Waxing lyrical

I went to see Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell at the RSA event “How to tame your mind” just recently. The title of the event alluded to the general concept of “mindfulness”, which I’ve studied and practised over the years in order to be better at my job as a business consultant and musician.  The event was particularly targeted towards the use of mindfulness to address issues of mental health, especially depression, a topic which is becoming a bigger issue in 21st Century society, just when we seem to be moving towards a position of conquering many of the world’s most limiting diseases.  Some years back I met Professor Susan Greenfield who spoke convincingly on the part which neuroscience may play in dealing with depression in the 21st Century.  It turns out that Ruby and Susan are acquainted.  Small world, as I am connected to Susan via Professor Trevor Jones, who I had the great privilege to work for at the Wellcome Foundation, a truly great company that gave space to people to learn, grow and love their work long before we invented ‘three letter acronyms’ such as CSR, EFS, CBT, NLP and so on.  Perhaps this example comes from an age that time has forgotten.

Firstly some statistics:

  • One in four people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives.
  • The NHS spends more tackling the problem than cardiovascular disease and cancer combined.
  • The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease.
  • There is absolutely no doubt that mental ill health will happen either to us, or someone we love – so why on earth are we still so afraid to open up and talk about it?

Here’s some things to do regarding mindfulness:

  1. Find some time every day to ‘put distance’ between you and ‘your conversation with yourself’.  It’s what NLP masters call ‘3rd position’ or detachment.  It’s what my MBA students would call ‘being a reflective practitioner’.
  2. We are confounded by our ‘busyiness in business’.  Being busy feels good and it gives us no time to think.  Yet, a mindful approach to business may help us focus on the things that bring us success, fulfilment and so on.  Our lives are full of distractions – social media, smart phones, security codes and so on – it’s what I called ‘thin-slicing’ in my question to Alastair and Ruby.  More that ever we need time to focus on what matters most.
  3. Whilst it’s good to think, the real killer is rumination.  This is where we spend ours focusing and reviewing our mistakes / foibles etc.  If something goes wrong in life, review it, learn from it and move on.  My wife has this down to a tee on the odd occasions when things go wrong in business and I commence the cycle of endless analysis.  I am firmly but politely told to shut up and move on! 🙂
  4. The ‘myth of happiness’ as outlined by the book “The Secret” is debunked in a hilarious way by Wax in her book, yet the fundamentals are simple.  Find something to do that aligns with your skills, beliefs and values.  Or, in the words of George Michael “Enjoy What You Do”.  Easy to say, harder to do, although I guess I’ve had a pretty good go at this in my career.  I’ll be writing more happiness and work in a few weeks time.

Here’s the full video of the event, including the question I asked about ‘thin slicing’ our lives around 36 minutes in:

Those of you that know me will be aware that I juggle all sorts of things into a 24 hour period and tend to live live as fully as it is possible.  As a musician I also know the value of solitude and focus – a side of me that is less well known.  It’s important to have some kind of anchor to the ground if you live a pressured life and I have found some ways to attend to the mindfulness that Ruby and Alastair mention.  There are always many more ways to learn and I recommend their books.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 21.58.46

I met Ruby and Alastair at the end of the session.  I presented Ruby with a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and Alastair with a copy of “The Music of Business“, books which feature material on getting relationships right and the related ideas of flow and emotional intelligence.


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

6 responses to “Waxing lyrical

  1. Excellent write-up. It’s a shame that organisations are completely at lost about mindfulness, and we as society need to start talking about these issues that would possibly cost lives and chaos in an already fragile communities/organisations.

    Company’s are not concerned about this issue, and employees are scared of being tagged to have or talk about them. It’s a serious issue with worrying statistics as you have already stated in your article.

    God help us all!


  2. Reblogged this on NowChangeYourLife and commented:
    I was diagnosed, eventually, as Bipolar some eight years ago. I also studied and practiced mindfulness as a Buddhist monk in India and Thailand. As to mental illness one of the things that has helped me tremendously is the number of famous people that have “come out” regarding their mental health. I have blogged about this and I will write more. Watch this space.


  3. Peter,

    In this piece you have really touched on some tenets that are fundamental to my life, and I would say a reason why we made a profound connection from an early and chance encounter.

    Simply speaking, music saved my life. Two and a-half years ago I lost my oldest son and my husband within six months of each other. There were all kinds of problems in my household stemming from my younger son’s relationship which was a very unfortunate one, although it produced two lovely little boys who are my grandsons.

    My son Ben proceeded to try to off himself in front of me, and that very same day a local police officer dragged me up a sidewalk and across the street right in front of my 6-year old grandson because I crossed at a legal intersection which he did not approve of.

    I’m happy to say I handled both those situations well. I left the house and called the police to take my son to the hospital, and since one of the drugs he ingested was neurontin it’s good I didn’t waste any time. I left because I knew if he saw me calling he would have assaulted me and taken the phone; the meds he downed were his prescription medications for drug rehabilitation.

    I stood the officer down, a strapping 6’2″ 200+lb. man, telling him I wouldn’t give him my driver’s license because I wasn’t driving and he had no right to give me a ticket because the crossing’s a legal intersection and there is no enabling law authorizing a violation.

    I do regret my grandson had to see this. I know it frightened him, but it was totally unintentional on my part.

    Those days seem so far away; as we Americans say, there’s been a lot of water over the dam since then. Things are much calmer. But the point of all this is, I had a huge, tremendous, unbearable amount of stress and I had to find a way to reduce it. Like many people who thrive on stress, it is sometimes hard to know when we have too much. And the way I found I could physically and palpably reduce it was to drive somewhere and play loud music. So loud I could feel the seat belt vibrate. Audioslave, Queens of the Stone Age, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Vai and his pals, and so forth.

    Yesterday I heard a very interesting program on public radio about “de-evolution.” The author is Daniel Lieberman and he has a new book, The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. His theory is we have created new diseases by our environment and our lifestyle habits, including diet. And chief among these is mental illness.

    I think anyone who is over-stressed is flirting with mental illness, and coping mechanisms are something we need to study and teach for a healthy society. Music in an answer for me.


    • I think music can induce a state of meditation, even if it is an ‘active trance’ when very loud. It therefore acts in similar ways to what we think of more meditative approaches. Ruby alluded to this at the talk by pointing out that whatever works, works.

      Bless you Mary – you have had a really hard time but it’s good to know you and I’m glad we’ve managed to actually meet once – something of a miracle given the distance etc. Hello also to H.K.

      Peter xx


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