Meditation is not just about relaxation; its primary purpose is to develop the capacity to respond skillfully and gracefully to life’s difficulties as well as its joys.” -Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche.
As the we approach the cusp of the warm weather season, many of us find ourselves immersed in ideas about Summer travel plans, getaways and vacations. At this time of year especially, as schools wind down for the coming months and the beaches and hiking trails become prime destinations for escaping “the grind,” we can feel a strong desire for refuge from the workplace and the routines of daily life.
In light of this, it seems fitting that this month has been designated as global employee health and wellness month. It is a time when we can pay attention not just to what we can do to care for ourselves outside of the office, but also ways to really develop more presence, balance and peace of mind in the workplace. So this can be a particularly opportune time to ramp up your commitment to cultivating mindfulness in your job environment and beyond.
For many people, the demands of our jobs and careers can create intense stressors that sometimes tax our overall sense of peace of mind and well-‐being. Oftentimes we experience the feeling that we don’t have enough time to complete all the tasks we want or need to. There can be a pervasive notion that we must be in constant “multitasking mode” and divide our attention among competing obligations in order to be effective.
Thus, the all-‐too-‐common refrain, “Where am I supposed to find the time to be mindful or to meditate at work?” And upon first glance, this rhetorical question might seem reasonable.
But if we examine a little more closely the role that meditation can play in actually helping us to be more focused and more patient and ultimately sharper in our decision-making, it is clear just how valuable a few minutes of quiet can be.
One of the essential tenets of mindfulness practice is that it’s greatest value is not how it serves us when we engage in the practice, but how it helps us in all the other aspects of our lives. This is incredibly salient when talking about workplace mindfulness. It’s benefits and rewards can far outweigh any “cost” that we may perceive in the economy of our busy schedule.
Chogyam Trungpa, the founder of the Shambhala tradition of meditation, writes in his work Mindfulness in Action that mindfulness practices are particularly ideal for those of us who are “consumed and challenged” by the demands of our careers.
So when we’re experiencing high levels of stress or demanding schedules or a sense of overwhelming responsibility, Trungpa reminds us that in actuality we are prime for the seeds of a mindfulness foundation: “The practice of mindfulness is applicable precisely when there are constant demands in your life.”
Another important consideration is the role mindfulness plays in helping cultivate better focusing skills. Recent research published in the journal Science identifies how much time the average busy person spends thinking about something other than what they are currently doing. Amazingly, most people spend at least 47 percent of their waking hours with thoughts wandering to the past, the future or some distant subject. We become consumed, then, by the non-‐present.
Mindfulness is all about being present with what is happening here and now. And in the workplace, this skill of paying attention to the present is especially important and valuable—and, for many professions, essential to our competence.
As for resources, there are thousands of great short, guided mediations available online that can be really useful for utilizing during a short break at work. Some particularly helpful teachings are by Jack Kornfield, an amazing meditation instructor focused on the role of mindfulness and psychology, who offers a variety of accessible audio talks.
Another even more readily available option is to just begin to create the space for a little bit of quiet at some time during your workday. Take 2 or 5 or 10 minutes, place both feet on the ground and your hands in your lap, close your eyes, feel yourself breathing, and begin to let go of all the mental chatter. It is usually helpful if you set a timer so you don’t have to think about how long the practice will last. This way you can just surrender to the moment and clear out some of the cobwebs that accumulate in our cavernous minds. The key is to just be present with what is happening in the moment, breathing in, breathing out.
Our minds and bodies are temples. They are sacred and beautiful. And yet, it can be so easy to lose sight of this fundamental axiom and get carried away by the intensity of our workplace environments. But we owe it to ourselves – and to the professionalism to which we dedicate – to care for our minds and bodies in and out of the workplace environment.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels, a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the New York City community. More info at: threejewels.org