You cannot add water to a full teapot”. Reverend Daiko Matsuyama, Deputy Priest of Taizoin Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan lives by this mantra. The simple concept which lies at the heart of Zen, in Matsuyama’s eyes should also be a major consideration for event organisers. In his opinion, people who come to attend seminars and meetings are under pressure to deliver their best. If they are to take on board new information they must first make room for it, enter the meeting in a calm state of mind and above all take a few deep breaths to rejuvenate themselves. Such preparation can not only help someone to reduce stress instantly but also have a brilliant effect in bringing out a great deal of positive energy. As far as Matsuyama is concerned, this is the true power of meditation.
Events are exciting, engaging and interesting, a forum for communication and learning and are an incredibly powerful business tool. They are also tiring and hard work. For attendees, one of the biggest challenges is coping with the pressures surrounding them. People who come to attend seminars and meetings are often stressed from having a day out of the office, worried about something else they should be doing, or simply tired because of long journeys. For those events in far-away places there are the additional challenges of quickly adjusting to a new environment, culture and sometimes language. All these challenges can become too much for a delegate.
The big question for organisers has always been how can they help reduce the stress level of those attending meetings or events? What can they do to make meetings a more joyful experience for participants? Diet is important and regularly discussed, as is environment, but there is however something else worthy of consideration and the question being asked in Kyoto is whether or not meditation provides an answer.
Years of Zen study have clearly identified the spiritual and personal benefits of meditation, but can they really improve a meeting? Kyoto Convention Bureau set out to dig a little deeper and a recent study ran in Kyoto found there is a significant improvement in learning outcomes if the participants are allowed to enter into at least 10 minutes of meditation before a meeting. Matsuyama helped with the study, which was undertaken on the assumption that a short meditation at the start of a session helps clear the mind and allows the student to take in more of the taught material than if meditation is not practised. The results suggested that should organisers incorporate meditation into their events they could improve the outcomes of their meetings by up to 12 per cent.
Twenty people took part in the study. They undertook five separate exercises on two separate occasions, 12 days apart. These included memory, language, comprehension and listening tests. Before the first session there was no preparation, before the second Matsuyama led a 10-minute meditation exercise. Scores were recorded, added up and compared and 12.5 per cent saw group average improvement across all tasks; 117 per cent was the largest improvement for each single task; 21 per cent was the largest individual improvement across all tasks and two per cent was the smallest individual improvement across all tasks.
But what does this mean for our industry?
Being positive adds a huge amount of energy to any meeting or event, whether you are an attendee or speaker. The additional energy gained by removing all the stress and worry from a room just before the plenary session kicks off could be huge. Meditation at a very basic level is the process of rejuvenating the mind and body to bring out an individual’s potential from within. A good 10 minutes meditation at the start of the day helps millions of people around the world.
Interestingly, the idea of mediation in the workplace is not something new. In Japan, for example, the Kyoto Chuo Shinkin Bank has reinstated Zen meditation as part of its basic training for new recruits after a 20-year hiatus. The bank has said that the purpose of the programme is to help instil and develop the skill of ‘gaman’ which is a classic Japanese trait/skill that describes patience, perseverance, endurance and self-control.
Meditation has a long history, with centuries of success stories. There are no precise historical records on the origin of meditation but researchers speculate that primitive hunter-gatherer societies may have discovered meditation and its altered states of consciousness while staring at the flames of their fires. Over thousands of years, meditation evolved into a structured practice with Indian scriptures called tantras mentioning meditation techniques as much as 5,000 years ago. In more modern times, meditation became popular as Buddhism spread across Asia around 500 BC. It took the West longer to catch up, only becoming popular in the 1960s and 70s and is still seen by many to be a hippy fad.
Kyoto Convention Bureau’s James Kent told CN: “Clearly with at least 7,000 years of documented history, meditation is something we can all bring into our lives and certainly our events. Above all it can help people retain positive attitudes, lead to high spirits and allow people to be more effective throughout the course of an event.
“Organisers simply need to introduce a short session at the start of the day, or perhaps before times of peak activity.”
Through a simple process of focus, controlled breathing and improved posture, 10 minutes can make a big difference to the outcomes of an event according to Kent. “Sure, techniques such as returning to centre, softening and surrendering the day might sound a little odd to us in the event industry but let’s face it a monk or yogi are going to wonder what the hell we mean by DDR, revPAR and huge numbers of acronyms we throw around,” he said. “What’s more, I would be willing to bet that should they show up to one of our events they would learn more swiftly than we would at theirs, simply because of their ability to prepare themselves both physically and mentally.”
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