Zen in The Workplace

January 16, 2009
Category: Wellness

Aside from my years of involvement with weight training and other fitness activities, I have been practicing meditation in one form or another for over 40 years. Although meditation techniques and the philosophies that underlie them may differ greatly, meditation in general involves quieting the body and mind to achieve a state of peaceful alertness in which one can experience deep insight into the nature of self and the universe. However, the peace, clarity, and sense of meaningfulness of life that come with regular practice of silent meditation can seem to evaporate as soon as you open your eyes and enter the workaday world.

When I started teaching public high school back in 1984, I also started exploring ways to carry the benefits of silent meditation into my work life that often seemed stressful and hostile to serenity.

Two ancient traditions that in general have regarded meditation as an important spiritual practice for millennia are Hinduism and Buddhism. Both traditions offer us various models for bringing greater serenity and centeredness into daily activities. You need not subscribe to any dogma or belief system to benefit from some of these techniques. You need only possess an open mind and the willingness to use your own body and mind as laboratories for experimentation and discovery.

Much of mental stress in life, what Buddhists often sum up with the term ”suffering,“ comes from anxious rumination about the past and anticipation of the future. To eliminate much mental suffering, therefore, it is helpful to practice centering yourself in the present moment and thus automatically turning off those mental tapes that replay the past or imagine the future. Not only will doing this provide some peace of mind, but it also tends to make you more effective in whatever task you have at hand.

Following is one method for centering yourself in the now moment that you can use from time to time throughout the workday to decrease stress and nurture serenity, clarity, and wellbeing: While seated, take a moment to become aware of your body. Note your posture and any pains or points of tension. Assume an upright, relaxed posture that allows you to breathe easily and requires a minimum of muscular effort. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, hold it a moment, then release it gently through your mouth, letting your jaw go slack as you tell your body silently, ”Relax.“ Repeat this breath pattern commanding your body to relax several times, each time consciously directing any tense areas in your body to relax. If there are especially tense spots, typically in the traps, neck, or upper back, a gentle self-massage and some gentle head rolls can help release the tension. Be careful when rotating your head to avoid compressing the neck vertebrae by leaning your head too far back. You can also think you are breathing relaxation into the tense area, and breathing out tension. It might help to visualize this as breathing the pure, golden light of relaxation into the tension, and exhaling tension as dark smoke.

Having relaxed your body somewhat, become aware of your body's contact with the immediate environment. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin, the weight of your body in contact with the chair, your feet resting on the floor. Notice how when you focus your attention on a particular sensation, all other thoughts and concerns disappear for the moment. Try touching some item you use regularly in work, a pen, mouse, or keyboard. Just feel the surface of the object, its temperature, hardness, contour.  You can use this touch awareness throughout your day along with deliberate, deep breathing to help you return to a state of relative calm and centeredness.

This technique is relatively simple, yet the consistent application of it has the power to eliminate stress and restore mental clarity even in the midst of work. Whenever you find your mind racing or jumping from one thought to another like a restless monkey, take a few moments to do this centering exercise and give the monkey mind a rest. As with most worthwhile things in life, the more you practice this technique, the more skilled you become.

You can contact William at William@DaddyHunt.com.

Tags: spirituality
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Post written by William Schindler (View Author Profile)
About this author: William Schindler, a.k.a., Brother William, founder and Spiritual Director of Ashram West, obtained a B.A. in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley (1975), where he also studied Hindi and Bengali, and a Master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University (1986). He has been studying and practicing traditional Hindu Tantra since 1969...
View all posts by William Schindler


Interesting. Have a lot on my plate. It's worth trying!

Excellent post. You touched on two different type of meditation that I try to incorporate in to my everyday life. First is the centering and silent meditation to calm onself down. This form I pactice daily by sitting and clearing my mind for 15 to 30 minutes.

The other practice that a lot of people don't get is active meditation. You alluded to this when you discussed taking in your surroundings. One of the great things Buddhism teaches is to be in the here and now. By focusing on what you are doing, you are well on your way to being just "in the moment". I feel that without this form of meditation, I would just be cruising through life and would be missing out on many of it's finer points.

Anyway, loved your article.

If anyone is interested in chatting about this, I am on Daddy Hunt under AnimalGeek.

I must echo the other responses in applauding your simple and immediately applicable solution to calming one's stress in these overly stressful, uncertain times. Meditation kept me sane and alive in a prison in Afghanistan where I was incarcerated for two years. For me, the simplist of your recommended techniques is the awareness of deliberate and slow breathing. I like to hold the breath, ever so briefly before I start to gently release it.

I have found meditation helpful while I'm driving, eating, walking, and laying in repose. I am a looser type of meditate'r. I have a knee problem so it is difficult for me to stay in the lotus position for very long, and the only thing I would add to what you say, is the concept of not being frustrated by thoughts that naturally come to mind while you're trying to empty your mind of thought. Just think of them as passing clouds, and say something to yourself, like, okay, thought-about-picking-up-the-laundry, I respect you and will address you later, then calmly return your focus to your breathe and the moment.

I've been meaning to meditate for 30 years! Just can't seem to get around to it. The few times I've tried I've gotten discouraged because I just can't get my mind to shut up. But you motivated me to try again. Thanks.


Good to see your out and about WiseWill, and making the world a better place :P
I used to meditate/pray much when a teenager, but have left it years ago. The practice seems difficult too recultivate. Dedication required, yes?

be well, jon

Restarting a meditation practice is no different from simply recentering when you find your mind is racing or wandering. You just calmly come back to it.

As one man who wrote a response to my article pointed out, it's helpful to accept whatever thoughts pass through the mind without judgement. It's also helpful, when you let a meditation practice lapse, to return to it without personal recriminations. If meditation is something you truly desire to do, as opposed to just thinking you should do it, you will find a way to do it, but most people who stop the practice do so out of benign negligence rather than intention.

The mind can behave like a spoiled child that resists any attempt to impose discipline on it. It can require some consistent, gentle prompting over time to establish a habit of meditation practice.

I am Buddhist. The enlighten part and highest level of meditation
is describe in the Buddhist script call the 'Heart Sutra' which is
translate by the Chinese a few hundred ago. The original India
script is lost.
Buddhist practice meditation of the mind and the body, Which
use the internal energies to run through all chakras in the body.
as a result can greatly improve your life span.

Maintaining one's Zen may be easier in a rural area rather than in a crowded pharmaceutical human resource oriented city where the Zen may wear off as soon as you take off the advanced noise canceling headphones and enter the reality of traffic, talking heads, smog and sirens again.