Most of us spend a sizable chunk of our waking hours at work. Many of us don’t even enjoy the work we are engaged in day after day, or see it as a means to bankroll our free time. But with the right view — one based in becoming more awake to your everyday life, one that is grounded in knowing why you do what you do — you can live a happier, fuller life in and out of the workplace. You can live a life based on qualities you want to cultivate in yourself and qualities you want to see flourish in the world.
Wherever we are, we have the ability to be present. Sitting in our office chair, we can be present with the physical sensation of our breathing. On a day to day basis, we can be present with the people we encounter, the experience of our morning commute, the food we eat, everything. That is the purpose of meditation practice: to become more present and aware of every aspect of our life.
When it comes to work, we always have a choice. We can schlep through our day-to-day existence, considering those hours we are working a waste of time, constantly looking ahead to our time off, or we can engage it in a way that makes us feel like we are participating in a life worth living. Meditation practice helps us slow down and be present enough to recognize the small joys about our work as well as its frustrations. It helps us sort through the muck of our own mind, know our intention clearly, and live our lives fully.
This meditation practice is not about achieving magical, other-worldly states. It’s about being present to the way things are. The more present we are, the less stressed out we will be, and the more we can perform admirably, with a strong mind as our support.
Tips for practising meditation at work
I recommend that people start their day with meditation, when their mind is fresh. However, the best time for meditating will look different for different people. Some people love to meditate when they get home from work. Others like to take some time in the middle of the day, during their lunch break. Regardless of what works for you, try to start off with 10 minutes a day, as many days a week as you can. It is said that after 11 consecutive days of doing anything, it starts to become a habit, so if you want to start meditating regularly, try sticking to it for that period. Be gentle with yourself. Over time, if you miss a day here or there, there is no need to beat yourself up. Relax.
That daily meditation practice can be the foundation of your spiritual journey. However, it would be foolish to think that you leave your mindfulness behind when you’re done with a meditation session. We are, after all, practising for something. That something is the rest of our life.
Since we spend so much time at work, it is helpful to take moments to practice meditation throughout our day. My friend Adam Lobel is a great meditation teacher. Adam was blessed with a child while in his twenties, and as any parent knows, it’s hard to make your own schedule when you have a little one. The fascinating thing I found with Adam is that whenever he had space in his day, he would turn it into a short meditation session… blending everyday activity with meditation practice.
I think any of us can follow Adam’s lead. If we have one meditation session at some point in our day, we can use that as the jumping-off point for very short sessions throughout the rest of it.
With that in mind, there are a few techniques I recommend for practising meditation at your workplace, be it a post office, an auto-body shop, a library, or even a busy department store.
The most important thing to do before you begin practising meditation is to relax. This might sound silly — isn’t that what meditation is supposed to do for us? Unfortunately, more often than not, people take their meditation practice too seriously, feeling like they have to “get it right.” They get uptight about practising meditation, which means they are undoing the very thing they are trying to achieve.
If you sit down in a rushed manner and try to cram in 10 minutes of meditation before you jump up out of your chair to accomplish 1,000 things, your mind will not slow down in the least.
So it may be helpful to ease into meditation. This might mean taking a minute to drink a glass of water or a mug of tea, stretching, or reading a bit from a book, or just taking a few deep breaths before you sit down. The idea is to not go into your meditation practice with your mind at 60-miles per hour, but ideally to relax to the point where maybe your mind is running at 20- or 30-miles per hour. Taking the time to enter your meditation practice properly pays off.
Once you have staked out where you will meditate and you feel like you have created some mental space so you can meditate properly, sit on a chair and connect with your body. There are six main points to remember when taking a good meditation posture:
- Seat. You should feel grounded when you sit down to meditate. That means sitting in the centre of your chair, not feeling like you are about to fall forward or tensing up and leaning back. Sit like a king or queen upon his or her throne. You should feel that kind of dignity and upliftedness when you sit down to meditate.
- Legs. Sit with your feet firmly on the floor.
- Torso. Having established this strong base, you can extend upward, connecting with a sense of spaciousness around you. You can imagine that your spine is a stack of quarters, one on top of the other, all the way up to your skull. Connecting with that image of a strong skeletal structure, you can relax the muscles in your shoulders and back. You don’t have to force your body to be upright. You can rely on your spine’s natural curvature. If you find yourself slouching over (and we’ve all been there), take a moment to reconnect with your strong base and bring yourself back up, leading with your head.
- Hands. Various traditions of meditation encourage you to do different things with your hands. My recommendation is to pick your arms up, bending at the elbows, and drop your palms down on your thighs. That should be a comfortable spot for your hands and will also provide a bit more support for your back.
- Eyes. In the spirit of relaxing into the present moment, relax your eyes. You can keep them open, resting your gaze somewhere two to four feet ahead of you on the ground. Don’t fixate on what you are staring at — relax your gaze. We keep our eyes open as a reminder that we are trying to wake up to our present experience.
- Mouth. Further relaxing the muscles in your face, including around your forehead, cheeks and jaw, you might find that your mouth hangs open. That is encouraged. Keeping the mouth slightly open allows air to move more easily through your mouth and nose. The tip of your tongue can rest on the roof of your mouth. The overall point of this posture is to keep you upright, feeling a sense of dignity, and yet relaxed. You don’t have to overthink these six points, but they are good ones to check in on when you sit down to meditate.
Come back, over and over again
The tricky part is that thoughts will come up. Sometimes they will look discursive — you’ll start thinking about all the things you need to accomplish later in the day. Sometimes they will look like full-blown fantasies — you’ll start having an argument with someone who isn’t even in the room. Sometimes you may feel struck by a strong emotion like passion or anger, and various story lines will start spinning out around that emotional upheaval. In all these situations, the instruction remains the same: come back to the breath. Come back to what is going on right now.
If it is helpful, you can silently say thinking to yourself when a thought takes root in your mind. This is not a moment to become aggressive and yell at yourself: THINKING! Instead, take a very gentle approach to your mind. If you want to become familiar with yourself, you need to treat yourself well. So be kind to yourself, and very gently remind yourself that you seem to be wandering off from the present moment, which is not what you intended to do.