I have recently been thinking about Acem and its wider responsibilities. An idealistic organisation that aims to work with people to help them deal with the stresses of the modern world is a very important thing to me. When people come to beginners courses in London it seems to me that whilst they have many varied motivations that they usually fall into the category of some form of stress. There are typically between 5 and 10 people on a beginners course (although one ran with 17 recently) and these people I hope walk away at the very least with a thought or insight into how they may react differently to the stresses they encounter in their lives. One of the things I like about being part of Acem is then the care that is given to following up, providing opportunity to refresh, talk and explore the possibilities of the technique. But beyone this what is our wider responsibility is a question I have many thoughts on, and some I would like to share.
One of the key ways in which things seem to be right now is that in modern business organisations people often don’t feel ‘real’. They feel that they work because they have to and that in some ways have resentment about the expectations that are put on them. This is my experience of working within a big organisation. Somehow the bottom line, the £££, are the primary purpose of an organisation and the need to understand and treat employees like people with varied experiences and reactions is lost or diluted.
So what has this to do with Acem? Is this not just the way it is – a world where people are becoming more like ‘work-units’ and less like people? Well yes, there is of course an inevitability to this but I was taken by something that Oxfam stated once. That “lots of small things done by lots of small people can change the world” and I believe this to be true. So when it came to purchasing chairs for the new flat in London, I wondered what could Acem say with this small act? Outside of the suitability of the chair for meditation, it would seem to me that it would be wrong if the only other criteria was the price. As markets become very competitive, price is king. But what do very cheap products mean for the stress levels of those who work in such organisations? I believe we should in Acem do our research such that we should aim to balance our transations such that we maximise our business with organisations that promote well-being amongst their employees. Easier said than done of course, but the internet holds many such comparison web-sites that allow various factors to be taken into account. Take ‘ethical consumer’ as an example. With organisations such as The Co-operative and the John Lewis partnership have well know high ethical standards it is increasingly easy to find them.
I observed a conversation recently at a meeting I went to, no-one knew each other and so the early conversations drifted towards ‘what do you do then?’ and one guy there said he worked for John Lewis. To which the lady asking the question said ‘Oh, I do my shopping there.’ To which the John Lewis employee said, ‘We hope you like what we do.’ He beemed with pride and it was clear he loved working. They connected and chatted, but what I liked was that he used the term “We”, clearly refering to him and his organisation.
Maybe I digress, but my point is that whilst we can have big impacts on small numbers of people through our courses, we can have smaller impacts on many more by supporting organisations that align with our ethics. When setting up the energy suppliers for the flat in london I moved them away from the big energy giants to the smaller energy supplier, Eco-Tricity, they promote the generation of sustainable energy something we will all need if we are to live in harmony with each other. For dependency on fossil fuel energy does not impact the Uk directly at the moment but areas of the world are changing radically causing stress, anxiety and unhappiness for many.
This is of course a simplification of a very complex and big subject, but I come back to the fact that Lots of Small Actions by Lots of Small People will Change the World and we have to start somewhere
Interesting article, Nick. It reminds me that Acem has had some involvement with such activities outside meditation, such as helping the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and much earlier than that, organising meetings for the Dalai Lama and probably, implicitly supporting what he stands for. Doing business with ethical organisations would be a step in the same direction.
It also makes one wonder what shape Acem may take, say, 200 years from now. Would there be more emphasis on an ethical value system and on particular lifestyle choices? I suppose that life outside the daily hour of meditation may be lived in a way that facilitates that hour of meditation, or obstructs the manifestation of its potentialities. At present, as compared to many other meditation organisations, we provide less in terms of guidelines about the values a meditator should have, and that is perhaps good, because several people may find it difficult to relate to what they may see as ‘moralising’. In a couple of centuries from now, things may be very different.
I agree with both of you that Acem and meditation are about individuals finding good ways to cope with the various challenges in their lives, not just the £££ or $$$ or €€€.
But I also think one of the good things about an organisation like Acem is that it leaves basic decisions about values and ethics to the individual. You may profit from this kind of “neutral” meditation on a deep level whether you are religious or agnostic or atheist, and whether you believe in being “ethical consumers” or not. Certainly I agree that some ethical choices may be more conducive to meditative growth than others, but I don’t think there’s one solution. Not now, and probably not 200 years ahead.
Indeed, ethical living can be so much.
Regrettably, to me there seems to be a certain amount of unfounded idealism in some of these supposedly eco-friendly undetakings. I read a critical artical about fair trade a couple of years ago, and I felt hopeless afterwards. All of my illusions were shattered.
As a consequent of this article and many other experiences I have had, I consider myself an agnostic or even an atheist in relation to some of the more fervent environmentalism.
Human history is a long line of grave mistakes. Hardly anyone of them commited by people of ill-will. Even the Soviet Union was founded by people with good intentions.
In the West now I find it to be a reoccuring tendency towards moral hysteria. Not just with regard to the environment. Take paedofilia fx. It’s simply too much of the medias and the politicians ‘concern’ for this problem. There seems to be a streak of witch-hunt to it. It seems to be motivated by this belief that we can root out human flaws and wrong doings.
Or what about this: In Norway, the Socialistic Left-Party, which makes up part of the government, has just acknowledged that it is impossible to ‘root out poverty’, ‘but we will never stop trying’, the party leader added (as long as this party was a part of the opposision, getting rid of poverty was one of their main targets).
To my mind, this is not what I would call an indication of a free mental attitude. It is like saying: I will never become perfect, still I will never stop trying. Surely, being tolerant has something to do with being able to live among human imperfection with some grace.