Working From Home: Episode 7 – How to find peace in a chaotic world – with Remington Cooney
Nelson is joined by expert mindfulness coach and meditation teacher Remington Cooney to discuss the benefits of having a mindfulness practice and the links between mindfulness and business leadership.
Topics include mindfulness as a response to existential anxieties, the default network that keeps our brain running to the past or present, how to start a mindfulness practice, why we need more mindful leaders, insights from Buddhism, and other topics.
[3:27] – How Remington got tuned in to mindfulness practices and the path that led him to teach. Growing up in Singapore.
[10:02] – Nurturing the desire to share these personal practices with others.
[16:50] – Traveling the world, finding opportunities in unexpected places, moving to Malaysia.
[21:10] – Confronting self-doubt, learning the importance of self-care.
[23:28] – Traveling to Bali to recharge, designing a mindfulness leadership program.
[26:38] – The crossover between mindfulness practices and business leadership.
[40:14] – What are the essential components of mindfulness and what benefits do they provide?
[45:15] – Where can people learn more about mindfulness and how to start a practice?
[47:20] – Recommendations for getting started: start with seated meditation to minimize distractions, sit at the same time every day, upon awakening and before bed are optimal times for practice.
[51:33] – Remington takes listeners through a 10-minute mindfulness activity.
Nelson: Hello, and welcome to the ‘Working From Home’ podcast with your host me, Nelson Jordan. Today I’m delighted to be interviewing Remington Cooney, who’s an expert in mindful leadership, and a coach and a lecturer as well on the same subject. Hey Remington. How are you doing?
Remington: Hey Nelson, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Nelson: Oh, you are quite welcome. Normally, I just kind of launched straight in with an introduction. But first, I’m going to butter you up with a compliment, because why not? I think you’ve got the coolest name I’ve ever come across: Remington Cooney. Where’s that from?
Remington: Yeah, well, it is a bit of a unique name. I think my parents have taken that one from your home country, England, It wasn’t to do with Remington Steele, which was that TV show that often people think my name is from, it was something else. But they wanted some sort of unique name. And they certainly did choose that. So thank you very much for that. I appreciate that.
Nelson: You are quite welcome. And so yeah, if you could just give us an introduction to what you’re most known for? And what you’re going to be talking about today, that would be great.
Remington: Yeah, sure. So I identify myself as a mindfulness coach and meditation teacher, and that’s predominantly where I’ve done my training of the last few, well over the last decade, really. But I’ve now turned as of the last five years into an educator in universities, and I’m bringing in these mindfulness and meditation practices into curriculum in education. When I started doing these practices, I realised the potential in them helping people deal with stress, anxiety, etc, especially young people. And so when I wanted to take up a vocation to do with teaching these practices, it seemed very natural to bring it into the field of education. It seems that that was an area that I felt I could do some work with these practices of mindfulness and meditation. So essentially, I am a meditation, mindfulness teacher, and a lecturer at the university I teach at.
Nelson: Fantastic. And today, you’re going to be talking about uncertainty, mindfulness and how to be present. And you’re actually going to be leading us in a mindfulness activity towards the end. Yeah, I can’t wait. I’ve never been kind of a part of something like that before. So I’m quite eager to try it out; I’m sure our listeners are as well.
Remington: Yeah, great. I mean, it’s always good to have a bit of an experiential component when we’re talking about such subjective material. I’d love to share a little bit about what I do as a daily practice, and how it’s really helped me with these times of uncertainty that we find ourselves in right now.
Nelson: Fantastic. So if I might ask, how did you get your start in mindfulness? It’s not obviously what we consider, kind of, a traditional vocation.
Remington: Yeah, it was very true. And there was often times when I did get started, that I realised, ‘Oh, I really want to do this for a living’, and I’d get comments from people like, ‘You can’t be a meditation teacher for a living, you know, that means you become a monk. That’s not a thing’. And I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to make it a thing, I’m going to figure it out’. It didn’t start as obviously a choice in my career path. It was more to do with my own personal trials and tribulations as a teenager. Around the age of 15-16, I was beginning to experience what a lot of 15 and 16 year olds experienced, which is anxiety. It was really to deal with a number of different things. It was anxiety that you feel in high school to do with social pressures, anxiety to perform well academically, but there was also creeping into my life at really quite a young age (so this is about 15), this sense of existential anxiety, this sense of, ‘I don’t feel safe, being who I am. I don’t really feel safe in myself. But also, I don’t really understand what I’m doing here on this planet. I don’t really understand my purpose. I don’t feel a sense of self confidence in what I have to offer. And I just feel existentially at a loss’. And what that did at a macro leve,l is it really translated into my micro experience day to day where I felt like I was socially awkward, very socially anxious, very confused, lacking self-esteem. I mean, these are things that so many teenagers can relate, but you know, instead of sort of hitting the bottle and drinking a lot, or even taking a lot of drugs, which you can’t do, because I was growing up in Singapore, I think if I was growing up anywhere else, I would have turned to probably more intoxicants to solve my existential issues, but I didn’t have that opportunity. So I found myself spiraling into depression and anxiety at this tender age. And my mom tried redirecting me saying, ‘I think you should go and meet my yoga teacher’. So I did, I went off to this some, you know, I think it was an apartment or a yoga studio. And this yoga teacher and Indian guru who had come over to Singapore was teaching my mom and a group of women, I think it was mainly women who were training to be yoga teachers. And he said, ‘There’s nothing wrong’ in Indian accent, ‘Nothing wrong with you, you know, like nothing wrong, only in your head’. He was a traditional Indian Yogi, and I’m like, ‘What is he talking about? All in my head? I mean, I’m having some serious difficulty here in my life, I’m having some…and he’s just telling me, it’s a storyline in my head’. You know, I felt quite insulted by that. But nevertheless, he said, ‘What you need to do is you need to do breathing practices, you need to get back into your body, you need to get grounded, and you need to self-regulate’. And so he gave me these series of very basic yoga postures, the sun salutations, and the breathing that goes with it, and a little bit of chanting. And he told me to do it every night, before bed. That night, I went home, and I did those exercises. And I noticed straight away that my anxiousness that was plaguing me, and these constant barrage of thoughts that make us overthink, that tended to shift in just one night after doing this. It just paused a little bit, it just shifted enough, that I was able to find a sense of security in myself, and a sense of hope. And so I was like, ‘Oh, well, what he just taught me that actually that worked. And maybe I should investigate this further’. So that was the spark that got me started on the journey of contemplative practice. And eventually, it got more into meditation more into seated meditation, and eventually into Buddhism. I got very interested in Buddhism around the age of 18. And once I really began to work on my own personal practice, which you could think of this meditation that I’d taken up was out on the periphery of my life. And as I became more and more involved in my daily experience, it became more at the center of what I wanted to do professionally. I noticed how it was shifting my anxious patterns, I noticed how it was, in a way, healing me. And so I wanted to do something that was my vocation around this. And that’s really where it began.
Nelson: Fantastic. So it was this period of anxiety and depression, just a troubled time, in general, that meant that you needed something to pull you out of that. So, it had to get a little bit bad before you actually found that in order for that to make an impact. Is that right?
Remington: That’s very much it. Yeah, it almost was like I needed to feel some sense of suffering, in order to find something that really gave me something that was far beyond suffering, you know? Gave me some hope, and gave me some joy, and gave me some purpose. I had to go through this suffering to get to purpose. It was really strange.
Nelson: No, definitely. I think that’s the path a lot of us end up travelling, especially when we’re teenagers and things. I had very, very similar experiences to you and that I didn’t know my place, felt incredibly socially awkward, wasn’t the best kind of with social interactions, because of everything that I was going through, dealt with depression. And then at one point, wanted basically to run away and join the army, when I was when I was 16. Somebody, a close friend of mine, talked me out of it. But it was just as a symptom of not knowing what to do. And I kind of felt like the discipline of the army might provide some sort of structure to my life and almost to outsource the decision making to somebody else, because they would tell me what to do, and that felt less frightening at the time then just being, I guess, feeling adrift on your own, despite having lots of people around you. So yeah, really interesting. I think a lot of people can relate to that, which is great. Tell me about the transition then, between that kind of ‘these practices are just for me, it’s a personal thing, it’s something that I do to improve my life’. How did it come from that and kind of transition into ‘Okay, how do I take what I know and help other people?’
Remington: There wasn’t a pivotal moment necessarily that was like, ‘Oh, now this is time to help others’. I think I always wanted to, I wanted to share this, well not always, but after a few years of practising meditation, I wanted to share the sacredness of what it meant to me. You know when you find something you really love, it’s a piece of music, or a nice piece of art or a good chocolate brand you want to share.
Nelson: Yeah sure, like you’ve got it like for music for me, that was like a big thing growing up. We always used to just share albums as ‘Oh you got to hear this, you’ve got to hear this’ and it’d be something like System of a Down or something like that, and somebody would just put the CD to you or somebody burned me like the Marshall Mathers LP, or Slim Shady on a tape or something. And send me those and just be like ‘Don’t tell your mum’.
Remington: Exactly. So that joy of sharing something that brings joy to us. I think this was a motivation in me. And there was a little bit of inner hero as well, there was a little bit of wounded healer. It’s like, ‘I feel wounded and I feel like I’ve found something that’s healing me, then I want to share this as well’. And, you know, that’s a little embarrassing to say that, but it’s, it’s kind of true. It’s like, there was a part of me that felt like I can do good for others because I know what it’s like to feel this pain. And so it was never a doubt in my mind that I would do something to do with this, in a form of teaching. The question was, well, how? How does that actually extend to others? At first, talking about meditation with my friends around the age of 19-20, when we were in first year university, people kind of didn’t really take it seriously. Mindfulness was not a thing in the mainstream, at this point in time, which would have been 2008-2009. And so it was just kind of creeping in, but it was still considered a bit of a ‘hippie’ thing. So people saw me as a bit strange and alternative, at least where I was living in Melbourne, Australia. And very sceptical. A lot of people were very sceptical about meditation. And then I went to the west coast of North America, I travelled to Canada for exchange. And it was there that I really found my place in the world of yoga and meditation. It’s like a mecca over there; there’s so much yoga, there’s so much meditation. It’s so embedded in the mainstream of West Coast, you know, California, but I was living in Canada, I was in British Columbia. And that was where I realised, ‘Okay, I can actually find my way into teaching. And this is what I’m here to do. This is what I’m here to offer. These practices are going to be my livelihood. And whether it’s being a Buddhist teacher, or whether it’s being a yoga teacher in a studio, there’s going to be a way’. It was really when I got to the shore of Canada, the shoreline, and started to experience the normality of doing these things and talking about these practices there, that I realised that this is what I want to offer to others, and I’m going to do this.
Nelson: Fantastic. So, what form did that that kind of take then? Was it you opened up your own studio to kind of bring people in? Or was it by referrals, people telling their friends? ‘Oh, there’s this guy Remington that you should really speak to?’ Or was it in kind of a more organised construct?
Remington: Yeah, no, there was nothing very organised about it, and that was part of this unfolding path. This mystery, which is very typical in the eastern traditions of how one begins to train as a meditation teacher or a sage, is that it’s all a bit of an unfolding mystery. But what I did was I started to find people who were already in those positions, and study with them. There was a particular teacher named Michael Stone, who I really followed closely and got really interested in, I did trainings with him. I did a yoga teacher training. And it was only through these trainings that I began to see that there were opportunities in how to build a career, but I never actually opened a studio. What I did was I just sort of built up a bit of a reputation in the Vancouver area as a meditation teacher and did some freelance work. So, I would go to studios and teach freelance there. I would go to companies and did quite a few, maybe three or four companies, where I would go in, I do these mindfulness workshops at their ‘lunch and learn’ sessions and teach there, and I started to get my name out a little bit. But it was only when I found out about this Master’s programme in Education, which was currently being taught in Vancouver, that the dots really connected because the Master’s in Education programme was specifically geared towards people who had contemplative practices, which is a fancy way of saying mindfulness, that they wanted to bring into the education sector. So that’s when everything linked up. Until that point, I really not making much of a living from teaching meditation.
Nelson: Sure. It’s so nice when that that happens. It’s almost like this moment that you’ve worked towards, but without knowing that you’re necessarily working towards it. And then all of your skills and your interests just align, you’re like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing’.
Remington: Now, yeah, you can feel it inside, but then you can doubt it. And it’s only when things start to really come together externally that you fully believe in it, you fully trust it, I feel.
Nelson: Yeah. And it’s great to have that feedback as well because it’s one thing for you to know that something’s right. But if other people aren’t giving you the feedback in whatever form that might be, either in terms of compliments, or referrals, or in terms of just being able to, or be willing to pay for the service that you’re offering. It’s exactly what I was saying, it’s one thing for you to know it and another for kind of the external world to know it and recognise it as well.
Remington: Very true.
Nelson: Cool, so you were you were teaching there and then how did that kind of expand? Because I know you’ve had some travels all over the globe teaching.
Remington: Yeah, I mean, it’s been a very organic journey, in terms of travel, of data all across the world, there’s been nothing necessarily structured about it. But that’s been part of the beauty of it. So, once I finished up with this Master’s programme in Canada, I suddenly was, you know, I wasn’t working enough in studios teaching meditation to make a full living from it. But I was doing academic work, you know, as writing papers and did a thesis on how mindfulness can be embedded into curriculum, to enhance education. And I presented it at a conference in Japan of all places. And there was a guy there, who was the Deputy Vice Chancellor of a university in Malaysia. And it was one of those moments again, the dots joining, a bit like finding this Master’s programme, the next moment was him coming up to me after my presentation and saying, ‘I’m really interested in the work that you’re doing. We’re looking for someone like you, would you be interested in coming over to our university and leading a workshop? For my staff and students?’.
Nelson: So that all came about because you put yourself out there?
Remington: Very much. Yeah, had I not gone to their conference and put my work out there, I wouldn’t have got that opportunity.
Nelson: Fantastic. And I take it you decided to take them up on it?
Remington: Yeah, I didn’t have that many prospects, to be honest. And Vancouver’s a very expensive place to live. So, you know, it was looking a bit like who knows what would have happened if it stayed in Vancouver, but it was looking a bit like I would have to start off teaching in high school, or in ESL or something like that, I was already sort of dabbling in those areas. And that just wasn’t where my passion really lied. I really wanted to do bring mindfulness into higher education. So this offer arrived on my lap and I just couldn’t say no. So I packed up my bags and next thing I know, I was flying halfway across the world, taking up a new career in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur.
Nelson: Fantastic. And was that to join kind of an existing setup that they have the curriculum already made? Or were you there to kind of decide what you were actually going to teach as well?
Remington: Yeah, that’s another good question. So the mindfulness part of it had not been integrated into that university curriculum. They had what was called a life skills curriculum, which is a bit like a soft skills training programme, where students would focus on building their humanistic skills, their communication and, you know, everything that goes in between those.
Nelson: Lots of soft skills that don’t necessarily find a place within the hardcore, traditional curriculum.
Remington: Exactly. Yeah, everything that’s sort of left out of the traditional curriculum that really has to do with ‘between the lines’, you know, not the technical skills, but how we relate to each other, the interpersonal and the intrapersonal. They didn’t have a mindfulness meditation part to their curriculum, but they were advised to have that, so that’s what they got me on board for. I was the mindfulness expert to bring that into their curriculum. But it turned out to be a very, very different journey to what I originally signed up for once I got there, because they had this massive layoff where they got rid of a whole bunch of staff. And suddenly, my one role of being the mindfulness expert, it sort of multiplied into these countless roles, really, it was multiple roles, and I was totally overwhelmed. So it was like, this romantic, coming together of things and fate and getting taken to this place. And then realising that the romance had worn off. In the real world, working well doesn’t always go the way that you want it to, no matter what opportunity you’ve gotten. And that was a really rude awakening for me, because I think a lot of people have that experience. A lot of people have that experience right now that the disruption of what’s happening in the working world means that we often have to take on multiple roles, or we’re on reduced hours or job security’s low and it’s just such a volatile area. And I realised that when I started working,
Nelson: How did your practices help you during that, obviously, quite tumultuous time?
Remington: It was interesting because I was so overwhelmed. When I took that job, in those first maybe six months to a year, that I started to doubt my own practices. I’d felt like I’d been doing these practices, and they’ve been keeping me stable. And I’ve been working myself towards this opportunity. And suddenly, I felt like the practices were kind of failing me, they weren’t really supporting me through really a lot of stress and overload that I felt. I lost a bit of faith in that year, in everything, I’d studied it. And it was a real crisis. For me, it was really painful. Because I felt like meditation is kind of like my best friend. You know, I often say ‘The breath is your best friend. It’s never going to leave you it’s always there’. And, and yet, this friend wasn’t really showing up in the way that I wanted to when I was at my most stressed. But I stayed with it. I stayed with the job, I stayed with the meditation practice, and I really fought hard to see it all through. And I must admit that I came out of that two-year experience, at the end of working with this university, I came out of it, feeling extremely burnt out. But had I not had meditation and mindfulness with me, I wouldn’t have made it through. I think I would have come out a lot worse. So it was there and then, I also saw from that experience, where I needed to improve my own self-care, not just with mindfulness and meditation, but with boundary setting, with communication with having difficult conversations. I realised from that experience, that mindfulness isn’t everything. It’s a pillar, but there are multiple pillars that need to hold us up when we’re having difficulty in our life.
Nelson: So, it’s a thing, it’s an important thing, but it’s not the only thing.
Remington: Yeah, exactly.
Nelson: Cool. So after this point, you’ve been in Kuala Lumpur for a while, for two years. And obviously, it wasn’t everything that you were sold. But you realise that you came out the other side. Talk me through what you’re doing right now.
Remington: So feeling quite burnt out. You know, what a lot of people do in Asia when they feel burnt out, they go to Bali. And so, I’m no different. I was in a relationship with someone during my time in KL, she lived in Bali, and she introduced me to Bali. And I thought it was quite a magical place in certain areas. And so I sort of resolved that at the end of my contract in Malaysia, I would go to Bali, and I would try and work as a meditation teacher there. And I got word that there was actually a university campus in Bali, there’s a few of them, but I didn’t know that. But my friend told me she worked with universities, and she said, ‘You should apply for this university. They might like your programme that you designed to do with the meditation stuff at Taylor’s, which was the Malaysian University’. And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea’. So I emailed the Dean of the campus and he said, (this was another moment where the dots joined), he said, ‘Oh, it’s really interesting you’ve emailed us because we’ve been talking about trying to hire someone to design a mindful leadership programme. And now that you’ve made an offer to design a programme, it seems like you’d be the perfect fit, but can we see your CV, can we do an interview? We just want to double check’, but it all just fell into place. He checked my CV, thought these are great credentials, you’d be the perfect person to design this mindful leadership programme. Although I had in mind going to Bali, that I’d be doing more traditional meditation teaching maybe something more in the yoga world, but it turned out that they hired me. And they gave me the visa to be there, but they also wanted me to design something that was more business-focused. So they wanted me to bring mindfulness and meditation into business administration faculty, and the hospitality faculty, to help students prepare for the leadership role and even just the working role that they would be in once they graduate. And so it was a unique opportunity. And I again, jumped at the opportunity because it sounded quite special. And it also guaranteed a stable income while I was spending my time in Bali. And that’s what I’m now doing. I spent six months designing a programme, a curriculum, called mindful leadership, which looks at bringing in mindfulness practices into workplace scenarios, and how to apply contemplative practices to both personal and professional settings. And I deal with a very different student body, to the student body that I dealt with the previous University. These are very practical, business-minded and hospitality-minded students that are going into specific trades. And yeah, they learn how to meditate and amongst other things now, so I’m really enjoying it. It’s been a new learning curve for me, because I had a lot of experience with mindfulness, but I didn’t have that much with leadership. So I’m learning all about leadership now.
Nelson: Fantastic. And where’s the kind of crossovers that you’ve you’ve seen? Things that you didn’t know about leadership and obviously knew about the mindfulness side? Is it like things that occur in specific, stressful leadership situations? Or what?
Remington: These are really good questions, Nelson? You ask really good questions, but I guess you do this for a living.
Nelson: Thank you very much.
Remington: At first, I had to sort of see, figure out the crossover because I thought, ‘What does business leadership really have to do with sitting still, and meditating and, and letting go?’ Everything about mindfulness is about surrender and letting go, and not trying to control everything. What I know about a sort of capitalistic business mentality (if I can put it that way), is about gain, profit bottom line control in a way, controlling outcome and maximising outcomes. So, at first, I was like, these are kind of opposing worlds. And I think anyone who teaches mindfulness to corporate, or business companies and things like that, also sees this friction. But really where the connection between these two subjects lie, is the shifting landscape of leadership, especially just in our current paradigm, a current situation in the modern world where we need leaders who are more empathetic, who are more in tune with their followers, and who are able to empathise with their followers. And also we have a body or a generation of people, aka millennials, and everyone younger, who wants leaders who are more in tune with who they are leading, and more in tune with their own heart, in tune with their feelings and sensitive to the environment, sensitive to the problems that plague us. And I’m starting to see this real schism that’s forming between sort of millennial and younger, and then maybe older Generation X and into Baby Boomer, where you’ve got these old styles of leadership where it’s like, ‘Do as you’re told, don’t get in touch with your feelings. That’s not the place for it in a professional environment’, to all these young people who are like, ‘Well, I’m overwhelmed with anxiety and I just need a leader who can empathise with me right now. I need someone who can listen to me, I need someone who can guide me on a more personal level, I need mentorship, I need coaching’. The reason coaching has become so popular is because that’s a form of empathetic leadership. It’s getting in touch with a lot of personal inquiry and feelings. And so I’m starting to see like the new, at least for a large majority of my students, and for people just sort of statistically out there when I read about millennials, they’re looking for a new form of leader and the leader they’re looking forward as a mindful leader. One who’s not necessarily a ‘hippie’ or a pushover, or particularly overly sensitive, but one who can be empathetic and respect and communicate in a way that shows this. And just to be emotionally intelligent. And so that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a there’s a link here. We know people who practice this now’.
Nelson: Definitely, I mean, everything you said that, especially the empathetic things that you mentioned, really strike a chord with me; really resonate. Because I remember reading a study, I think there’s a few years ago when I read something about boards that have women executives on perform better than boards that just have men. Having a woman there, literally just improves performance. And that’s in terms of measurable quantitative data, that doesn’t even take into account the qualitative things that are happening. But that’s in terms of like bottom line, having a woman on your board will improve your business. And I think an element of that I remember thinking about a time, I was like, ‘I wonder what qualities of female leaders and executives are responsible for that uptick’. And I think the empathetic one, definitely in my personal life, the relationships I have with women, in terms of whether that’s somebody like my wife, who’s incredibly empathetic, and I, I sometimes joke that she has like, the emotions for both of us. Because sometimes, especially in the past, I’m getting better at now, I used to be like, a little bit, not necessarily robotic, but a little bit stoic, in kind of the way I see the world and situations and things like that. And that’s helped me sometimes and hindered me other times. But yeah, I’ve noticed that generally, the women that I know, they tend to be more empathetic then the men I know. Now, that differs, I’m talking very much in on average here. But I think that if there is a way that existing male leaders, for example, because they’re typically, on average, (and I might get myself into trouble here, so I have to caveat that out with ‘on average’), they’re not as empathetic. They’re not as in-touch with their own emotions, and the emotions of others as women. So if those male leaders can find a way, a practice of digging in, there’s performance gains to be made there, you know, in terms of improving their own executive and leadership performance, improving the performance of their business, because there’s a lot of stuff there before you even get on to the so-called, traditional benefits of mindfulness in terms of what it does for you as a person, there’s those business benefits as well.
Remington: Yeah, that’s a great point. And there’s some really good data that’s been released now and books like ‘Primal Leadership’, that’s written by Daniel Goleman, and another book ‘15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership’. You know, these are sort of Harvard professors and business leaders, that are writing books to say that if you are in touch with your emotions, and you’re emotionally intelligent about that, and you display empathy, the data shows that you’re going to have a more high performing team. Google have done studies to show that psychological safety is the number one characteristic towards driving a high performing team. And as you were saying, you know, probably having females on a board, if they are more inclined to be empathetic, probably increases sense of psychological safety, perhaps open communication. And these are things that are now proven to really be effective in teams. And so we have this archaic model of a leader being some sort of alpha male, as you said, stoic but stoic in a way where they push down emotions, not stoic and in a resilient, vulnerable way, but in a repressive way. And we have this corporate culture that women who want to become leaders have to somehow emulate these archaic alpha males. And women don’t want to do that, probably, but they do it to get to the top or we do what we do to try and get that promotion. But the thing is, if we brought more feminine energy, both males and females brought more of their feminine side to the table, we’re going to have much better conversations and much more supportive action in managing things, not just things like performance in terms of bottom line but issues such as burnout. I mean, burnout is statistically increasing exponentially, even in places that have good work policy. And often that burnout comes from not being able to have the conversations around what’s really going on for us emotionally.
Nelson: For sure. I mean, there’s so much to unpack in what you’ve just said, so I’ll try my best. So firstly, I think part of the issue that comes along is because these characteristics, rightly or wrongly, have labels, right? So the fact that both you and I, when we describe this just you were said that these are typically masculine or feminine traits or characteristics. And then once you, once you label something like that, obviously, it helps in terms of a discussion, but it also has the negative effect of, men who are like the traditional alpha males might skew away from something like mindfulness and empathy, because it has that feminine label, for example, and that’s potentially damaging there. The other thing that you kind of mentioned is, is women emulating men. They see, well, so again, we’re talking in generalities here, we’re not obviously saying that this is the case for everything. But these women see, quite often, the type of man that has got to the top of these businesses, and emulate their characteristics. That doesn’t mean that those characteristics are best for a leader, it just means that the time that we’re living in and over the past 30, 40, 50 years, all of those leaders have been men. So, it’s not like they had necessarily the women leadership to emulate in the first place. So, it’s not necessarily the right characteristics to copy. It’s a case of survivorship bias, you know, those are the men that are available to look at and model themselves on, because those are the only ones there.
Remington: Exactly. I think you’ve said that really well. It’s a systemic thing, and we know that the system isn’t really healthy. I mean, this is very general. But I mean, every company is different. But just there wouldn’t be serious burnout rates and difficulties that we’re finding in the workplace as well, you know, not even to mention all the assault cases and abuse cases, etc. There wouldn’t be all of that if it systemically there was a healthier environment, and, you know, the feminine qualities. There’s an imbalance there, this is at least from what I’ve picked up in the readings that I’ve done on why mindful leadership has a place in the world today and in the workplace. As you said that, a lot of our role models and leaders in leadership, and let’s not mention Donald Trump, but a lot of role models and leadership are these sort of old school, dominant male role models that we think. I thought this for a while I thought, well, if I want to be good at business, or get to the top or be a good leader, I have to somehow quell my emotions, and just be more toughen and, and bully my way through. That was internalised and then I realised after doing these practices, and studying sort of more to do with mindful leadership, I realised that’s not the case at all. In fact, if I follow that path, I mean, it’s like, that’s just adding to the problem.
Nelson: Sure, and I think politics is a fantastic example, if you look at like the US election at the moment, you have two Boomer septuagenarians going up against each other, you know? These are the people that are supposedly going to be running the country, and they’re both over 70 years old. And they’re supposed to be speaking for the rest of us who have to kind of put up with their decisions and pay the price for them potentially over the coming years. But these are the people that are at that top level, they’re the most visible people, and you’re going to kind of copy their characteristics, if you think, ‘Okay, they’ve become successful’. So it’s down to kind of the next generation of leaders to make sure that they’re different. That they can kind of create this psychological safety net, where people feel they trust that they can actually talk to their bosses, they can talk to their managers, they can talk to the people at the top about where they see things, perhaps missing the mark, where things are going wrong. Like businesses only, and people, only improve when there’s some sort of feedback; when there’s a feedback loop in place. Whether that’s qualitative feedback, somebody’s telling you, ‘I think you could have handled that situation a little bit better. I think, perhaps you should have talked to that person on their own instead of calling them out in a meeting’. Or it might be something as big as ‘I think this policy is discriminatory. Or, you know, we’re facing a risk here because we’re not listening to this subset of people’. So I think that’s all really interesting. I think we could talk for hours on this. And maybe we will at some other point, I don’t want to lose track of your mindfulness component. So I’m just going to bring it back there. I wondered within, obviously, your teachings, the kind of criteria that you’ve put forward for your curriculum. What components are the most important that we should talk about now? That we can have some takeaways in terms of, ‘Okay, these are the three or five things that come up most frequently with regards to mindfulness, either for leaders, or for individuals, like myself, like freelancers and remote workers’. What should we be focusing on?
Remington: Do you mean like mindful tips that we can include and integrate into our lives?
Nelson: Exactly? How can we turn this from something subjective? So like mindfulness as a concept, in terms of like, how it’s traditionally been thought about, and meditation as well. It can be seen by some people as quite kind of ‘pie in the sky’, a little bit ‘woowoo’, doesn’t have anything kind of concrete. How can we change people’s perceptions and turn it from something subjective into something they can actually implement in their day to day life?
Remington: Just to go back, like just a slight step, to what you were saying before, in terms of leadership, mindfulness can offer us clarity of insight. So it offers us clarity, because it can stop momentum of these storylines, these thinking patterns in our head, that sort of drive us into as the Buddhists say, into delusion, making up sort of these storylines that are not true about our present moment experience. So mindfulness is all about coming back to really the facts. There’s nothing ‘woowoo’ about it. If you think of it like, it’s actually like being a scientist, just concentrating on the facts, and not being biased towards the storylines.
Nelson: I was just wondering, Remington, could you give us an example of those storylines? The false narratives that we feed ourselves, just so people can kind of grasp what that might sound like in their own head.
Remington: Yeah, good, good point. So they can range to all different things. It’s really storylines are the strings of thought that go through your mind. Most of our storylines are to do with something in the past or something in the future. And I call that time-travelling, the mind has the ability to time travel, has the ability to go into the past and ruminate about things that have gone wrong in your life, ruminate about memories, sometimes good memories, but often, not such great stuff that we’re thinking about. And a lot of the time, the time-travelling into the future is storylines, about ‘What if? What if this goes wrong? What am I meant to do tomorrow, planning’. You know, things that haven’t come yet, situations that may not even be present. So, it’s this kind of fantasyland that we go into, to keep our minds preoccupied. It could be just as simple as ‘Tomorrow, I have to go and do this, and this and this’, and you keep thinking about the future. And it could be ‘I’m so worried about the deadline that I have at work next week, and I can’t stop thinking about it’. This is where we spend a lot of our time, we spend a lot of time in sort of these storylines around past and future events. And as I was saying, I’m not sure…does that answer the question?
Nelson: I think I think that’s, that’s perfect. Yeah.
Remington: Yeah. Okay. And so what I was saying about the present, is that the present moment is really the only moment life is ever happening in. It’s the only moment we have. And, you know, there’s some data that shows that we spend up to 50% of our time in these future and past storylines. We spend up to 50% of our day outside of our reality, which is happening right here, right now. So if you’re able to come back to the facts and come back to this very moment, there’s a psychological sensation of grounding. Of being able to center yourself in the here and now. And what psychological studies have shown is that this is a major reduction in stress, when we’re able to come back to this moment, and to be to be grounded to be centered in the here and now. It actually engages different parts of the brain when the present, it engages more prefrontal cortex, and these storylines travelling into the future in the past, engages what’s called the default mode network. And they’ve done some studies to show that when we spend time in our default mode network, we’re more prone to anxiety and depression. So it’s, I mean, I’m giving a lot of information, you know, it’s a very, very broad, very broad subject.
Nelson: I know obviously we’re going to we’re going to run through a mindfulness activity. So to give people a taste of it in a few minutes. What’s the best way that people can kind of find out about mindfulness in general, and how they can incorporate it into their lives and a few more of the benefits, that sort of thing?
Remington: To practice mindfulness and sort of to do a beginner course, there’s some really great apps available. Apps like ‘Insight Timer, Headspace, The Balance app’, and these have guided meditations. But they also have courses where you can take up a beginner’s course in mindfulness, which explains the definition behind it, it talks a little bit about some of the psychological sensations that I’ve been mentioning, and the storylines and that sort of thing. So, I’d say if you want to practice and learn download an app. And then there are some really great books as well, one book I really like is ‘Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader’ by Marc Lesser. And ‘Zen mind, beginner’s mind’ by Shunryu Suzuki, it’s is a Zen book on meditation. So, you can read up on those sort of things. Jon Kabat-Zinn is another author that has a lot of really interesting mindfulness for beginners’ books, he’s kind of the guy who brought mindfulness into the mainstream in the West. So, a bit of reading, some apps, and then a bit of YouTube. You can always find lots of stuff on YouTube, about mindfulness and meditation.
Nelson: And the main thing, just to add to that, I suppose is, when you read this sort of stuff, don’t stop there. Obviously move on to implementing it where you can and seeing where it fits into your own life. Because it’s a very practical activity, it’s not something that you can read about, and the benefits will apply. It’s something that you’ve actually got to implement in your own life, you’ve got to do the work, like anything worth having. Is the best way to kind of set aside a regular time? Is it a daily activity? Is it just when we feel particularly stressed, what do you what do you kind of advise?
Remington: Yeah, very important to set aside a period of time in a day, usually the same time each day, because the brain will get used to doing a mindfulness practice at a similar time each day. So usually in the morning, first thing, or in the evening, before you go to bed or two good periods of time to end. And I always say start with seated meditation, because it’s the least distractions. You know, you’re sitting still, you can use a guided meditation on an app. But number one, to starting a mindfulness practice is to sit still, and no distractions, you can close your eyes and just follow your breathing, be present with sounds, and just notice what’s going on in your mind. But that’s the beginning point.
Nelson: I think I like the idea of doing it before going to bed. And I don’t know about you or anybody else. But I suffer with not being able to turn my mind off. Just having lots of racing thoughts, and that might be about things that have happened that day, it might be about things that for whatever reason happened years ago, and I’m still thinking about them. It’s about everything that I’m supposed to do tomorrow, or the tasks that I’m supposed to cram in. So setting that aside in the evening. And I can see how that might lead to other benefits, like better sleep as well, and being able to drop off a little bit faster.
Remington: Yeah, I actually really like doing it at night as well, before bed. It really helps me sleep. I find in the morning my mind is very busy and it can be very difficult to sit and meditate first thing in the morning. I’m planning a lot and it’s just harder to get concentrated. But if I can add one more mindful tip to help integrate, a mindful attitude and mindfulness practice into daily living. It’s when you wake up, don’t check your phone first thing. That’ll make a really big difference because a lot of our stress gets stimulated when we check our apps and our social media. And so, a digital detox in the morning to practice mindfulness and meditation instead of checking your phone first thing that makes a huge difference. It makes a huge difference. Or even just to go for a walk in nature or do something that’s not checking the phone first thing. So that’s my other little tip I like to give.
Nelson: Nice and if people come back (because this the feedback that I probably would have given a couple of years ago, but I would have said something like ‘Yeah, but my phone has my alarm clock on’), get yourself a new alarm clock. Get a clock on Amazon or Ebay or just pop into a local shop where you can snag yourself something for a tenner. And there you go. I’ve solved your problem. It’s the same excuse I would have made once upon a time. I think that’s a great place to kind of leave our discussion. Just before we go into the mindfulness activity, I just like to ask you for those people that don’t want to take part in the activity, I would massively kind of implore you to do so I think it’s going to be really useful, but people want to tune out now that’s fine too. Where can people find out more about you?
Remington: Yeah I do have a website, currently being updated, called thedaoofnow.com. That’s sort of like my side business, which I’m currently updating and setting up on The Dao of Now. So I have my university work, you can find me on LinkedIn with my university work on the Remington Cooney. And then I have ‘The Dao of Now’, which is probably a little bit more to do with my Eastern philosophy background. And what I’m offering as a coaching, I’m going to start doing more coaching for individuals outside of the university, and an online course. And that can all be found through ‘The Dao od Now’.
Nelson: Fantastic. Well, I’m really excited for whatever you’ve got planned for us for this mindfulness activity. So over to you.
Remington: Thank you, thanks, Nelson. It’s going to be a very basic one, I think, probably be between five and 10 minutes. And it’s called ‘tuning the senses’. And in this, I just guide you slowly through the five senses that we have. So if anyone’s wondering what your five senses are: there’s the sense of touch, sense of smell, sense of taste, sense of sound and sense of sight. And those senses will always be in the present moment, your body is always in the present moment. So by coming into contact with those senses, you’re immediately doing what I was talking about earlier, which is grounding down into the here and now. So for this particular exercise, I’m going to get everyone to close their eyes. If you’re listening, close your eyes and have your feet flat on the floor. If you’re sitting in a chair, with your back straight, you know, back raised up, right. And if you’re sitting on a cushion, or if he’s sitting on the floor, just have your legs crossed with your back upright. But get comfortable now and sit in that posture, you can just place your hands gently in your lap or on your thighs, whatever is comfortable for you. And to begin with, we’re going to take three deep breaths after I ring this bell.
Remington: Allow yourself to really take some nourishing deep breaths. Following the inhale all the way in, and really following the exhale all the way to the end of the exhale. And when you finish those three deep breaths, you can just allow your breathing to move into something that’s more natural and rhythmic for your body. So, however your body wants to breathe right now, whatever the pace, whatever the rhythm is, just let your body breathe in that way. In other words, don’t try and control the breathing. Just let the inhale come in through the nose gently, and let the exhale out of the nose.
Remington: So, within every human body, there are five senses that we can engage with at any point in time. And using these senses can ground us down into the present moment, and this helps reduce our stress and our anxiety. The first sense to engage with in this meditation, and as we engage with the senses, just let the breathing be there in the background. As you breathing in, and as you breathing out, notice your sense of touch. So, notice all the points of your body that are making contact with another surface. Your feet making contact with the ground, your backside making contact with a cushion or chair, your thighs pressing against your hands. Wherever you can feel your skin pressing against something. Just bring in mindful awareness to that area. And all the while your breathing is just taking place in the background. Maybe you notice some sensations around the touch. Have your skin against the surfaces. Just observe that.
Remington: And then on your next breath, transition to your sense of smell. And as you breathe in, just notice what am I able to smell right now in this experience? Maybe there is nothing. But even if you cannot smell something, notice what that’s like as you breathe in, and as you breathe out. Can you notice the sense of smell? On your next breath in, bring your attention to your mouth and your tongue and observe if you can notice a sense of taste and what taste is in the mouth right now. Try not to judge it good or bad. Just be the observer in a neutral scientific way. All the while the inhale is deep. And the exhale is long, is taking place in the background as we observe our sense of taste.
Remington: And then on your next breath in, bring your attention out to your ears and open your ears up to all the sounds that are in your environment. So one sound that you will definitely hear is the sound of my voice. And see if your ears can receive that sound without trying to judge it; just as if the ears were like microphones absorbing the sound of my voice. And if there are other sounds in your environment, allowing your ears to receive those as well as what sounds can you know. And then on your next breath (assuming that your eyes are indeed closed), bring your attention to the to the picture behind your eye.
Remington: So you’ll notice when you look behind the eyelids, you see a darkness. But you can also see little specks of light, little specks of colour. So be the observer of these specks of light in the darkness and just notice what you can see behind closed eyes, as you breathe in, and as you breathe out. And when I ring the bell, open your eyes up. And again, pay mindful attention to whatever comes into your vision. As you open your eyes, as if you were like a baby, opening your eyes for the first time to see the world with a beginner’s mind. That’s the end of the meditation.
Nelson: Oh, well, I need to balance being the podcast host with how spacey I feel right now. So I might just take a second to get my bearings. But that was great. Thanks so much Remington. Reallt appreciate you doing that. I have to say, other than obviously, that the feelings one of the thoughts that did kind of come into my mind was ‘You’re the host of this podcast, you can’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep’. Because I was getting so relaxed, I just starting to drift off.
Remington: Yeah, that’s a definite symptom, especially if it’s early days. And if it’s early morning, which I think it might be for you, that sleepiness does arise. And also the other thing that people notice, is this a lot of thoughts when they first start meditating, they’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise I have so many thoughts’, but they’re both very normal, okay. And you can work through them
Nelson: Actually didn’t have that many thoughts. But maybe, I don’t think that’s me being advanced in mindfulness. I think that’s my brain just being like ‘No, not today’.
Remington: They’re usually two different things like you. Sleepiness and not having too many thoughts, and then the other side of it is having a lot of thoughts. But maybe you’re just an expert at this. And you didn’t even know.
Nelson: Yeah, given how I am with everything else. No, I’ve had to work pretty hard at all my other skills, so I don’t think that’s the case. But amazing. Thank you so much. Remington. I think that’s been it’s been a great episode, I hope people have learned a lot about the place of mindfulness, both for them on a personal level. And you know, if you’re a freelancer about reclaiming your day, if you’re a remote worker who’s still working full-time for somebody else, but from home, I know work life balance can be super tricky to get right. And I think mindfulness can play its part there. But also, if you’re if you’re a leader yourself, or an executive, or kind of a business owner, all of these things are going to be really, really useful. All the concepts you learn in mindfulness are going to improve your performance, but also improve how you feel about what you’re doing as well. So again, thank you so much for coming on Remington. I think that’s a fantastic place to wrap up, and we’ll say goodbye to our listeners. And we’ll see you next week.
Remington: Thanks, Nelson. Appreciate it. And Yep, Goodbye everyone who is listening. Thanks for listening.
Nelson: And that’s it for today. You’ve been listening to the ‘Working From Home’ podcast with me, Nelson Jordan. We’ve been talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of remote work. Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed the time you spent with us today. If you’d like to discuss the podcast, you want to make a new friend or you’re interested in working with me on a copywriting or digital marketing project. Then visit nelson-jordan.com. That’s nelson-jordan.com where you can also sign up to my newsletter to hear about this podcast and other exciting projects. Until next week, goodbye.