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Ho Ren Yung: Mindfulness and empathy in this day and age

The VP of Brand HQ of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts raises a salient issue for The Peak's Next Gen Takeover.

The Peak’s Next Gen personalities take over to share personal stories close to their hearts – get to know all nine of them here.

 

Every year on my birthday, I walk up a mountain. The darkness before dawn. Steps taking me to a peak that, in memory, mark certain points in my life, like tattoos. One such memory was of the wind-whipped sunrise on Beginning-to-Believe Peak in Huangshan. Another, the blue ocean of the Maldives where I shared an “intimate conversation”and prolonged gaze with a wild dolphin, clearly the head of its pod and infinitely curious about this creature (me) from another land.

Yet another was becoming a mother last year. Just before our son Rei was born, a friend asked me to close my eyes and articulate in my heart a wish for my unborn child. A moment of wondrous surrender, treading the line of “out there” and “in here” with visceral, incomplete and yet wholly embodied knowledge. What gifts did I wish for this fresh new being in a world that is increasingly both known and unknown? Simply, I wished for Rei to see the world as a beautiful place.

Why? A colleague recently shared a page of her son’s exercise book in which he responds to a question in class: “Is the world a peaceful place?” He writes in achingly sweet eight year- old articulation: No, because Australia has forest fires, Indonesia has flood kill over 60 people, China hit by mystery virus, Iran and US are fighting, Philipians (sic) volcano eruptions. How then do we strive for peace in an overwhelming world, create a safe harbour for our young ones, hold a space for our own inner voices, and demand sustainability from our systems?

(Related: Travelling in Bhutan: a balm for the harried soul)

I begin with moments. Placing Rei on his back on sunlit patches of earth, his eyes squinting against the blue above. Now that he’s walking, we wonder together over his found saga seeds, stones, and pieces of wood in the forest behind where we live. Collecting them like precious totems, which I hope with tether him to a love for nature that grows as he rolls downhill into a world needing love. We protect what we love.

Moments flow into movements. One movement is for sustainability to start “in here”. The narrative is “out there” with an overwhelming number of disasters around climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as an incomprehensible number of people whose lives will be at a perilous edge if we do not change. Changing the sustainability conversation to one that begins “in here” means cultivating love for what we seek to protect, celebrating nature, and creating connection and empathy for others beyond our own web.

The mindfulness movement has tremendous potential for being a practice that leads to enhanced sustainable behaviour. Much of the new surge is framed against promises of productivity, personal calm, and self betterment. This is in the context of an almost epidemic level of loneliness, depression and anxiety in the last five years. It is clear that now more than ever before we need a compass to navigate the “in here” against the chaos of “out there”. And yet, in the desire for this illusion of control, we may be putting up more barriers than ever.

(Related: Krystal Tan: Breaking the pattern of what you thought you know)

I am often asked how to start a mindful movement, whether in one’s daily schedule, personal orbit of family and friends, or in an organisational rhythm. As leaders at every level, the answer is the same. Start with a moment. Start with yourself and then find people to share these moments with. This might be a moment with a friend, of taking a minute to arrive before having that coffee. A moment for yourself at the end of the day for gratitude. A moment with your team members after a huddle for appreciation.

One year ago, my mindful practice was sitting alone. Today, I start every morning by sitting with a friend. Sundays are Grass Days with our toddler son, often in nature, luxuriating in the silence of open awareness. I have spent a week in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) teacher training with three team members first, and then facilitated a senior management session practice with 30, many of whom were entirely new to this.

We are sparking mindful practice in the service culture and mindset development of our 11,000 associates globally, and have engaged with a university to conduct a research study on the effects of mindfulness in hospitality – an industry where the product value is in the interaction between two human beings. We are also creating programmes for our guests to incorporate mindful aspects into nutrition, sleep, breath work and water therapy, as well as putting into place Well-being Wednesdays as a corporate policy. And we are articulating the greater good in our clarion call as corporate citizens because we believe there needs to be a paradigm shift in the discussion of what makes Good Business.

We belong to this earth; it does not belong to us. Mindfulness reminds us that we belong to each other. After reading this, dare to open your heart for a pause, close your eyes for a moment and envision your own sunlit patch of earth. Start now.

(Related: [Video] The Peak Next Gen Takeover: Get to know our guest columnists)