Mindfulness helps us to become aware of all this hidden pollution of our minds, and protect ourselves against it. It enables us to restore our capacity for introspection and reconnect with ourselves. – Christophe Andre
One of the biggest excuses people have for not making an effort to practice mindfulness in their lives, is that they don’t have time. Here are ten ways to practice mindfulness at work, without having to sit in a meditation. My goal was to share practices that you can add into your day, that work with what ever you naturally do. Try the all, but only use what is useful to you (and if none of them are, discard them all). I have given an estimated amount of time it will take to do the basic practice of each of these, but feel free to expand or shorten as you desire.
And, if there is interest, I would be happy to record these and post for you to download.
The first few practices are all about training your your focus. These exercises will help you develop the skill of noticing how your attention shifts (both consciously and unconsciously) through out your day, and help you build the mental “muscles” involved in staying focused (well, really its about building new neurons and strengthening related connections in the brain…) .
Your morning coffee (3 minutes)
Sit. Put the cup down in front of you. Take a slow deep breath. Look closely at your coffee cup – notice the shape, the colours, observe what is in front of you. Notice the light and how it falls on the cup, creating shadows or highlights. Look closely at the the coffee itself, and just observe, like it is the first time you’ve ever seen it. Pick up the cup. Notice the weight of the cup. Feel the warmth on your hands. Bring the cup close to your face, and smell the coffee. Now, bring the coffee up to your lips, but do not drink. Notice what you are experiencing in this moment – the sensation on your lips, the warmth coming off the coffee, any emotion you may be feeling about whether you just want to just drink the damn stuff (or not feeling any emotion at all). What ever you feel is just right, what ever you notice, is just right. Now, drink in the coffee, but don’t swallow. Notice the sensations in your mouth – the flavour, the taste. Swish the coffee around in your mouth a little, and notice as the sensations shift. Notice how you use your cheeks and tongue to move the liquid around. Now, swallow. Notice the feeling as the coffee goes down and see how far you can follow the sensation. Observe what you are experiencing now. Take a deep breath. Thank you.
Noticing the ordinary (1 minute)
Take a quick scan of the area around you. What objects are there that you don’t normally pay attention to? Perhaps its a paper clip, a pen, an old photograph that’s been on the wall for years. Pick up something to focus on. Hold it in your hand – what does it feel like? Is it light, or heavy? What shape is it? What colour? Rub your fingers along the object – what textures does it have? Does it make a sound? What does it smell like? (If you are willing, what does it taste like?) What does this object make you think of? Now, take a deep breath and focus your attention back on your breath. What was that experience like?
Walking meditation (1 minute)
As you are walking (whether its to the bathroom, to/from a meeting, to a lab, what ever) – bring your attention to the sensations of your feet. Just rest your attention with them as you walk where you are going. Don’t worry that you might walk into something/someone – by focusing your attention on your body, you are leaving your unconscious free to observe your surroundings and will notice if something comes into your path. Gently rest you attention on the sensations – notice, are the movements smooth or jerky, light or heavy? When your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the sensations on your feet.
Standing in the elevator (length of elevator ride)
Keeping your eyes open, bring your awareness inside of your body (as opposed to focusing on your surroundings). Notice your posture – How are you standing? How is your weight distributed? Is there any tightness in your body. Notice how you feel in the elevator as the door closes – are there any emotions or thoughts (fear of the elevator getting stuck on root, or perhaps relief at the commute being over, etc.), or nothing? Notice how you feel about your surroundings – if there is no one else in the elevator, how do you feel about that? If the elevator has people, how do you feel about that? Notice what ever judgments arise, what ever comes up is just right. Accept them. Notice how you are breathing – is your breath shallow and in your chest, or is your breath deep and in your belly? Notice the sensations in your body as the elevator accelerates/decelerates. Notice what happens in your body as the door opens to your floor (how does your body react when its time to move). Make the movements conscious as you step out. Bring awareness to your body as you walk – how are you moving your legs, feet, hands, arms, shoulders, head? Notice what you feel now that you are now out of the elevator. Take a deep breath. Thank you.
E-mail Meditation (1 minute)
E-mail is a powerful tool of communication. It has allowed almost instant sharing of information around the world. E-mail is also regular source of anxiety and distraction at work. I’ve prepared this assuming that you check your e-mail upon arriving at your desk in the morning, but the same practice can be done for you checking your e-mail on a mobile device when ever your mind suggests that you “should” check your messages.
Begin with noticing your desire to check e-mail. Do not open the program, or bring it up on your screen. Simply notice what is happening in your body as you think about what may be in your inbox – are you feeling tight, agitated, anxious? Or maybe excited and full of anticipation? Where do you notice your emotions – are they in your chest? Your shoulders? Your back? You may have messages waiting for you, but you are choosing to wait. How do you feel about making these messages wait? The messages themselves do not care whether you check them now or later. Where is your desire to look at your e-mail coming from? Who are you trying to please? Who are you trying to serve? Take a deep breath, and bring your awareness to your feet on the floor. Notice their groundedness, their stability. Stay with your attention stable for two more deep breaths. Notice how you are feeling in your body now? Thank you. You may read your e-mail now.
Most people think about awareness, simply as a focused effort – as if awareness is like a telescope helping us focus only on one part of the sky at a time. Our minds have two modes of awareness (that we currently are aware of anyway…) – a focused awareness, and an open awareness. When you are lying down and staring up at the night sky to watch a meteor shower – you aren’t trying to focus on any one part of the sky, but to take it all in. Or, when you arrive at a beach (or any other beautiful vista), your attention is taking everything in. This open awareness is very useful when dealing with a challenging situation, as it allows you to be aware of new ideas, and helps you be more creative. The interesting challenge is that our minds when stressed switch to the focused mode of attention – so we are constantly training that type of attention, but rarely training the open mode. Here are a few ways at work to train your open mode of attention.
Open Awareness Listening (2 minutes)
This exercise can be practiced where ever you are seated for your work (whether its a shop floor, cubical space, or a corner office, or could even be practiced at lunch time in a busy cafeteria or on transit during your commute). Take a deep breath. Bring your awareness to the sounds you are hearing. What do you notice? Do not focus on any one sound – as you notice your attention zoning in on something, bring yourself back to the act of listening. Are you hearing a conversation? Are you hearing the HVAC? Do you hear a door close? Notice sounds, but do not label them. Try to hear everything as sound – listen for the vibration, but not the signal. See if you can step your awareness back and hear many sounds at once, like you are listening to an orchestra of humanity. If you attention gets stuck on one sound, acknowledge this, let it go, and bring your attention back to the act of listening. Listen for the quietest sound you can hear. Can you hear silence? What sounds are you making – can you hear your breath? Keep you attention open – see how you can notice both the details and the scene. Now, gently bring your attention back to your breathing for a few breaths. Was this hard, or was this easy? What sounds did you find hard to let go of? How do you feel now? Thank you.
Open Awareness – Noticing (2 minutes)
So much of our life is spent in auto-pilot. We are busy running from task to task, and if we aren’t actively doing something, we’re often thinking about something we’ve done, or have to do. In this state, we become aware of what is around us, only if it serves or hinders our action. I know where my mouse is so that I can control the computer. I know where my coffee is so that I can stay caffeinated. Part of the practice of mindfulness is slowing down and being present to the “real world” – that is, the world around you not coloured by judgments or preconceptions.
Take a deep breath. Relax your body, and let go of any tension you may be aware of. Lift your head up, and look around you. Look as if you are a child discovering this place for the first time. Observe the objects around you – what is there? Look past the names and uses of the objects, and perceive only the colours and shapes. Simply notice, and be aware of everything that is around you. What is the quality of the light and shadows? When you get focused on an object, notice this and bring your attention back to taking in the whole scene. Imagine as if you are looking at a painting for the first time – your attention zooms in and out: take in the whole, and then look closely at an object, then zoom back out to the whole of the image. Let your curiosity get the better of you.
Once you are ready to return to work, center yourself with a few deep breaths, allowing your attention to rest on your breath.
Open Awareness Walking (2 minutes)
In this meditation, we are going to play around with how we look at the world. As you are walking (between meetings, to go for lunch, etc.), common sense tells us that the world around us is still, and that we are moving. But, another way to experience it, is that our consciousness is still, and the world is moving around us. As you are walking, pay attention to your sense of vision, but instead of being focused on the objects around you, keep your attention on your whole sense of vision. Look out at you walk, taking in as much as you can. See if you can notice that as you observe motion, perceive it such that you are still and that the world is moving around you. The experience is just as if you are at a bus station, and you feel like your bus is starting to move but in fact another bus is moving. This will take some practice, but play with it. Treat it as if its a game. See if you can feel stillness in the movement.
Mindfulness with other people
An important part of the practice is understanding how you engage with other people. Often when we are in conversation with someone, we are listening but at the same time we are thinking of what we want to say next while they are still speaking. We hear the words, but are focused on trying to come up with something to sound smart, or to “add” to the conversation. This occurs with friends, as well as in meetings.
Mindful Listening (6 minutes)
This practice is about training our minds in non-judgmental awareness – we aren’t listening to judge someone else’s words as good or bad, or think of what we can to do fix the problem (or why we can’t help them), or how we can compare our experience to their experience. We are listening to simply hear.
Grab a friend and explain what you are practicing. Ask them to talk for three minutes about anything they want to. You will just listen (but, while they are talking maintain some mindfulness on your body). After the three minutes, speak back to them what you think you heard. Ask them if what you heard is what they said – let them give you feedback on what you got right, and what you got wrong. Repeat back to them again, and confirm you now understand. Continue this until your friend is satisfied that they are completely understood.
This works best at a meeting that you aren’t leading, but in time, you may find that you have practiced enough that you can both lead a meeting while keeping your awareness open to the environment around you. This practice is about putting everything together – noticing yourself, those around you, how words and body language impact how ideas are transmitted and received, while also letting go of the practice of judging things as good and bad.
At the start of the meeting, notice your self. What is your posture like? How are you breathing? How are you feeling? Are you exciting about this meeting? Are you dreading this meeting? Are you apathetic towards it? Begin to expand your awareness to those sitting next to you. What are they wearing? How are they sitting? Are their faces showing any emotion? What is their body language suggesting? As someone is talking, what is the emotional state of the room – does someone improve things, make them worse, or not make a change? Notice the language that people are using, and notice how that impacts you. What words or phrases make you feel sensitive? What words or phrases help you feel more engaged? What words or phrases do you immediately judge as bad or good? If you notice any judgement about anything, whether its words, actions or ideas, practice letting go of the judgments. Practice being curious and aware of everything and everyone in the room, as if you are an anthropologist studying an alien culture.
That’s ten, in a variety of common work situations. Why I want to share these, is that I want to show that mindfulness doesn’t need to be an arduous practice to get the benefits. This is about finding practical ways to “do less than you can”, which can hopefully help you experience mindfulness practice as an indulgence. If you feel its an indulgence, you’ll be more ready to stick with it.
Try these out, and see what works for you. I would love to hear your feedback on these so that I can improve them.