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Centering Response
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Centering Response

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An article written several years ago, with a message whose time has apparently arrived!

An article written several years ago, with a message whose time has apparently arrived!

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  • 1. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999 THE “CENTERING RESPONSE” -- RESEARCH ON BENEFITS OF MEDITATION FOR BEING AN EFFECTIVE PROFESSIONAL IN A HIGH STRESS WORLD Richard S. Scotti, Research Professor, EMSE Department, GWU, Washington, DC.Abstract. Being an effective professional these tensions. These processes, Benson contends, playdays involves the ability to manage personal out beneath the level of our normal awarenessstress within productive bounds, and requires until we find ourselves, perhaps surprisingly, overnew, highly personalized strategies for dealing stressed or even out of control. It is not difficultwith the complex demands of our information- to find examples of this phenomenon in our dailyrich workplaces. Most approaches for the lives, as well as in newspaper articles describingmanagement of stress involve relaxation and stress reactive behaviors of people on the job, andincreased self-awareness. These strategies in family and social situations. Moreover, thetypically involve regular physical exercise, negative impact of high personal stress ondietary discretion, attitudinal and behavioral physical, emotional and psychological health andmodifications, psychological exercises, and wellbeing has now been well documented. Fromultimately the development of a "Relaxation anxiety to skin conditions to heart attacks andResponse." This paper begins with a review of strokes, extreme stress wears down the body andpersonal skills that characterize effective mind, and undermines health and happiness.managers. It then draws on the results of Benson argues for the adoption of andpsychological research to explain difficulties that commitment to a personal program based on themanagers experience in attempting to put personal "Relaxation Response" to counteract the “fight orstress management strategies into practice. Mental flight” biological effect and to preserve theclarity, intuition, empathy and communication quality of our busy lives. He then compares theskills, considered by many to be the most critical various possible approaches and presents solidskills for effective management, are quickly lost research evidence that supports the efficacy ofunder conditions of excessive stress. Relaxation meditation as a process for the management ofalone is not sufficient for regaining these skills. personal stress. The implications of BensonsMeditation, however, can be used to evoke a work are that short periods of mental and"Centering Response" that supports both emotional quietness experienced throughrelaxation and access to inner personal resources. meditation help a person to better handle stressA highly effective meditation process based on and to more effectively negotiate the difficultiesconcentration of the attention is also described. of the work environment. More recent research in highly reputable Introduction professional publications documents a number ofIt has been over 25 years since Herbert Benson physical (Jevning, 1992), emotional (Kabat-Zinn,(Benson, 1975) clarified the relationship between 1992) and mental (Delmonte, 1989) changes thatthe physiological and psychological stresses commonly take place during, and continue forhumans often experience as a result of the some time after, regular meditation practice.biological "fight or flight response" in situations These include:perceived to be threatening. He argues that hard-  Rhythmic, reduced breathing ratewired biological programming in humans  Decreased heart rateautomatically produces life-preserving high  Decreased O2 consumption and CO2adrenaline reactions in the presence of real orperceived dangers. These reactions, which were production.once very important for escaping a hungry tiger,  Decreased blood lactate (a stress indicator)are probably inappropriate for meeting the  Lower cholesterol levelsdemands of professional life today, for surviving  Lower blood pressure (both systolic anda full day of meetings, business deadlines and diastolic)evening rush hour traffic. Since our modern lives  Increased Galvanic Skin Resistance (GSR) (ado not afford us opportunities for running high stress indicator)adrenaline levels out of our blood streamsimmediately after demanding situations, we are  Increased frontal alpha brain wave activityoften left with physiologically induced stresses  Reduced levels of anxiety (clinical testthat accumulate and augment daily psychological scores) 1
  • 2. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999 Reduced depression (clinical test scores) achievement, and increased satisfaction are most Increased sense of being in touch with often experienced under conditions of stress. The unconscious aspects of self (subjective challenge before us is therefore to control stress assessment) within reasonable and productive bounds, rather Increased insightfulness (subjective than to eliminate it all together. However, assessment) without consciously resolving the internal conflict between (1) the thought that one should relax to Increased sense of serenity and wellbeing control excessive stress, and (2) the experience (subjective assessment) that good things result from hard work, personalEach of these changes is in a direction considered stress management strategies can not beto be positive in regard to physical and/or mental effectively implemented. We will say more abouthealth. Some involve factors currently used to this later on.measure and monitor physical and mental stress There are two main strategies that underlielevels (e.g., breathing rate, heart rate, blood meditation practices: Concentration andpressure, GSR, and level of anxiety), while others Mindfulness. The first, which involves focusingrelate to secondary effects (e.g., insightfulness, any one of the senses (especially sight or hearing)sense of serenity and wellbeing, etc.). All support on a specific object or in a specific direction, hasclaims that meditation provides useful benefits. been referred to (Delmonte, 1989) as "zoom lens The decades since Bensons research have attention." The second, which involves awarenessushered in the electronic age and the modern of ones whole field of perception, is referred to aspersonal computer. The stress of daily life, "wide angle lens attention." The Relaxationespecially in the work place, is increasing daily Response as proposed by Benson is based on thebecause of more frequent encounters and more latter meditation strategy. One purpose of thiscomplex demands from those we meet. The speed paper is to describe another meditation practiceof computers has increased by a factor of over based on the Concentration Strategy that helps a1000 since the early 80s, and so has the great deal in evoking a "Centering Response." Infrequency of our interactions with others, concept, both approaches (Relaxation Responseespecially with the advent of the Internet. and Centering Response) lead to the sameComplexity of human interactions, and the types result…that is, to reconnection with deeperand volumes of information in each exchange, has qualities and inner resources. In practice, thealso increased many times. It should therefore be Centering Response is the result of a directed,clear that the need to recognize and manage focusing process, which may be easier and morepersonal stress is many, many times greater today natural for people in our culture who are trainedthan it was when Benson first introduced his to focus their attention and to increase intensity tofindings. achieve their goals, rather than let them go. Change in our lives, largely driven by newtechnology, seems to be constant, rapid andunavoidable. But change also results in stress; the Management Effectivenessstress of adapting to new conditions, and the Effective management is both an art and astress of operating in new ways and within new science. It is an art that is more qualitative thanorganizations. From Bensons perspective, the quantitative. It does not admit to simple, rigidstresses of daily activities and of adapting to definitions, even though it is usually describedchange can both be softened by relaxation brought and taught as a science. Many people are engagedabout by the meditation process. in management as a profession, but truly effective Following Benson, we can therefore think of managers are rare; as rare as good artists.meditation as a process for conscious adjustment Management is also a science. Lists ofof our attitudes (stiffness) to better handle management procedures, and personal attitudes(unavoidable) changes in our lives. and skills have been identified and correlated with successful practice. The apparent contradiction The "Relaxation Response," is achieved by here between management as an art and as alessening of our desires, even if only temporarily. science is resolved with the following realization:Many managers, athletes, actors, sales personnel Few people are born with the special talents of anand people in other action-oriented professions artist or a manager. Most develop into artists andare aware of the importance of stress. They managers by first studying the necessary skills,recognize that high performance and then emulating the examples of those who have 2
  • 3. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999achieved a level of success, and finally, Interviewing Skills Financial Analysisdiscovering the underlying art form, after years of Motivation-Self & Others Decision Makingpractice. Performance Management Presentation Skills John D. Bigelow (1999) has defined and Selecting Employeesclarified the concept of “managerial skills,” in Managing Stress Effectivelyregard to management effectiveness, as follows: Dealing with Difficult Behavior"…those theories, techniques, and behavioral Planning, Organizing & Setting Goalsguidelines which, if applied properly, will Dealing with Delicate Issues (Sexual Harassment)enhance a managers practice." To support understanding and ease ofWhile Bigelows interests have been primarily in communications, these skills are often organizedmanagement education, his research sheds light into categories that reflect either on-the-jobon three critical issues in regard to personal applications areas or work relationship (L. Ruequalities or skills believed to be essential for and L Byars, 1992). Bigelow (1999) proposes themanagement effectiveness: following five categories:(1) What are skills? How do we define a skill? 1. Personal characteristics: e.g., pro-activity,(2) How are management skills currently being leadership, perceptual objectivity, positive regard, taught? and risk taking.(3) Which skills are currently taught as part of 2. Inter-personal skills: e.g., communications, management education? delegation, influence, conflict management, groupHis research also involves an assessment of the management, motivating others, and leadership.effectiveness of management skills training 3. Learning skills: e.g., self-awareness, creativity,programs, based on six different testing and learning from doing.approaches. 4. Intra-personal skills: e.g., decision making, Bigelows research indicates that skill learning planning, time and stress management, goal anddoes not carry over well into actual practice. This action management, personal productivity, andfact is probably not so surprising to seasoned self-motivation.managers who know the difference betweentheoretical learning and doing. Current pedagogy 5. Administrative skills: e.g. decision making andapparently enables students to "demonstrate" key planning.aspects of skills when prompted; there is, This organization, from Personal tohowever, little evidence that this learning is Administrative skills, shows an implicit hierarchycarried forward into the workplace. Bigelow in the skill matrix, with the most personalultimately concludes that, qualities of the effective manager at the base. In "Management practice is more complex and other words, administrative, intra-personal, divergent than is currently understood." learning, and inter-personal skills all depend (more or less) on the personal characteristics andThe critical skills of effective managers, as well depth of insight of an effective manager. Thisas the relationship of these skills to effective observation is borne out by common wisdom,management, are very much in need of further which asserts that vision, mental clarity, intuition,understanding. empathy and communication skills are the “life- Nevertheless, large numbers of personal skills lines” of an effective manager. These skillshave been identified in relation to management provide access to inner resources that make all theeffectiveness by many authors. A sample list is rest of the skills possible, and without which thereprovided in Exhibit 1. is only logic, linear thinking and an overflow ofExhibit 1. Personal Skills Effective Managers information and problems to be coped with.Leadership Self Control A little self-reflection reveals that these sameNegotiating Skills Listening qualities are the first to be lost sight of underCommunications Creativity conditions of excess stress. The rapid thinking,Problem Solving Time Management hurried pace, irregular breathing and tight muscles that characterize periods of excess stress drownBuilding Teams Managing Diversity out the softer voice of intuition, and cause us toManaging Teams Coaching and Feedback perceive those around us as “objects,” to beProject Management Conflict Management 3
  • 4. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999commanded or worked around rather than listened Physiological reasons: Research has consistentlyto with sensitivity. This realization, coupled with and conclusively demonstrated strong correlationvarious health problems, is causing many between human behavior and biochemistrymanagers to appreciate the importance of stress (Martin, 1996). At one end of the behavioralmanagement and to adopt a personal stress spectrum are habits; at the other end aremanagement program. Many strategies and addictions. But behavior patterns are stronglyapproaches are being proposed for the reduction influenced, and often controlled, by biochemicaland management of stress. mixtures in the blood stream. This fact is borne out in the psychosomatic-psychophysiological Difficulties with Stress Management concept of "State-dependent Learning and There are always gaps between theory and Behavior." This concept explains howpractice, between what we think and what biochemical conditions that existed during a pastactually works, especially for beginners. The event or experience tend to "trigger" the samedifficulties that managers often experience with physical, emotional and psychologicalpersonal stress management programs can be experiences when re-established. In practicalcharacterized as, terms, the mind and memory are biochemically “Knowing better, but not being able to do compartmentalized, and thoughts are onlybetter.” accessible under the appropriate biochemical conditions (Orbach, 1995). In other words, There are several inter-related psychological learning, memory and behavior are situation-and physiological reasons for this dilemma. dependent. They are best correlated in thePsychological reasons: We in the modern contextual background and Biochemical State inwestern world (especially in America) are which they were formed. This explains why aeducated and trained to believe that productivity particular mood is easier to recall when one is inis the result of hard work, and that personal worth the same frame of mind. It also explains why it isand professional rewards are the direct result of often impossible to remember good intentionspersonal productivity. This concept leads to the when upset, or to apply stress managementbelief that, strategies when under the influence of stress itself. On a lighter (but still serious) note, this also"You are what you do and are valued because of explains why we often feel more in touch with ourhow well you perform." knowledge on a topic learned over cups of coffee Taking time to simply relax or to think deeply when we are once again drinking coffee.on a matter or problem is therefore Our best intentions and sincere resolutions for(unconsciously) considered to be a nonproductive, managing stress are literally "unavailable" to usinefficient activity. An obvious consequence of when we are operating under the influence of thethis situation is the difficulty we encounter in blood chemistry of stress and anxiety. Thefinding (or making) time to seriously contemplate biochemistry of stress triggers old patterns ofour problems, while immediate solutions are anxiety and their associated behaviors. A stressalways welcome. The drive for personal management activity that remove us from theproductivity often leads to “errors of the third stress stimulators and shift biochemistry, such askind,” that is, finding solutions to the wrong strenuous exercise or taking “time-outs,” tend toproblems. work as long as its impact on our biochemistry In effect, stress management programs based persists.on periodic relaxation, while logically acceptable, Behavioral modification programs can beare difficult to implement because of internal highly effective. But the real difficulty lies in theconflicts that arise between deep-seated unconscious, unmonitored, relationships betweenpsychological drives to be of value and socially intentions and values, and with the fact that mostacceptable, and beliefs on how best to live a managers (as humans) tend to identify with theirbalanced life. This ideological conflict most often problems, jobs and performance. Retreating fromplays out in the subconscious mind. But those them for awhile can help, but a more lastingaffected can experience additional stress when the solution requires a reconnection with our deeperbenefits of a stress management program are only selves and inner resources. This is wherefelt during the periods of the activities meditation comes in.themselves, and lost soon after. 4
  • 5. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999 Meditation – What it is. attention during the process. Kirpal Singh (1971) wrote a comprehensive treatise on this subject that The meditation process, whether concentration describes each of the types and forms ofor mindfulness-based, involves a loosening of meditation, as well as the benefits that can bepersonal identification with our physical, derived from each.emotional and mental processes. It is a process for The type of meditation described belowwithdrawing our attention from these experiences involves concentrating the attention between andfor a period of time to help shift our identification in front of the eyebrows and consists of a six-stepto a deeper place within. Meditation is, in effect, method (R. Singh, 1996).the application of our objective observationcapability to the subjective domain of our Step 1: Give yourself permission for a meditationthoughts and beliefs, emotions and bodily break for some period of time, say 10-15 minutessensations. It is a means of creating an objective or longer. Find a place where it is possible to sitspace between our perceptions and our reactions. quietly and remain undisturbed for the agreedA few moments of self-introspection soon reveals time. A corner of the office or a room at homethat our attention normally roams among our would be fine, as long as there is no passage forthoughts, emotional feelings and physical unexpected traffic and disturbances. Reducedsensations, from one to another, in an endless light also helps for relaxation.“parade.” One aim of meditation is to create an Step 2: Sit on a chair, couch or in any other placeopportunity for witnessing the present moment, that is comfortable and stable. Sitting iswithout the emotional and mental coloring of the recommended over lying down, to avoid fallingpast, to be able to make better decisions based on asleep. Once you are sitting comfortably, take awhat is really happening, rather than to few deep breathes and let go of any tension inimpulsively react to imagined threats or negative your body (especially shoulders, neck andpredictions. stomach). Let your mind relax for a few minutes. It has been said that, Remember that you are “off duty.”“Humans are a bundle of habits.” Step 3: Close your eyes gently and concentrate on what is in front of you. Notice that even with eyes Our habits, our individual hardwired reactions closed you become aware of “seeing into” a largeto our personal perceptions, are often triggered by dark space that surrounds you. (Try opening andthe unconscious mind without any conscious closing your eyes a few times to become aware ofawareness on our part, as for example in the case this way of seeing.)of the “fight or flight” syndrome discussed earlier. Step 4: With your eyes still closed and relaxed,Meditation first supports an awareness of our concentrate your inner attention into the regionthoughts, emotional feelings and physical lying between and (approximately 12 inches) insensations. It then helps us to see these front of your eyebrows. (This feels as though youexperiences in a clearer, more truthful light. are “tunneling” your attention into this region toUltimately, meditation helps us to discover find out what is there.) Keep your eyes relaxeddeeper, more orderly and satisfying aspects of and pointing straight ahead. You may see allourselves lying behind and beneath the “parade” darkness, pinpoints or flashes of light, faces, orof these subjective experiences. While it is even nature scenes.conceptually simple, it is in practice difficult tomaster because we have become accustomed to Step 5: As you continue concentrating yourour kaleidoscopic subjective activities and have attention, a parade of thoughts, emotional feelingsaccepted them as ourselves. and physical sensations will probably arise to disturb your concentration. To assist you in How to Meditate concentrating, do the following: There are many different types and forms of 1) Think “no thank you” to the thoughts,meditation available today. Many people are because you are “off duty” for the moment.familiar with Transcendental Meditation (TM), 2) Then think of a concept or person thatwhich is more related to the Mindfulness than to provides inspiration to you and for whichthe Concentration attention strategy. In the case of you feel love or respect. You can forConcentration meditation, with which we are example use "love" itself. Think thisconcerned here, the possible types and forms thought very slowly, over and over.depend on where and how one focuses the 5
  • 6. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999 3) Just return your attention again to your essential for deriving the fullest benefits of the point of concentration, no matter where you meditation process. The process when practiced have roamed in your thoughts. accurately (as explained above) can lead to aStep 6: The mind will begin to slow down as you richness of experience known to the child onlycontinue to concentrate (and with repeated after it has “passed through the keyhole.”practice) and bring it back to your focus. You will The Relaxation Response and the Centeringsoon become aware of inner lights. Flashes will Response both have many common benefits tocome more and more frequently and lights will offer for the difficult transitions we face asstay longer, as your concentration increases. The managers and as citizens in a rapidly changinglights may also grow brighter and change color. world. Both concern overcoming biological andYou can stop when the agreed time is used up. psychological reactions in favor of actions that are more appropriate for current problems. Both point Analysis to connecting with deeper aspects of our selves The objective of this practice is to loosen and tapping into inner resources for morepersonal identification with our physical, harmonious solutions to our personal andemotional and mental processes for while. This professional challenges.makes possible a more objective view of the Final Thoughtschallenges and opportunities being presented to us The central concept of this paper, that effectiveby our problems when we return to them later on. management is to be found where it is most oftenThis practice is consistent with many of the lost, is best illustrated by the following shortapproaches to increased creativity (Ehrenzweig, story. A man returning home from work after dark1971; Lowenfeld, 1939), which suggest leaving was surprised to find his neighbor crawlingand then returning to our problems after the mind around on the grass under the lamppost,has reoriented itself. Other models of creativity apparently looking for something. When he askedsuggest that this process of leaving (emptying the her what she was looking, she looked upmind) and then returning (refocusing) evokes an anxiously and said that she had lost the keys tointuitive, nonlinear response outside of previously her house. He immediately began to look withperceived possibilities. The main point here is her, and then almost as an after thought askedthat there is something to be gained in terms of where she had last seen them. She looked up torelaxation and creativity by temporarily standing say that she had last seen them in the dark cornerback from and releasing personal investment in near to the front door. So why are you lookingour problems. here, he asked. Because the light is so much better A more subtle aspect of the process of letting here, she answered.go during the practice of meditation is illustrated The ability to be an effective manager inby the story of the young child looking through today’s hectic and information-intensive worldthe keyhole into the forbidden garden. As long as depends on being able to tap into ones innerthe child experiences self-consciousness, resources including mental clarity, intuition,intensified by the feeling of guilt for disobeying empathy and communication skills. These arethe rules and approaching the keyhole, it remains lost sight of under excess stress. Reconnection isan “outside observer.” The garden is a small and possible only when we can get back to innerdistant image on the other side of the keyhole. stability, when we can oversee and replaceThe child continues to struggle with the thought biochemical and psychological reactions withof getting caught while trying to see into the small activities that are appropriate to the real problemskeyhole. But when the child becomes so of the moment.fascinated with the beauty of the garden and apassion to experience what is there, it The challenge before managers today is to findmomentarily forgets itself. In that intensity of ways to lead their organizations to optimal use oflooking the child suddenly finds itself, as it were, their resources in service of their mission andon the other side of the keyhole experiencing the humanity, world-wide, where material profit isfullness of the garden. The keyhole no longer only one of the measures of success, not all.limits the view, because the child has effectively Researchers from many different fields andpassed through it on the wings of a passionate from organizations around the world (includingdesire to be there in the beautiful, forbidden The National Institutes of Health’s Division ofgarden. Forgetting our self, and all thoughts Alternative Medicine) are documenting theassociated with our problems for a short while, is 6
  • 7. Published in the Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting American Society of Engineering Management, Virginia Beach, October 21-24, 1999benefits of meditation described in this paper for About the Authorthe management of personal stress and for Richard S. Scotti is a Professor and the Directorreconnection to deeper values and inner resources. of a Research Center in the Engineering References. Management and Systems EngineeringBenson, Herbert, The Relaxation Response, Avon Department (EMSE) at the George WashingtonBooks, New York (1975) University (GWU) in Washington, DC. His 30- year professional career in technical/management,Bigelow, John D. (Editor), Managerial Skills: consulting, research and education isExplor-ations in Applied Knowledge, Sage, complemented by a long interest in transpersonalLondon (1991). psychology and meditation. He also leads self-Bigelow, John D., "Teaching Managerial Skills: development and management training seminarsMoving Beyond Current Practice," Personal in the USA, Canada and Europe. His academicpublication at background includes a Ph.D. in Engineering andhttp://cobe.idbsu.edu/msr/jbskills/sitskil2.htm Applied Mathematics from UC Berkeley, and(1999) postdoctoral fellowships at Cambridge UniversityEhrenzweig, Anton, The Hidden Order of Art, (UK), MIT and Brown University. He has alsoUniv of Clifornia Press, Berkeley, pp. 95-110. trained with esoteric teachers in India, Europe and(1971) the USA.Delmonte, Michael M., "Meditation, The Contact Address: rsscotti@rsscotti.comUnconscious, and Psychosomatic Disorders,"International Journal of Psychosomatics, V36, pp.45-50, (1989)Jevning, R., R.K.Wallace and M. Beidebach,“The Physiology of Meditation: A Review. AWakeful Hypometabolic Integrated Response,”Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, Vol. 16,pp.415-424 (1992)Kabat-Zinn, et al, “Effectiveness of Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program in the Treatmentof Anxiety Dosorders,” American Journal ofPsychiatry, Vol.49, No. 7, pp. 936-943, July 1992Kaplan, K.H., D.L.Goldberg, and M Galvin-Nabeau, “The Impact of a Meditation-BasedStress Reduction Program,” General HospitalPsychiatry, Vol.15, pp. 284-289, (1993)Lowenfeld, K. , The Nature of Creative Activity,Kejan Paul Press, London (1939)Martin, G., & J. Pear, Behavior Modification:What It Is and How to Do It (5th Edition).Prentice Hall, NJ. (1996)Orbach, Israel, The Hidden Mind—Psychology,Psycho-therapy and Unconscious Processes,Wiley, New York. (1995)Rue, Leslie W. and Llloy L. Byars, ManagementSkills and Applications (Sixth Edition). Irwin,Homewood IL (1992).Singh, Kirpal, Crown of Life-A Study in Yoga,Sant Bani Press, New Hampshire (1971).Singh, Rajinder, Inner ad Outer Peace throughMeditation, Element Books, Massachusetts(1996) 7

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