Top Meditation Techniques from Diplomatic Leaders

Photo by  Jared Rice

Photo by Jared Rice

When United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold re-opened the meditation room in the UN New York headquarters in 1957, a milestone was set. Hammerskjold recognised that world leaders needed a quiet room to bring back “the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination”.

Over the years, the global trend in meditation and mindfulness has been supported by an increasing amount of studies proving the wide range of benefits it has on health, productivity, wellbeing, and happiness. Meditation is being applied everywhere, from prisons and schools to the personal well-being of CEOs of multinational corporations. Now, it positively creeps into the realm of international diplomacy.

In our most recent historic event, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who some call the ‘godfather of modern mindfulness’, sat with representatives from Israel, Sri Lanka, and Sweden in the UK House of Commons in a meditation session targeted at enhancing awareness and tapping into their compassion. This gathering shows the reaffirmed interest of global leaders to use meditation and mindfulness techniques as a tool to foster better understanding between nations.

So, why do global leaders and diplomats meditate and use mindfulness techniques?

With conflict being the unavoidable roommate of international relations, the field of diplomacy is often stressful and high pressure. Practicing meditation has shown to have a wide range of benefits, in particular, to help reduce internal stress. Inner calm increases the possibilities for diplomats to have an open perspective, make sound judgments and de-escalate tensions during emotionally charged negotiations.

Meditation can also increase compassion and composure. In diplomacy, personal relationships are often key aspects that can determine the success of a negotiation or process. Improving these relationships through a better sense of connection to others can have significant impact on your career and the goals of your mission.

For diplomat-turned-meditation trainer Miriam Leia Bekkouche, global issues such as climate change and terrorism are mere expressions of our individual actions at scale, which are rooted in fear. As meditation has proven effects of decreasing the brain part responsible for fear, meditation can help solve the biggest world challenges. In fact, there are studies that back up the correlation between meditation and a reduction in international conflict and terrorism.

The former Mozambican President Joaquim Alberto Chissano views meditation in a similar vein. Chissano, who meditates twice a day, says that the result of implementing meditation techniques has been “political peace and balance in nature in my country”, ending the 16-year guerrilla war in 1992. Former Mozambican Defense Minister, Tobias Dai, went even further, claiming that meditation decreases levels of crime and increases economic growth.

Although the word “meditation” is often used to describe similar practices across cultures, what is considered “meditation” can include almost any practice that aims at focusing attention or teaching inner calm or compassion. This explains why the internet is overwhelmingly full of guides, trainers and concepts on the topic.

What we can be certain of is that in contrast to much of the visible and productive work we do, meditation is an invisible, reproductive practice, which makes it a very personal experience. Learning about meditation is inherently connected to the process of learning about oneself.  Finding out what style, technique and frequency of meditation suits you will require some time, but, like any craft, ex nihilo nihil fit (nothing comes from nothing).

Here are some points of departure for both your personal and professional life (see also Boyes, 2013):

Headspace app

Headspace app

(1)    Focus on breathing. An easy entry point and something that can be found across the board is that paying attention (not controlling!) to your breathing can foster introspection and calmness.

(2)    Practice Regularly. Some people still connect meditation to sitting for hours in circles with bells and incense. However, only five minutes of daily meditation can yield significant results. More than the time spent during each session, it is important that you do it regularly.

(3)    Relax. Do not worry about doing ‘it right’ or making progress. The most important thing is to start, wherever and however.

(4)    Take others on board. Whether you do it together with someone you know or listen to a meditation teacher, the experience of community will certainly help you learn and grow faster.

(5)    Innovate. At work, try implementing some techniques. For instance, opening meetings with a pause can help participants to be completely present and focus on the goal of the meeting.

If this read got you fired up on how to charge your inner flame, here are some further steps you can take.

(1)    Take a Challenge.  As one of the key aspects is to build a habit, the 21-day challenge (by either Deepak Chopra or Chad Foreman) or one of the 30-day challenges offered by others can help you through the first days and introduce you to the field.

(2)    Get mobile. As we are constantly on the go, mobile apps can help you. Although there are many freemium apps that are very good (Headspace), other free apps, such as Insight Timer, also work well, providing the feeling of worldwide community.

(3)    Share and Read. There is a plethora of inspirational people out there that will help you on your way. Using your inner voice is not something we are usually trained to do. Try it out and you will find the persons (either personally or through read) that pick you up and bring you to the next level.