Is there a place that is a greater source of stress than the workplace? Maybe, but not much greater. Yet, the workplace is one of the last places that many people think of to practice their meditation and to act mindfully.
I very much enjoy my job and the people I work with are special to me. Nonetheless, work can be intense, burdensome, and tiring. At least once or twice a day, I need to reset my brain with a little meditation, to refocus myself and set my sight back on the present moment. I have a cushion in the corner of my office; I close my door when I feel the need for relief and I sit there for 5 to 10 minutes. It is remarkably refreshing mentally and physically.
Of course, many people don’t have the luxury of a space to put a meditation cushion, or even a door to close, at their place of work. If you are not bombarded by noise and coworkers at your desk, then simply sitting up straight in your desk chair, feet planted flat on the ground, can be a serviceable meditation posture. Or step outside for a walk around the building or the block.
The idea is to break the flow that develops during the work day in which we focus intently on our work and tune out the world around us. That kind of focus is terrific for productivity but not so much for a healthy, aware mind. It is very easy to plunge headlong into that flow and lose track of time, not coming up for air until the proverbial factory whistle blows. A pause for meditation once or twice during the day – or just lifting your head up from the desk or computer, unfocusing your eyes and taking some long, deep, cleansing breaths – brings your mind back to the present and wakes you up to your surroundings and the beings around you. The result should be both a healthier mind and a better work product.
Be well and have peace in your mind and heart.
“It’s a very deep misconception that meditation is about making your mind blank, that it involves shutting off or pushing away things so that you can achieve some kind of deeper, more desirable state of clarity and calmness. It’s not that those deeper, more desirable states of clarity and calmness do not exist and cannot be cultivated—they can. But it is a kind of learning that in some ways is akin to falling asleep—although meditation is really about ‘falling awake.’ If you try too hard to sleep, chances are you are not going to fall asleep at all. … I like to describe the mind as being like the surface of the ocean—it’s just in the nature of water to wave. And it is part of the nature of our minds to wave as well. The mind waves virtually all the time. If you try to shut off the waves, it’s a bit like trying to put a glass plate over the ocean to stop it from being as it is. It’s not going to work very well.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Power of Meditation and Prayer
I think I know exactly what Dr. Kabat-Zinn is talking about, from my own experience and from what I have heard from others who have experience both failure and success with meditation. Sometimes my meditation can leave me kind of agitated, rather than calm, if I try to fight the thoughts that arise, to stuff them down or block them out. You know, the moment you determine not to think about something, that’s all you can think about. Likewise, the moment you decide not to think at all, thoughts come streaming in from every direction! Only by accepting that thoughts arise and treating them—and myself—with compassion can I fully benefit from my meditation practice.
Pema Chodron suggests that when you notice your mind thinking thoughts, just say quietly, “Thinking,” and let the thought go. Don’t scold yourself for doing what comes naturally to your mind. I do this sometimes, and when I do I always hear the word “Thinking” in Pema’s voice, which never fails to make me smile. And smiling is the perfect medium for letting thoughts slide away easily and without labeling them as something “bad” or antithetical to proper meditation.
If a thought is persistent, then maybe I ought to pay attention to it. If I am routinely feeling a pain in my tooth, shouldn’t I go to the dentist and have it looked at? The pain may be a signal that there is a physical ailment that requires attention. If a thought keeps popping up during meditation—even when I treat it kindly, imagine Pema saying “Thinking,” and let it go—then perhaps it is something that requires attention. Why not let the thought run its course naturally and see where it leads? Following the thought to its resolution may be the only way to keep it from coming back.
As with most things, expectations play a role in meditation. If we expect to achieve an out-of-body experience, we are likely to be disappointed. If we enter meditation, though, with the expectation that thoughts will arise, with acceptance that thoughts arising is totally normal, then we can more fully benefit from our meditation practice. In my opinion, the goal of meditation is not to experience balance and peace during meditation, but rather to experience balance and peace in our lives away from the cushion. Accept that your mind may be noisy sometimes during meditation and you are more likely to reap the benefits of meditation—a life that is more mindful, peaceful and, yes, less noisy.
Life can seem so delicately balanced. Events and circumstances may rush by like a river, and if we grasp at them they may topple us over. To not be carried along with the flow, to retain our balance, requires being mindful of that balance and focusing on staying in balance no matter what rushes by.
Meanwhile, all around us seek the same balance. Occasionally, one topples into another, and both collapse. Reclaiming that balance can then seem so laborious, stone laid upon stone; one cannot simply stand the pile of rocks upright again en masse.
[photos: Dean Michael Mead]