The hippies may be on to a good thing

Round about now, I should be kicking back and enjoying the fruits of what feels like way too many years of office work. Cruising in a top job, drawing an enviable salary, enjoying the attentions of a PA who knows when to bring me a cup of tea.

Fat chance. Global meltdown has thrown job security out of the window in almost every field, and the kind of perks journalism delivers seldom include big salaries and attentive PAs. Along with a couple of my colleagues, I’m back at university some of the time, studying subjects so complicated I can’t understand the titles of the textbooks.

It’s not job insecurity that drove me to the University of Cape Town’s business school, as much as a sudden (possibly misplaced, occasionally regrettable) desire to get out of the comfort zone, and do something difficult. Which is how I found myself locked down for 17 days with a group of miners, accountants, administrators and the odd winemaker or medic, starting an MBA.

In a modular structure of studying, the days are long and intense: we started at 8am, and seldom wrapped before midnight. We were deliberately thrown into confusion, all our presumptions overturned (it’s part of improving the quality of thinking). We were feverish with missed sleep and misunderstanding. But – somehow – energy never flagged. And the business school puts it down to mindfulness meditations.

Business schools and the hippy world of meditation aren’t natural bedfellows, but the programme I’m on is wildly progressive, and they’re testing the idea that active mindfulness practice can deliver the benefits of meditation – which, amongst other things, include a reduction in stress (of which we had buckets), the enhancement of creativity (very necessary), and an increase in vitality (yes, please). The feedback – anecdotal, at this point – is that it worked: course administrators say our group was the most chilled they’d had; and people like me – who ordinarily need eight hours’ sleep a night – were getting by fine on five or six hours.

I’ve always felt a bit ho-hum about meditation (read my colleague Olivia Rose-Innes’ delightful story about what happens when a cynic meets zen) but though life feels out of control, I’m getting into this ohm thing. I’ll take help wherever I can find it.

 (Heather Parker, Health24, April 2009)

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