of us) to ask how they are spending their energy and their lives.” How organisations adopt and employ mindfulness practices are critically important and “we should be concerned when mindfulness is put to the wheels of global capitalism, enabling people to feel less stressed about doing immoral things, or in less obvious ways feeding exploitation, punishing work cultures or unsustainable materialism.”3

Wrongly used, mindfulness as an encouraged practice in organisations may well wane.

Spiritual Mindfulness – a way forward?

Grant and McGhee point us to the emerging notion of spiritual mindfulness. (Mindfulness shares with spirituality an internal focus and outward execution, habitual practices, and simply being human. They are natural bedfellows. Spiritual mindfulness includes an appreciation of interconnectedness (and a resultant other-orientation), finding meaning and purpose (intrinsic motivation), transcendence (a higher world view, seeing a bigger picture) and the development of our inner selves).  As 6-year old Anna explained to Fynn (who had found her abandoned and wandering the harsh streets of London’s docklands): “The diffrense from a person and an angel is easy. Most of an angel is in the inside and most of a person is on the outside.”6

Take ethics for example. When an ethics system is primarily rules-based, deviations occur. All the laws, rules, regulations and principles in the world do not guarantee virtuous behaviour. The psychology and sociology of ethics has a powerful bearing on how people behave in ethical situations.  “Virtue ethics … emphasizes the character, motivation, and intention of the decision maker…. It looks at ethics from an agent-based perspective, not an action-based perspective; it addresses characteristics of the decision maker’s personality rather than particular actions (as in the rules and guidelines for actions in deontological theories) or consequences of actions (as in consequentialist theories).”7   Faced with an ethical situation, the spiritually mindful person is aware and discerning, identifies the issue clearly and understands the bigger picture, and decides to act courageously on a virtuous basis – irrespective of any negative pressures arising from the organisational context.

The spiritually mindful person is aware of the interconnectedness of all things. Chief Seattle of the Duwamish Tribe made a remarkable, spiritually-aware statement in 1854, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” The speech from which this quote is taken speaks eloquently to our need to care for the environment, society and indeed the future of humanity. The sentiment resonates with findings in Gestalt psychology, Integral Theory, the Collective Unconscious, Botany (rhizomes), Systemic Thinking, Chaos Theory, Quantum Physics and Neuroscience. It also resonates with the African concept of Ubuntu and aspects of Hindu, Buddhist, Shamanic and the Christian mystical tradition.  (Our interdependence is symbolised by Buddhist monk’s begging bowls).

video that provides perspective.

The spiritually mindful person demonstrates love, the highest virtue. Mindfulness equals loving awareness. Love touches us powerfully and is transformational. It drives out fears and dysfunctionality in the workplace in practical ways. Three chapters are devoted to love in The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business.8   Sadly, as June Singer, a giant in the world of analytical psychology, points out, “In our concerns with counting and weighing and measuring, with precise descriptions and careful evaluation, we sometimes fail to recognise or give credit to values that do not fit these criteria. Or, when we do recognise that such values exist, we split them off from the consciousness of the marketplace and relegate them to the categories of religion or arts.”9

Love is being authentic, not wily; being transparent and not Machiavellian; being the wearing of your heart on your sleeve rather than holding your cards close to your chest; trusting in the success that comes from setting a standard; being an example rather than outwitting an opponent; a readiness to show vulnerability. It is also about being human and realizing that the only currency that makes for sound business relationships is a capacity to discern motives that are borne of LOVE. It is about having a code or language that is based on respect, validation and ‘seeing the other’. “Love is a natural upwelling current inside us all. It doesn’t need to be pushed or pumped, it needs to be released.10

Are there organisations that we can learn from?

Yvon Chouinard, founder in the 1960s of the apparel company Patagonia, was passionate about clear, simple, intentional and mindful thinking and living. The company, not without its challenges, setbacks and controversies, has become famous for putting the environment first, pioneering people-profit-planet principles, and for developing their “Five R’s” strategy: reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, and reimagine.11


They use organic and recycled material, are deeply concerned for animal welfare, nature, best (environmentally and socially-friendly) manufacturing practices, fair trading arrangements and much more. A percentage of sales is given to environmental organisations.  “In 2002 Chouinard co-founded “One Percent for the Planet” to encourage other companies to contribute at least 1% of sales towards environmental causes. By 2012 it had more than 1,200 member companies across 48 countries and had donated more than US$100 million to over 3,300 non-profit organizations … Free day care is offered for the children of employees. Chefs cook organic food in the cafeteria, Dogs lounge near desks. Everyone seems to be on a first-name basis with everyone else. An organic garden flanks the campus. Outdoor meeting spaces are set up for teams who want to converse under the trees.  For every job opening, Patagonia gets about a thousand applications.12

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters have also experienced scandal, and has its detractors. For over 25 years (during a phenomenal growth and wealth-generation phase) they’ve practiced their notion of conscious capitalism:13,14


  • Interconnectedness between individuals, businesses, and global society. (This informs their laudable fair trade practices)
  • Wealth is a holistically understood state rather than solely about financial status. ‘Wealth’ means that which brings value – including complex non-financial dimensions such as physical, spiritual, sociological, civil, and environmental well-being. Whole-person wealth.
  • A relevant view of time, spanning multiple generations, which is more than simply long term sustainability, suggests that the activities of today have been influenced by the ancestors of yesterday, while at the same time today’s actions are also simultaneously influencing people in generations to come (as believed in many older cultures).

Individuals within a company practicing conscious capitalism of the Green Mountain variety begin to perceive themselves as stewards of monetary, cultural, and environmental resources for current and future generations.


Chris Lowney, a former Jesuit and top J.P.Morgan executive, tells the amazing story of the Jesuit organisation and its 450-year old guiding principles.15

loyola_virtuous5Founded by St Ignatius of Loyola they achieved astounding growth, world-wide reach and enviable influence, overcoming incredible obstacles, all based on the ‘Jesuit Way,’ his Spiritual Exercises and four interrelated principles of: 16

  • self-awareness (spiritual mindfulness)
  • ingenuity (resilience and innovation)
  • love
  • heroism (in pursuit of a higher purpose)

In short, whole-person leadership. They believed strongly that leadership was about being, a way of living. They also mentored and coached their members on a non-directive basis.17   (No one else can provide our personal self-awareness, and the first person who we lead is ourselves).

These Jesuit virtues have relevancy for business leadership today. A mindfulness that transcends the ego (possessions, position, pride) and our shadow-side “the divisions we feel within our very selves,” 17 is the entering point for being which gives rise to effective doing. In order to contribute to bringing about peace (or love, resilience, authenticity, trust …) we must first be that which we desire to see. This keystone message for organisational leaders is summed up here:


Spiritual mindfulness (which is more than simply raised awareness) means that:

  • As we traverse the web of life we become a positively healing (integrating rather than fragmenting) force by binding rather than severing.
  • We become contemplatives in action, enter the flow zone and contribute warm-heartedness and love to a humanity that is in strife and disarray. Futurist John Naisbitt (who has laid down and advocates the balancing principle that more high-tech demands more high-touch) puts it this way: “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human,”18 and therefore our “learning how to live as compassionate human beings in a technologically dominating time.19
  • We learn to think non-dualistically (AND instead of BUT/ OR – especially in our relationships), and thus see wisdom and possibilities in paradox, ambiguity and (apparent) contradictions. In our brains, synapses are the gaps between neurons. Connection-activity in the synaptic space is vital. Using the brain neuron and synapse analogy, psychologist Louis Cozolino coined the term ‘social synapse’ to refer to the gaps between people, and the vital importance of our gap activity. 20
  • Counter-intuitively, as our focus moves away from self at the centre of the web towards others, we give to ourselves. For example when we’re feeling helpless we purposefully help others, when we’re lacking something we give that to another, when we’re down we seek to lift someone up ….21


  1. Czikzentmihalyi, Mihaly Ph.D. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: experiencing flow in work and play Jossey-Bass, San Francisco 1975. http://dailycaller.com/2013/07/19/bloomberg-strikes-again-nyc-bans-food-donations-to-the-homeless/
  1. McGhee, Peter & Grant, Patricia The Influence of Managers’ Spiritual Mindfulness on Ethical Behaviour in Organisations Journal of Spirituality, Leadership and Management, 2015, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 12-33 Citing Dhiman citing Carroll  (Dhiman, S. Mindfulness in life and leadership: An exploratory survey. Interbeing, 3(1), 55-80   2009)  http://www.slam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/JSLaMvol8no1_McGhee.pdf
  1. Sinclair, Amanda Possibilities, Purpose and Pitfalls: Insights from introducing mindfulness to leaders Journal of Spirituality, Leadership and Management, 2015, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 3-11  http://www.slam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/JSLaMvol8no1_Sinclair.pdf
  1. Aviles, Peter R.; Dent, Eric B. The Role of Mindfulness in Leading Organizational Transformation: A Systematic Review The Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship Vol 20, Number 3  July, 2015 pages 31-55
  2. Chabot, Paul R. Ed.D, MPA, BA An Historical Case Study of Organizational Resiliency within the Arellano-Felix Drug Trafficking Organization (A Dissertation presented to The Graduate School of Education and Human Development of The George Washington University)  https://search.proquest.com/docview/304642009
  1. Fynn Mister God, this is Anna Harper Collins Publishers  London  2005
  2. Oberlechner, Thomas The Psychology of Ethics in the Finance and Investment Industry The Research Foundation of the CFA Institute 2007
  3. Williams, Graham; Haarhoff, Dorian and Fox, Peter The Virtuosa Organisation: the Importance of virtues for a successful business Knowledge Resources 2015
  4. Singer, June The Power of Love to transform our lives and our world Nicolas-Hays, Inc.  Maine 2000
  1. Hansen, Rick How do you love? Just One Thing newsletter October, 2015  http://www.rickhanson.net/writings/just-one-thing/
  1. Szekely, Francisco, Prof and Dossa, Zahir, PhD Sell Less: a sustainable strategy? March, 2015 IMD Web Letter  http://www.imd.org/research/challenges/TC018-15-patagonia-sustainability-francisco-szekely.cfm?MRK_CMPG_SOURCE=webletter-issue03-15&utm_source=DM&utm_medium=em&utm_campaign=webletter-issue03-15
  1. Gelles, David Mindful Work: how meditation is changing business from the inside out Profile Books Great Britain 2015
  2. Neville, Mary Grace Positive Deviance on the Ethical Continuum: Green Mountain Coffee as a Case Study in Conscientious Capitalism Business and Society Review 113:4 555–576 © Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College 2008
  3. Neville, M. G. Generating Holistic Wealth: A Framework for Leading Positive Change at the Intersection of Business and Society. PhD Thesis, Case Western Reserve University, 2003.. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64, 12A 2004
  4. Lowney, Chris Heroic Leadership: best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world Loyola Press. A Jesuit Ministry. Chicago  2003
  5. From a portrait by Jacopino del Conte, painted in 1556 (after the death of St Ignatius). In the public domain.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ignatius_Loyola.jpg
  1. Fleming, David L. S.J. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: a literal translation and a contemporary reading Smyth Sewn Paperback The Institute of Jesuit Sources, St Louis 1978
  2. Naisbitt, John Megatrends: ten new directions transforming our lives Warner Books 1984
  3. Naisbitt, John with Naisbitt, Nana and Philips, Douglas High Tech High Touch: technology and our accelerated search for meaning Nicholas Brealey Limited UK  2001
  4. Cozolino, L The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: attachment and the developing social brain Norton & Company, Inc. NY 2006
  5. Walsch, Neale Donald The Complete Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. and G.P. Putnam’s Sons NY  2005

About the Author

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Gerald R. Wagner

Jerry began his focused interest on organizational culture for wellbeing and happiness started after he had been a Senior Scientist with The Gallup Organization and they published their landmark book — Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. Although having a career as a statistician, Professor of Operations Research, and software entrepreneur, the book triggered his long time focus on positive organizations. That resulted in his starting the Institute for Employee Wellbeing at Bellevue University and then to start up the non-profit Institute for Inspired Organizational Cultures which publishes Culture ROLE MODELS that features people and organizations that practice virtuous cultures.