I have known Ed and Deb Shapiro for over twenty years. Deb is the author of the ST book Your Body Speaks Your Mind and Ed (whom I call “Swami Eddy”) is a true Boulder character and one of the most active networkers I know. Together they have written a new book called “Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World.” The book looks at how meditation can positively affect every aspect of our life including our relationships, our environment, and the greater world. For the chapter on “Silence in the Boardroom” (about meditation in the workplace), Ed and Deb asked me to contribute a short, practice-oriented piece on meditating at work. Here is my contribution:
Meditating in the workplace requires that we learn to meditate “on the spot,” in the midst of challenging circumstances and difficult conversations. Three techniques I’ve found useful for interrupting identification with discursive thinking and introducing a quality of spaciousness at work—and in any situation—are attending to physical sensations, bringing attention to the back of the body, and beginning meetings with silence.
Attend to the sensations of physical tension, and let go
By paying close attention in meditation we discover the following equation: if our mind is agitated, our body is tense; if our body is tense, our mind is agitated. By letting go of physical tension in the body, we create space in our mind to listen to others and act creatively.
In the midst of a meeting, a phone conversation, or any interaction in which you feel yourself becoming impatient or agitated, bring your attention to the part of your body that is holding tension. You can do this on the spot by internally scanning your body from your toes to the top of your head, zeroing in on any part that seems tight, clenched, or contracted. Perhaps you will discover that your lower belly is in a knot, or your shoulders are up by your ears. Maybe your hands feel like they are gripping something, or the bottoms of your feet are recoiling from the ground. When you discover an area of physical tension, use your in-breath to connect with that sensation. Then, on the out-breath, simply release, relax and let go. You can actually “ride the out-breath” and let it carry your physical (and mental!) holding into space.
Bring your attention to the back of the body, and make space for others
Different physical and energetic postures carry different modes of being. If we want to exert and express ourselves and move forward into action, we can bring our energy into the front of our body. If we want to make space for other people, listen deeply, and avail ourselves of new creative ideas, we can benefit from leaning slightly back and bringing our attention to the back of the body. Have you ever been in a meeting in which everyone was interrupting one another and it felt like no one was really being heard? If even one person in the group brings their attention to the back of the body, a quality of space and receptivity is introduced that can change the tone and course of the meeting.
Allow time for renewal by beginning meetings with silence
Often a busy day can feel like being on a non-stop train with one action item following the next without a break. Creating moments of silence, moments of getting off the train, interrupts our tendency to fall into habitual reactivity and drops us back into the depth and generativity of our being.
A simple way to introduce silence into the workplace is to begin meetings with a few moments of being quiet together, what I sometimes like to call “taking a good minute.” People use this shared silence in different ways – to breathe and relax, to appreciate a few moments during the day that are calm and spacious, to let go of previous work concerns, or to connect in a silent, energetic way with everyone else at the meeting. When we introduce “a good minute” at the beginning of a meeting, we are introducing a practice that is totally secular and fitting for a working environment, where people regenerate and renew themselves in different ways. What we are saying is that we value that renewal and that we want people to bring their full presence to the task at hand.
When we use these and other practices to bring meditative awareness to the workplace what we are doing is creating space – space for our own feelings, space for other people, space for brilliance and originality to shine through. Of course, the more we practice meditating in a formal setting, creating space for ourselves in a relaxed way outside of the work setting, the more depth and precision we can bring to meditating on-the-spot in the pressure-filled environment of the workplace.
Featured in Be the Change, How Meditation can Transform You and the World by Ed and Deb Shapiro, to be published Nov 3. Pre-order the book now.