Last Wednesday I went to Parliament to hear Arianna Huffington speak about her new book, Thrive. I loved that we all had to go through high security, each item electrically sniffed and to make sure my mascara wasn't a weapon, to hear a talk on mindfulness. We were led through underground passages past medieval banqueting halls, past the main lobby dripping with gold, spires and stained glass Saints, (so relaxing). Finally we found the room where she was speaking; a mini version of Hogwart's dinning room; mahogany coffin walls, a serious top table looming over the pews where all the honoured guests faced each other. I was put next to Arianna (on the top table, thrilled to my core.) I thought to myself, "Ruby - pretend they haven't made a mistake with the seating". I felt like I was playing Maggie Smith about to give a lesson in wand work.
Arianna was sensational, she spoke with elegance, clarity and passion to what seemed like a roomful of stiff pin-stripped suits, though as soon as she began, their grey faces melted away, suddenly filled with blood and were transformed back to breathing human beings. Everyone was on the same page when she said, in this culture, we wear our burnout like a badge of honour; as if it's a great achievement to work 12 hours a day, on two hours sleep and then jog at 3 a.m. She said there is no such thing as work/life balance - there is only life.
My thoughts are we're only made of flesh and bone, not steel and pushing ourselves beyond all limits, you inevitably have to crash and burn. Even those who seem like they're succeeding on high octane, believe me, I've noticed with many there's a leak somewhere; maybe their kids are addicts, the wife is on meds or they've got a stroke in the making. I've seen it so many times: time will take its toll.
She spoke so articulately about the science behind the practice of mindfulness, that it isn't something fluffy but has actual physiological evidence observable in various types of brain scanners. When you practice watching your thoughts and feelings even for a few days, the cortisol decreases, which is the culprit for many problems If left on too long it won't just burn you out but can contribute to heart disease, diabetes 2, certain cancers, mental illness, memory loss and will ultimately bring down your immune system, breaking down your resistance to any disease that may be passing by. I was only a few inches away from her so I picked up she was totally at ease in her skin, no sense of anxiety, knew exactly what she wanted to communicate and was embedded in the present. If you're near someone who has a focus but is present, you pick it up and that in turn makes you present; your head gets clearer and you notice more in the 'moment'. This state then spreads from person to person like a virus. We naturally work as a social group not as individuals. This is one of the main points of mindfulness - that it isn't just about regulating your own thoughts and feelings but to use that clarity to communicate to the next person; it has a ripple effect. I call it neural wi-fi. If your mind is at ease it affects the next person which affects the room, then the neighbourhood, the town, the country and eventually the world. If each of us can hold back their trigger finger before impulsively reacting in anger it would benefit all mankind.
She said, if you introduce mindfulness in schools or at work, people sometimes ask, "What's the point of this?" You can tell them you'll get you higher grades or become more successful at business because you can stay calm in the storm. It's alright if you practice for those reasons but eventually, without being aware, you'll realise that you are much more than your job or your grades or your success. That there is a life that needs to be enriched and paid attention to and that makes life worth living.
Follow Ruby Wax on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RubyWax