‘May you be happy, may you be healthy and may your life be full of joy’Nov 21, 2019 11:40AM ● By J. Chambless
Johanna Jackson, a portfolio associate at the Greenville offices of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, is also the head of operations for the office’s Mindfulness Group, part of Morgan Stanley’s global employee initiative of mindfulness and meditation that benefits hundreds of Morgan Stanley employees around the world. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)
By Richard L. Gaw
Shortly after noon on a recent November workday, the conference room at the Greenville offices of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management is transformed from the corporate to the spiritual -- illuminated by two white battery-operated candles placed in the center of the table.
Nine employees quietly step into the room and seat themselves at the table and on the floor. They all wear the uniforms of corporate America – suits and ties and dresses and formal slacks – but one employee unfurls a purple yoga mat and curls her body into a human ball, as if she is surrendering herself to the work that is required when one goes searching for quiet – to a world of concentration, breath and stillness.
As the overhead lights are dimmed and the conference room blinds are drawn, the voice of Douglas Martin, a meditation and mindfulness teacher, is heard from New York City, just as he is heard by other Morgan Stanley representatives who have also phoned into the session from around the United States: Baltimore, East Lansing, San Diego and St. Paul.
For two one-hour sessions every month, every person in this darkened conference room is here to honor their minds, which in turn honors their value to their colleagues, their company and the clients they serve. This is a gut-check breath between meetings and phone calls; an essential inhale and exhale down the hall from a wall calendar crammed with obligations; a chapter marker placed in the continuing narrative of their career.
This is the Mindfulness Group at Morgan Stanley’s Greenville office, a global employee collective and initiative started two years ago, where practice mindfulness and meditation benefits hundreds of Morgan Stanley employees around the world – including those in Greenville, Delaware.
Class is now in session.
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When Morgan Stanley Portfolio Associate Johanna Jackson began to meditate three years ago, she immediately realized the effects and benefits of her practice were having not only in her work life but also in her personal life. She experienced a newfound sense of peace, clarity, inspiration and mindfulness, and she wanted to share those experiences with her colleagues at Morgan Stanley. Soon after getting approval to begin conducting hour-long sessions twice a month in the conference room, a colleague of Jackson’s told her that Martin had begun the Mindfulness Club out of Morgan Stanley’s Manhattan office, where he has worked for the past 8 years. In addition to his duties at Morgan Stanley, Martin, a former monk, has been teaching meditation and mindfulness for more than a dozen years in a variety of settings that include corporate, non-profit, youth and under-served communities. Soon, the Greenville office was linked to Martin’s global sessions.
“Meditation was literally changing my brain and changing me as a person, and I knew that my co-workers would benefit from meditation, because this industry can be very stressful,” Jackson said. “Forty years ago, if you were to say that you were going running, you’d likely to be hit with, ‘Why are you running? Is someone chasing you?’
“The Harvard Business Review recently wrote that mindful meditation is no longer a nice thing to have for business leaders, but a must-have for business leaders. It focuses on the company’s most precious resource, which is attention.”
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Martin welcomes everyone to the Mindfulness Club. Today’s topic is Bringing Compassion into the Workplace. He points to studies and surveys that reflect a growing trend in many Fortune 500 companies and large corporations to increased employee dissatisfaction. More and more, he says, employees feel disengaged and underappreciated, and are having difficulty adapting to their roles in such stressful work environments.
“These things spill into the workplace, and can affect an entire team,” Martin says. “More and more, however, companies are recognizing the positive effects of compassion in the workplace – the recognition that we are a whole being coming to work every day, and that our world impacts our effectiveness to the team and the workplace. By showing compassion and loyalty, it creates an atmosphere of safety, learning, collaboration and innovation.
“If we’re feeling appreciated as workers in our workplace, and its translated into learning, collaboration and innovation, then that impacts the bottom line of any organization,” he said. “It allows everyone to find solutions, together.”
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For many companies like Morgan Stanley, incorporating mindfulness meditation into the workplace is far more than an excuse to give their employees a brief recess from work a few times a month – it has become a healthy and essential part of its business – and one that works to reverse modern trends. In study after study of business environments, job stress in the workplace has skyrocketed in the last few decades, with little sign of slowing down. In a report issued by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it found that of those who participated in the study, 40 percent of respondents said that their job was extremely stressful; 75 percent said that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago; and 25 percent view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.
At its core, the increased movement by businesses and corporations to meld mindfulness meditation into the workplace is best summed up by the words spoken by Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist meditation teacher and writer, who said, “It’s hard to give from a source of depletion.”
Morgan Stanley joins a rising roster of companies that have adopted mindfulness meditation, which include Aetna, Apple, Blackrock, Facebook, General Mills, Google, Intel and LinkedIn. The footprint of Morgan Stanley’s Mindfulness Club is also a global one, and includes participation from offices throughout the U.S., and in Bangalore, Budapest, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Kowloon, London, Mexico City, Montreal, Moscow, Mumbai, Glasgow, Paris, Tokyo and Toronto.
“There’s something special when we take a pause and meditate together,” Jackson said. “It makes a large firm feel smaller and more connected, and it’s in that stillness where you create space to allow peace, clarity, inspiration and ideas to come in, which in turns makes us better contributors to our teams.”
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Martin engages his audience in mindfulness and meditation – “Cohesion Practice,” he calls it -- that includes breathing exercises meant to “synchronize our body and our mind.” He encourages everyone to remove their cell phones, disconnect from computers at their work stations. It is their time, Martin says. The only light in the room is from the two candles, and a shade of office lighting from an outside hallway that permeates the drawn blinds.
“Here we are in the middle of the day, November seventh, 2019, and your job right now is simply to be present with yourself, for yourself,” Martin says. “There is no role that you have to play right now. There is no problem that you have to solve. There is no issue to mitigate. There is just the next few minutes, and that is enough.
“How does your body feel now? Does it feel nervous? Does it feel sleepy? Can you make contact with it, without putting a story about it, or making judgments about your body? Can you make a small adjustment in your posture to relieve the tension to become more relaxed and awake?”
Martin tells the Mindfulness Club to pay attention to everyone’s in breath and out breath. For 25 uninterrupted minutes, every one of the 9 Morgan Stanley employees are completely still, measuring their breaths in a collective rhythm.
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In many ways, the journey that led Jackson to become the head of operations for the Greenville office’s Mindfulness Club is one of preordained destiny. In addition to her responsibilities at Morgan Stanley, she is a Registered Corporate Coach™ through the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches™, a meditation coach and writes a blog about mindfulness and spirituality (www.johannagbjackson.com).
“I always tell people that if they think they are operating here at a high level, that after they start to meditate they will start to operate at an even higher level,” she said. “The brain is trainable. It’s the same brain that I use at Morgan Stanley, and the same brain I use to be a mother to my daughter Grace, and I tell people that if you can help guide your brain, there is so much more than you can do with your approach to business, and to your life, as well.
“It’s easy to be a meditation man on a mountain, but it’s actually more rewarding to be one in the office. I like to say that I think like the owner of a business. The firm encourages all of us to think like we’re owners, and when I see something that is beneficial to the greater good, then I want to share that. I could not have done this without our management’s support and encouragement. I told them, ‘This is what I want to do, and this is why I want to do it.’”
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During the “Kindness Meditation,” Martin asks everyone to imagine four people: a person they love, someone they know only peripherally, someone with whom they may be having difficulties with at work, and themselves. He asks his audience to conjure up all four in their mind’s eye, one by one, and then to internally tell each of them, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May your life be full of joy.”
Within the span of a few minutes, Martin has signed off at the end of another Mindfulness Club session, the lights in the conference room are turned back on, the blinds are lifted again, and nine members of the Greenville office of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management return to work, each nourished and renewed in mind, spirit and body, each inspired by compassion, and each radiating goodwill.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].