Career & Professional
Improved Social Consciousness
Social Consciousness: How Sahaja Meditation’s Thoughtless Awareness Helps Corporate Managers Develop a Social Conscience
- Personal values, emotional traits and cognitive reasoning drive each manager’s perception of the company’s CSR, as well as willingness to integrate CSR into day-to-day decisions
- Thoughtless awareness evokes significant changes in 3 critical dimensions of social consciousness: cognitive capacities, emotional capacities and personal values
- Deep introspection and Sahaja meditation techniques can shift managers’ psychological traits, personal values, and “guiding principles” towards higher social consciousness
- Sahaja meditation more strongly influences CSR development than executive CSR education programs or relaxation yoga
- In relieving occupational stress, meditation reduces the likelihood of “tunnel vision”
- Sahaja meditation shifted decision-making priorities; increasing the likelihood of doing good, rather than just doing no harm
These days, the news is full of stories about organizations who betrayed the public trust… Wall Street bankers, oil spills in the Gulf, toy manufacturers who make toxic — potentially lethal — lead-tainted toys. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an influential buzz phrase. For some organizations, it can even become a survival tool.
Business models are shifting. Business plans that once focused primarily on sales and marketing are adjusting their strategies to emphasize relationship building and relationship management with the hope that sales and revenue will naturally follow. Executives are told that demonstrating concern for the environment, human rights, community development and the welfare of their employees will make their firms more profitable. But shouldn’t social responsibility be more than a profit-driven public relations gambit? Shouldn’t organizations expend some effort developing an actual social conscience?
What’s the best strategy for developing a socially responsible corporate culture? In reality, most organizations find that they can only accomplish so much through broad initiatives such as codes of ethics or specialized CSR departments. If managers are to recognize the full impact of their actions on society and embrace a full spectrum of values — economic, environmental and social — the personal traits associated with social consciousness must be developed within each manager. Corporate social responsibility, in the end, is a conglomerate of many decisions — individual managers “doing the right thing,” one decision at a time.
Turns out, traditional executive education approaches often fail to enhance social consciousness. One large 3-year UK corporate responsibility research project studied the impact of Sahaja meditation’s state of thoughtless awareness on decisionmaking (Zollo, M., Berchicci, V., 2007). The project, which involved 21 European and North American multinational companies in 8 different industries, including pharmaceuticals, high-tech IT and natural resources, explored the use of introspection-meditation as a training tool for improving social consciousness in managers.
The study compared the impact of Sahaja meditation’s thoughtless awareness, traditional executive education training, and Hatha Yoga on managers’ personal values systems, emotional balance and decision-making patterns — attributes all associated with corporate social responsibility and higher social consciousness. (Hatha Yoga, which was designed to be the control group, is based on postures and relaxation exercises, rather than the deeper introspection and meditation practices of Sahaja meditation.)
The 6-week Sahaja introspection-meditation coaching program included 2 weekly 45-minute sessions at the office with recommended daily practice at home. Sessions focused on developing the psychological characteristics and personal values conducive to socially responsible behavior, but without explicitly mentioning CSR concepts, or that the goal was to improve social responsibility. Personal values, emotional traits and cognitive reasoning are known to drive each individual’s perception of the company’s collective social responsibility, as well as the individual’s willingness and ability to integrate CSR into day-to-day decisions.
Thoughtless awareness was found to evoke significant changes in the three critical dimensions of social consciousness: cognitive capacities, emotional capacities and personal values in the following ways:
- Decision-making criteria (e.g., higher priority was given to environmental impact vs. productivity; higher priority was given to impact on external vs. internal audiences)
- Personal values (e.g., “unity with nature” became a higher priority than “preserving public image”)
- Emotional traits (e.g, higher levels of happiness, inspiration and courage)
- Overall psychological health (e.g., increased frequency of calmness and determination)
- Perceptions of corporate culture (e.g., more inclined toward consensus-oriented decision-making and cooperative conflict resolution).
A Shift in Priorities
Managers were confronted with decision dilemmas to assess the degree to which their personal psychological profiles influenced their daytoday decisions and actions. Three different perspectives of socially responsible behavior were analyzed:
- Do good
- Do no harm
- Social responsibility integrated into daily decisions
After Sahaja meditation training, the likelihood of choosing a do good scenario for making decisions increased and the likelihood of choosing a do no harm scenario decreased.
For example, participants were more likely to choose a do-good, social volunteering program for employees over increasing productivity.
Why did their responses change after meditation training? Because their motives and rationale changed. When asked why they made the decisions they did, their reasons were scored as follows:
- because it enhances and protects company economic results: strong decrease
- because it shows compassion and caring: strong increase
- because it is culturally acceptable: minor increase
- because it serves my interests: minor decrease
- because it enhances and protects corporate reputation: insignificant decrease
- because it is morally right: remained the same
- because it meets legal requirements: minor decrease
- because it violates an unwritten contract: insignificant increase
When forced to make trade-offs in decisions, the Sahaja meditation group also showed significant positive shifts toward giving higher priority to social and environmental impact in decisions that forced them to compare.
- social welfare vs. economic profit
- productivity vs. protection of natural environment
- satisfying external audiences vs. internal audiences.
The decisionmaking criteria that these managers used to justify socially responsible initiatives shifted from broad selfinterest (e.g., firm profit, reputation, personal interests) to compassionate and ethical criteria (e.g., concerns about breaching an implicit social contract).
Positive Emotions, Overall Happiness and Well-Being
Emotions associated with social responsibility (such as, empathy, expressions of concern, and moral emotions such as guilt and shame) shifted dramatically:
- Sadness: very strongly decreased
- Fatigue (feeling tired): very strongly decreased
- Feeling upset: very strongly decreased
- Feeling nervous: very strongly decreased
- Feeling inspired: increased significantly
- Happiness: very strongly increased
- Anger: very strongly decreased
- Fearlessness (courage): very strongly increased
- Lack of authenticity (feeling disguised at work): decreased significantly
- Dissatisfaction with self: decreased significantly
In other words, meditation stimulated positive mental and physical changes and enhanced the participating managers’ sense of overall well-being.
Happiness, self-confidence, inspiration, and feelings of authenticity increased. Anger, self-dissatisfaction, nervousness and sadness decreased. And perhaps most importantly, the overall stress and anxiety level of the Sahaja meditators showed a strong decrease (as measured by the STAI index or State-Trait Anxiety Inventory).
Guiding Principles and Self-Transcendence
Participants assessed the degree to which they considered certain qualities and aspirations to be “guiding principles” in their lives (such as, gratification of desires, personal wealth, social justice, mature love, meaning in life, etc.). You might expect that limited meditation coaching (9-hours of in-house sessions over 6 weeks) wouldn’t yield deep personal values shifts. But the results showed something different…
Sahaja meditation coaching stimulated growth toward self-transcendence, which includes behaviors such as striving for self-improvement, increased openness to change, and developing a broader, more evolved sense of self.
Enhanced qualities included, for example:
- Inner harmony: increased significantly
- Unity with nature: strongly increased
- Wisdom: increased significantly
- A world of beauty: strongly increased
- Preservation of public image (lack of detachment, superficiality): strongly decreased
- Responsiblity: increased
How Did Executive Education Compare to Meditation Coaching?
In a word, surprisingly: badly. Participants in the training group were assessed after attending a standard oneday, full-immersion, executive education program designed to increase corporate social responsibility. The results were surprising…
Participants actually showed an increased likelihood of making decisions that would violate do no harm principles in both product liability (e.g., selling products that aren’t fully tested) and process liability (e.g., outsourcing decisions) scenarios. As for the do good scenarios, results for the product scenario (selling unprofitable drugs to Africa) actually showed a negative change and the process scenario (volunteering vs. productivity) was only marginally positive.
These broad results convinced researchers that formally comparing all dimensions of this group’s psychological traits (motives, emotions, values, etc.) to the Hatha Yoga control group and Sahaja meditation-trained group would be pointless, so no further drill-down assessments were conducted on the training group.
Is Any Meditation Better than No Meditation at All?
Hatha Yoga-trained group was intended to be the control group, and as such, wasn’t expected to produce deep changes in traits, values or decisionmaking patterns. But it also acted as a placebo to the Sahaja YoMeditation-based training since the two names are similar; that is, the two “yoga” programs would likely seem indistinguishable to participants. Also, the Hatha Yoga group would have the perception that they were part of a scientific study, rather than being aware that they were the control/placebo group.
However, albeit to a lesser degree than Sahaja meditation, Hatha Yoga did appear to create positive emotional shifts, such as greater happiness, stronger inspiration and more courage, though shifts in empathy were much lower. There was a significant decision-making shift in prioritizing by ethics vs. economic profit and a minor shift to protect the environment at the expense of productivity. The importance of social justice as a guiding principle increased more for the Hatha Yoga group than the Sahaja meditation group; “mature love” increased equally. The motive “because it is morally right” increased more for the Hatha Yoga group.
How should the results be interpreted? Hatha Yoga training apparently did have a positive impact on social consciousness, even if only through placebo effect, even if not as powerful or as lasting an impact as the that of the Sahaja meditation training. The real takeaway here is that the two unorthodox training approaches had a much more positive impact on developing socially responsible behavior than the traditional executive education training approach.
Even the presumed placebo intervention, the Hatha Yoga training, was shown to be more likely to stimulate socially responsible behavior (particularly of the do no harm kind). So, as any physician or researcher would tell you, even a “sugar pill” can have its own healing power.
Overall, however, the Sahaja meditation based approach was found to be the industrial strength solution; it had a more significant and more diverse impact across the board.
Why Does Thoughtless Awareness Improve Social Responsibility?
Researchers concluded that the results showed that deep consciousness development processes (in this case, the technique of Sahaja meditation’s thoughtless awareness) are likely to have a deeper impact on social consciousness.
They found that a training approach based on the practice of deep introspection and meditation techniques, without any mention of CSR concepts or cases, can succeed in shifting psychological traits and personal values towards higher social consciousness, which increases the odds that socially responsible behavior will emerge spontaneously and diffusely throughout the organization on a day-to-day basis.
The words consciousness and awareness are often used interchangeably, but they are fundamentally different states, particularly within the context of social responsibility. Awareness arises from vigilance — what we pay attention to — and it progresses to behavior through deliberate action. But behaviors can arise from consciousness without thought or deliberation; that is, unconsciously or subconsciously.
And sure, classic classroom education allows people to memorize answers to questions about why social consciousness matters, but actually translating those ideas into socially responsible behavior requires a lot more than from us than simply “knowing the right answers.” It requires changing deeply rooted psychological mechanisms and individual decisionmaking heuristics — our usual mental shortcuts may not lead us to the right outcome. We must reevaluate our guiding principles and the decision-making criteria we instinctively apply when we have to make difficult trade-offs. Deeper self-knowledge and a commitment to change the thought process behind our behaviors helps us achieve change. This is essentially what clinical psychology and psychotherapy might be expected to accomplish.
But introspection is essentially a deliberate cognitive effort. Meditation is not. It is, in essence, the antithesis of deliberate cognitive effort. In the thoughtless awareness state, one experiences a metacognitive shift where thoughts, feelings and actions can be observed from a detached witnessing awareness that can lead us to better, more conscientious solutions. Integrating routine sessions of thoughtless awareness with normal mental and physical activity can help us develop a deep understanding of our own emotional traits and cognitive biases.
Something else: regular meditation appears to trigger neuroplastic effects. Because the brain, over time, can redesign its own circuitry, significant, lasting change is possible. The mechanisms behind these changes involve activation of the limbic (emotional) regions associated with longterm effects on emotional stability (e.g., fewer mood swings), along with greater social responsibility-associated feelings, such as compassion, concern and empathy (Aftanas, et al, 2002; 2005).
Meditation may also increase the likelihood of socially responsible behavior by relieving occupational stress.
In addition to placebo effect, another explanation for the positive Hatha Yoga results is that Hatha Yoga, like Sahaja meditation, may help relieve stress, which reduces the likelihood that we’ll make decisions with “tunnel vision.” Tunnel vision, in turn, greatly reduces the odds of making socially responsible decisions.
High occupational stress levels foster tunnel vision by making us more likely to:
- Focus on satisfying short-term needs and reach for long-term solutions;
- Narrow our search for solutions to known territory and habits, which reduces the odds of finding innovative solutions, especially in the context of ethical dilemmas or decisional tradeoffs where the goal is to make socially responsible changes.
- Seek immediate satisfaction of our own self-interests rather than considering the interests of societal counterparts with whom we have no direct interaction or interest. This is, in essence, the psychological predisposition for behaving in a socially responsible manner. If we fail to see the interests of society as relevant to our decision-making process, no corporate code of conduct, value statement or educational training program will influence our decisions.
For an in-depth look at how Sahaja meditation reduces occupational stress, see Occupational stress, depression and Anxiety: Sahaja Meditation Relieves Occupational Stress, Depression and Anxiety.
In 21st Century corporate America, meditation may have a place as an instrument for change as more corporations recognize the impact of their decisions and actions on what author John Elkington referred to as the Triple Bottom Line: People, planet, and profit.
Not only do responsible, sustainable and transparent business practices help build a sterling corporate brand and reputation, they help strengthen the community and therefore the marketplace — in other words, a sustainable, profitable future for all.
Aftanas, L.I., Varlamov, A.A., Pavlov, S.V., et al., Affective Picture Processing: Event-Related Synchronization within Individually Defined Human Theta Band Is Modulated by Valence Dimension, Neurosci. Lett., 2002, vol. 303, p. 115
Aftanas L., Golosheykin, S. (2005) Impact of regular meditation practice on EEG activity at rest and during evoked negative emotions. International Journal of Neuroscience 115: 893-909
Zollo, M., Berchicci, V., et al. RESPONSE: Understanding and Responding to Societal Demands on Corporate Responsibility. 2007.