While the practice of mindfulness has been gaining tremendous popularity in corporate America due to its positive effects on the effectiveness of leaders, recent research has revealed that there are more substantial benefits one can reap from the original form of mindfulness that is based on the Supernormal Eightfold Way found in early Buddhist teachings (without religious aspects), in which the contemporary form of mindfulness is only the 7th step of the 8 steps of the process. Research has found that a person who practices the original mindfulness (more suitably termed “introspection”) develops selfless behavior and self-reflection, and adheres to a value system (Hewawasam, 2022). So, in terms of Buddhist teachings, the values should direct an individual towards the goal of a tranquil mind and a relaxed body leading to increased effectiveness of a leader through multiple facets, and the sense of values is integrated in the Supernormal Eightfold Way since values are the driving force towards the tranquil mind and relaxed body.
As many have observed and experienced, whether or not a business will prosper, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, depends on leaders with the necessary values guiding their lives. When problems such as a pandemic arise, such leaders need to empathize and be understanding of the hardships employees experience in and outside of work to receive the best possible output for the business. Leaders’ decisions, their character, and their sense of values determine the ability of leaders to be flexible as necessary in the new work environment.
In such an environment where a leader’s value-driven character and decision-making skills play critical roles, the popular narrow concept of mindfulness can have detrimental outcomes as it has the potential to steer a practitioner clear of attending to the required elements of a leader. In fact, some have claimed that the currently popular form of mindfulness can make people selfish.
However, as research indicates, a leader practicing introspection (the original form of mindfulness) based on the Supernormal Eightfold Way will have the value-driven character and decision-making skills enhanced while benefiting from the full potential of harmonious attention/mindfulness (Satipatthāna) and eventually reaching harmonious equilibrium (Samadhi) (Hewawasam, 2022).
Furthermore, based on research, a framework for practicing introspection is suggested—although the Buddhist spiritual path is discussed in the framework, the practitioner is not required to be Buddhist or even spiritual (Hewawasam, 2022). Instead, it provides a path for a leader to learn the system of these eight steps as well as understand how mindfulness works in its full context and how he/she can use it in reality rather than superficially using the mindfulness concept alone.
Why the Supernormal Eightfold Way matters
As values play a substantial role in leadership when determining a leader’s effectiveness, harmonious perspective (Samma Ditthi), the first element of the Supernormal Eightfold Way, deals with the sense of values of a person by enabling one to acquire the understanding of becoming unselfish by becoming aware of the self-centeredness of every human being. Due to various reasons, humans have evolved to be self-centered in almost every aspect of life. The harmonious perspective allows people to experience a different perspective (a way of thinking) to eliminate self-centered thinking, feeling, and behavior. This first element establishes the foundation for a sense of values based on selflessness ultimately resulting in calmness of mind and relaxation of the body.
The research indicates that, through harmonious perspective, practitioners can become aware of whether they are living and behaving up to their values and whether their thoughts and decisions match with their values. Data shows the development of the sense of values within the participants after following the Supernormal Eightfold Way (Hewawasam, 2022). By adhering to values, one can be selfless—self-centered behavior originates from emotions, and people tend to be controlled by their emotions when making decisions (Hewawasam, 2022).
The original Buddhist teachings identify the pursuit of sensual pleasures as all human activity that is geared to fulfilling self-centered desires. Through harmonious perspective (Samma Ditthi), the practitioners realize that the tranquility of the mind is impaired by the pursuit of sensual pleasures. Achieving such tranquility of mind in the business world is not easy, one’s sense of values enables one to be aware of what is happening to oneself in a given situation (Hewawasam, 2022). When one goes into a fight or flight reaction due to agitation or anger, a person becomes aware of this when it happens through harmonious perspective. Harmonious perspective leads to harmonious orientation (Samma Sankappa) in which once a person reflects on what is happening to himself/herself, he/she admits that is his/her nature and what he/she will avoid/do in order to maintain the tranquility of mind. This is similar to taking a U-turn in one’s life and tranquility becomes one’s goal in life (Punnaji, 2021). For a leader, tranquility of mind is immensely valuable as it enables him/her to make logical and objective decisions without being burdened by emotional disturbances and biases.
Despite the obvious benefits of a tranquil mind, people are faced with numerous occasions that bring interference with it. As people experience unresolved frustrations that lead to worries and anxieties within and outside of the business world having one’s sense of values and daily reflections cleaning out one’s mind and removing the self-centered emotions are critical. Harmonious orientation (Samma Sankappa) in essence, is a visualization of the goal of tranquility as the most valuable in life. When a person has harmonious orientation, his/her behavior follows accordingly: his/her speech, action, and lifestyle become harmonious with the goal of tranquility (harmonious speech, harmonious action, and harmonious lifestyle). In harmonious lifestyle, the overall lifestyle becomes guided by the values, the fifth step of the Supernormal Eightfold Way (Hewawasam, 2022). In the sixth step, the harmonious exercise the practitioner removes unwholesome thoughts that originates in the mind from direct perception of the external world, memories, or imaginations and “harmonious exercise leads to a mental state where one’s attention naturally turns inward to observe what is happening inside—bodily changes, feelings, emotions, and thoughts” (Hewawasam, 2022). This behavioral change was observed in the research data (Hewawasam, 2022). This stage leads to the seventh step of the Supernormal Eightfold Way, harmonious attention (Samma Sati or Satipatthāna) or mindfulness. Harmonious attention allows one to move from emotionally disturbing thoughts such as the desire for sensual pleasures, hatred/anger, laziness/lethargy, agitation, and cognitive dissonance which are identified as hindrances (Nîvarana) in Buddhism. If one successfully removes these hindrances to clear thinking at least partially, he/she begins to enter harmonious equilibrium where unification of the mind and calmness are experienced (Punnaji, 2021).
Achieving harmonious equilibrium to a high degree requires substantial practice in seclusion over many years. However, a business leader who appreciates the Supernormal Eightfold Way can know this limitation yet try to practice the first seven steps ending in harmonious attention to one’s best ability and reap enormous benefits–a leader who is in touch with his/her inner state while dealing with the external world, one who is calm, cool, and has emotions under control in both personal and corporate settings.
As relaxation and calmness lead to a degree of mental equilibrium when one can think clearly and respond to problems effectively, an effective leader should find great value in them. Research shows that the practice of introspection develops cognitive skills / greater capacity for understanding (Hewawasam, 2022). Experiencing equilibrium at least to some extent is an indicator of whether proper mindfulness is practiced.
In order to continuously maintain relaxation and calmness through mindfulness, the six preceding steps of the Supernormal Eightfold Way are essential; however, mindfulness is not about always disciplining the mind, a common misconception (Hewawasam, 2022). For example, being mindful does not mean that the person who is washing dishes has to think, “Now I’m touching the water. And now I’m opening the tap.” (Hewawasam, 2022). What is needed is being calm and relaxed without forcing mindfulness or being present in the moment on oneself (Punnaji, 2021).
Another supplementary and essential aid to mindful living that is closely related to the Supernormal Eightfold Way: the practice of loving-kindness meditation (KLM) or more suitably translated loving-friendliness meditation (Hewawasam, 2022). Through this meditation, Mettā and Karunā are practiced, leading to strengthening one’s sense of values while being open-minded and avoiding the negative self-centeredness. This allows the practitioners to reach a stage where the mind is calm and relaxed, setting up the conditions needed for the practice of mindfulness. However, if the practice is started without the preliminary mental/behavioral states, the outcome of the practice will not be effective (Hewawasam, 2022).
Successful leaders need to be in a calm and relaxed state—without being angry and agitated, being tough, making all decisions, and thinking that his/her actions are always correct (Hewawasam, 2022). Through the proper form of mindfulness (introspection), a leader can have a clear and unbiased perspective on what is happening around him/her because he/she is aware of oneself, how his/her mind works, and how the body is reacting. This makes “looking within” the keyword in introspection. Practitioners should ask themselves, “Am I relaxed?” and “Am I calm?” (Hewawasam, 2022). Becoming calm and relaxed does not mean that one has to live in seclusion while separating oneself from everything. One can live a happy life while being conscious, calm, and relaxed, the state of mind referred to as Piti Manasa in Pali, which means “happy mind.”
Achieving this state of Piti Manasa does not require a long time since “once a person cleans up his/her mind (i.e., properly interpreting circumstances in a rational, realistic manner), as mentioned earlier, this can be experienced almost instantaneously” (Hewawasam, 2022). For corporate leaders, this can be highly appealing due to the dynamic nature of the business world that demands immediate results.
“The research indicates that, through harmonious perspective, practitioners can become aware of whether they are living and behaving up to their values and whether their thoughts and decisions match with their values.”