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Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work's Chaos

Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work's Chaos - Michael   Carroll Awake at work: 35 practical Buddhist principles for discovering clarity and balance in the midst of work’s chaos.• Balance the 2 efforts. In letting go we are not adding anything to our “to do” lists. We are simply balancing the effort to get somewhere w/ that of being where we are completely, opening ourselves up to a much larger work perspective. Eventually this shift becomes quite routine, allowing us to reconnect with our natural intelligence – an immediate and extraordinary spontaneity and confidence – at will. … “Balance the 2 efforts” reminds us that we can afford to drop our POV for just a moment & listen to our world, no matter how tedious or threatening such a prospect may seem. Our ambition to succeed, our tight timetables, our authority, our “correctness” – all of it can, for a brief moment, simply be put on hold. We can then bring our uncluttered attention to our work's circumstances, inviting our world in & acknowledging the vastness and liveliness around us. By making such a gesture we learn balance – that we can actually get somewhere and be somewhere at the same time. Such balance is the height of gracefulness and authenticity. It is the core competency of being awake at work.” P. 31• Work is a mess. “The reality is that there is no solution to work’s inherent chaos and messiness. Work by its very nature will always be uncertain. The good news is that work’s messiness and uncertainty need not be distressing. They may, in fact, be just what we are looking for.” P. 51 “When at work, Use established routines to pursue objectives. Use messiness & surprises to innovate & succeed.” P.54• No ground, no guarantees, just now. “Try as we may, we cannot find a solid identity at work. Today we are a supportive and helpful colleague; tomorrow someone considers us problematic… To be awake at work is to acknowledge that the entire situation – our job & our version of ourselves at work – is fluid & constantly changing. In short: no ground, no guarantees, just now.” P. 58• Be cynical. “Ironically, if we look back in history, we would find the original cynics did not share such smugness. They were fiercely suspicious, to be sure – but primarily of themselves, not others. • Cultivate stillness. Developing our ability to listen to our emotions & body during times of stress & risk requires that we train thoroughly in mindfulness disciplines. Besides sitting meditation, the most effective technique I have used for listening deeply to the physical wisdom of the body is a practice called Focusing, developed by Dr. Eugene Gendlin. … I highly recommend learning this method of focusing as a powerful tool for making sound financial decisions, unblocking pent-up creativity, resolving conflicts, or just listening deeply to what your body is trying to tell you. P. 94• Be kind to yourself. “Be kind to yourself” suggests that we lighten up a bit, that we slow down & treat ourselves decently. • Welcome the tyrant. “People at work can be unusually irritating… At times our colleagues can seem like tyrants, having a unique power to unsettle us and keep us up at night. .. the more we ponder the tyrant, the more disturbing he becomes. … When we examine them closely, we discover that tyrants are simply mirrors of our own insecurities & fears. .. Tyrants are stark invitations to look in the mirror and examine our futile search for security in an uncertain workplace. Recognizing that we are, in fact, authoring our tyrants – that our hopes and fears are what fuel their power over us – is central to regaining our balance. In the Buddhist tradition, coming upon such irritating and oppressive people is highly valued. Any life circumstance that can expose our insecurities is considered a gift to be welcomed and explored. [Welcoming the tyrant] begins with a simple inner gesture. At the next meeting, just for a moment, let go of all your fixed ideas about your boss & just be there in the room. Be curious & notice what’s going on. P. 109-111• “No blame” encourages us to respect errors at work – our own & others’. … being honest about mistakes at work requires tact, humility, & skill. When we permit mistakes to teach us, we discuss problems discreetly and listen to others’ points of view. We treat facts as friendly & we learn ways to improve our jobs. We may have to come to some tough conclusions about ourselves and others along the way. When we are honest about mistakes, we slow down and take full stock of our circumstances. This requires us to open ourselves fully to the discomfort & detail, rather than rush past our circumstances, papering over the failures, to regain a false sense of mastery. P. 127-128• Practice “no credentials.” Notice how we speak to others about what we do at work & feel the subtle emotions that run behind the words. … When someone inevitably asks, “So, what do you do?” we may notice that often answer the question with a noun rather than a verb. … How we portray ourselves to others – the workplace “story line” that we live in words, feelings, & deeds – is of primary importance is practicing “no credentials.” … When we practice “no credentials,” we sharply examine feelings in order to uncover any smugness, impoverishment, defensiveness, or blindness we may be harboring as part of how we conduct ourselves at work. In doing so, we confront one of the great obstacles to being authentic and effective at work: mistakenly thinking we are our job. Coming to the conclusion that we are what is written on our business card is an understandable occupational hazard. We invest so much in our jobs : time, personal commitment, creative effort. In fact, we invest our lives. Yet, despite our generous investment, our jobs cannot offer us a true identity. … Like everything else at work, credentials are fluid and constantly changing. P. 129-131• Cultivate the art of conversation. Keep in mind the following courtesies of workplace conversations: notice the setting (slow down and appreciate the moment); appreciate silence (pause when you notice a moment of silence and respect the moment, let the situation unfold at its own pace); stop talking and listen deeply; ask helpful questions; speak clearly, refraining from harsh phrases and jargon; have a sense of humor; appreciate coincidence. • Avoid idiot compassion. In idiot compassion, we rely on a shallow and ultimately selfish notion of helping that is primarily concerned with eliminating our own unease rather than truly lending a hand. Such behavior is common at work – people trying to be helpful out of nervousness and in turn making the workday just a bit more difficult for the very people they were trying to please. One of the most common acts of idiot compassion is not being honest with a subordinate about getting the job done. How often have we seen poor performers languish for months – sometimes years – in roles beyond their capabilities? Managers avoid the stress of telling the truth and instead become defensive and protective of their subordinate. …Finally the circumstances demand candor. Confronted with the poor results, the employee spills forth with anger & resentment… Bewildered, the manager sees an ungrateful employee rather than a crisis authored by idiot compassion. … When idiot compassion becomes an unspoken rule of leadership, work can become deeply discouraging for hundreds, maybe thousands, of employees. P. 141-143• Study the 6 confusions. 1) Work as drudgery : by giving into this mentality, we become deaf & dumb to our work surroundings. … If we examine this mind-set closely, we discover that our burden is not the work but our own stubbornness. 2) Work as war: this is a win-lose mentality. If we examine closely, we discover that our war is not with our work but with our own insecurity. 3) Work as addiction: a mentality obsessed with overcoming feelings of inadequacy. If we examine our addiction closely, we discover that we are not addicted to work but are paralyzed by our own sense of poverty, frozen in a pattern of frustration over our many desires left unfulfilled. Work becomes an anesthesia – a drug for numbing us to our pain. 4) Work as entertainment. We look to work as a source of amusement & leisure. If we were to examine the work-as-entertainment mentality closely, we would discover that we are not actually savoring life’s pleasures but have become trapped in an uninterrupted, sugarcoated vacation from reality – unable even to know there is anything more to life than amassing toys & indulging pleasures. 5) Work as inconvenience is a mind-set that assumes the need to make a living is some kind of unfortunate accident that happened to us. The work-as-inconvenience mentality is defensive & prideful, constantly on guard for the possibility of being victimized by work’s circumstances. If we closely examine such a mentality, we discover that it is not work that is inconvenient but our nagging sense of entitlement that is so tiresome. It is our fear of being victimized that is inconvenient, not work itself. 6) Work as a problem – assumes we need to solve work – to get work to behave and stop being so unpredictable and unruly. We know that work could behave logically if only things would get back on track – and we are just the one to do it! Such a mind-set is idealistic & oddly naïve. Work is not the problem. Our ambition & constant busyness attempting to solve work turn out to be the problem, not work, which will always be unruly & messy. • Extend the 4 composures. 1)the composure of kindness. 2)the composure of respecting difficulties. 3)the composure of calm alertness. By bringing our attention back to the moment over & over again, we make friends with boredom & notice that we can be powerfully alert in the immediate without need for distractions or entertainment of any kind. Over time we become comfortable being in the moment. 4) the composure of availability. Whatever arises in meditation, we are gently available to, open & attentive. The availability we develop in meditation, when extended to the workplace, permits us to be open to our work setting & colleagues, attentive to what the situation requires. • Everybody just wants to bounce their ball. Reminds us to respect the gentle enthusiasm that everyone brings to life. All of us want to do our best & have a chance to contribute and shine. • Treat everyone as a guest. We offer tremendous breathing room, permitting everyone we meet to be who they are, where they are, in that very moment. Treating everyone as a guest inspires us to engage & appreciate each valuable and authentic moment. More important, it reminds us to extend to each colleague a deep sense of gratitude. .. If we look carefully at work relationships, we will discover that our colleagues have taught us some of the most important lessons we need in order to be awake at work. P. 166-169• Witness from the heart. This approach to workplace difficulties is not a way to remain detached. .. Rather, such mindfulness permits the difficulties to be exactly what they are, uncontaminated with our agendas & our versions. Fully appreciating the problem – not ignoring it, arguing with it, fixing it, or sugarcoating parts – is an essential gesture of openness. We take no sides nor grind any ax. We witness the difficulty without bias or preconceptions. … Witnessing from the heart reminds us that we can rely on our hearts at work, that there is no embarrassment to our sadness. When we see others struggle or experience misfortune, we can lead with our heart because there is strength and wisdom in such tenderness. Just as we give ourselves room on the cushion to experience ourselves fully, we can extend such openness of heart to others in distress. By doing so we can learn to be genuinely helpful from a wise and skillful place. P. 171-173• Acknowledge small boredoms. We gradually begin to appreciate the natural pace of our every act: holding a door for a colleague or closing a million-dollar deal, handling a pen or pencil or handing medicine to a dying patient. Surprisingly, by being precise with small boredoms, we discover a way for being precise with work overall. Acknowledging small boredoms reminds us that we need not be numbed by work’s pressure or routines. By taking the time to notice the seemingly insignificant moments that invite us to wake up, we can, over time, rediscover a natural & precise pace that can inform & uplift all that we do throughout the day. P. 185-187• Respect karma. At work, karmic tendencies have many names: attitudes, procedures, routines, competencies, expertise. These describe ways in which we are predisposed to conduct ourselves, patterns that we follow that bring about results. If we take a moment to examine ourselves, we will notice that we have already developed hundreds of tendencies – work-related behaviors, routines, abilities & attitudes – some helpful, some not so helpful. Some bring about preferred results; others, results we would rather live without. Respecting karma encourages us to notice carefully that how we develop our routines, skills, and attitudes is something we will be living with for some time to come. … If we examine these feelings underlying our conduct at work, we will discover one of the profound laws of karma: the more we try to defend ourselves, the tighter & more claustrophobic we feel; the more we try to help others or contribute positively to our world, the more we feel open & adaptable. P. 189-191• Do not-know. Because it is unacceptable to not know, we may at times need to pretend we know what we are doing when in fact we don’t. .. The fact is that cannot avoid not knowing; we simply don’t know a lot the time. … Cultivating not knowing .. is not an excuse for being incompetent. .. Nor is it a fog where we sit back & vaguely say to ourselves, “what the hell is going on around here?” Rather, not knowing is our willingness to slow down, drop our preconceptions, & be interested and present to our work situation as it unfolds. Not knowing in this sense is an exercise in balancing effort – actively and intelligently being somewhere in the process of getting somewhere. Not knowing starts by giving ourselves a break from the tension of always knowing what to do, the constant accomplishing of something. We shift from the feeling of making something happen to letting something happen. … We can afford to listen for the unspoken messages, often unintentionally sent & even more often misunderstood. By not knowing, we open up, & so does the world around us, offering an untapped wealth of insight & guidance. P. 194-199• Notice and cut work’s speed. Work can be fast and relentless. If we are mindful of our job’s speed & hecticness, we take a subtle step: we have to actually slow down in order to notice how fast we are going. Many techniques are offered in this book for noticing & cutting work’s speed: practicing small boredoms, opening, being kind to yourself, even cultivating the art of conversation. Here, however, what is recommended is actually a form of jujitsu, where one uses the power of one’s opponent to gain victory over him or her. The very hecticness that seems to entrap us becomes our foremost reminder to slow down, let go, & regain an open & balanced composure. .. Take a sip of water or offer others to do the same, pausing to take a deep breath, smiling or simply saying “good morning,” can go a long way toward cutting work’ s speed. By making some gestures over & over again, we find that our job is not out of control; we are fully equipped with brakes to slow us down, a horn to alert others, headlights to guide us, and mirrors to check. We gradually discover that rather than being reckless, we can be resourceful under pressure, as long as we notice where we are. • Keep our seat. In order to be awake at work, we cannot keep our seat merely out of stubbornness or as a game of chicken. Rather, we keep our seat because to do so is to be who we are where we are. … In meditation, we discover that we are keeping our seat because we are basically fine as we are, where we are. Appendix: meditation instructions. Mindfulness-awareness or sitting meditation. It comes from the Tibetan Kagyup-Nyingma Buddhist tradition. Generally you will want to cultivate a regular sitting practice, keeping to a schedule each day. At first, 15 minutes in the morning or evening will be ample time, but gradually you will want to expand your practice, sitting 30, 40 or perhaps 60 minutes a day. But it’s important to begin where you can, not to force yourself. Set aside an area to meditate, uncluttered & free from distractions. Instructions for contemplating the slogans. While the slogans are meant to be applied as “contemplation-in –action,” it is also appropriate to set aside time to contemplate work’s challenges more deliberately. 1. Choose a peaceful setting. Take a quiet walk, sit quietly somewhere peaceful, or have a cup of tea in your kitchen.2. Be mindful. Mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes or so is recommended.3. Recall the purpose. “Without hope and without fear, may I be decent in my actions, may I be helpful to others.”4. Invite & consider the object of contemplation. Note any emotions & physical feelings that accompany the topic & write down any particularly helpful ideas or suggestions that come to mind. 5. Note any shifts and conclude with an aspiration. You may choose to end the contemplation by writing down an intention, any new behavior or course of action you intend to take because of the contemplation.Appendix: contemplations-in-action on wealth. 1. 1. Widen your perspective with research. We could use the internet to discover that our salary & savings make us richer than 6.17 billion or 98.3 % of all the other people in the world. Log each fact in a common file for future reference & reflection. By researching & contemplating such facts, we widen our view of wealth, leading us to open our heart and consider others. 2. Ask for help. Have a deliberate question(s) in mind before you call or visit. For example, “What advice do you have for people who have a lot of money? What 3 lessons have you learned from life that you think could help me?” Each interview should be documented & logged in a common file for future reference & contemplation.3. Make an offering. Prepare & serve a meal for your family or friends on a budget of only $5 per person. Pay special attention to presentation & atmosphere. Purchase a tasteful & modestly priced item (a tie, scarf, desk ornament), wrap it elegantly, and present it to a friend or acquaintance. Place an arrangement of fresh flowers in a prominent place in your office. Dress in your finest suit or dress & visit a museum, preferably with a friend who also is performing this contemplation in action. Keep your pace & state of mind simple & unhurried. Keep discussion to a minimum. Before you leave, choose one objet d’art of particular appeal & mindfully appreciate it & the surroundings for 10-15 minutes. While at a museum, purchase 3-5 appealing cards from the gift shop Use them within a week to write a brief note to a friend, family member, or acquaintance. Take a silent walk in the woods or in a park. Locate a pleasant area that catches your eye, perhaps beneath a tree or next to a stream. Take a seat & appreciate your surroundings for 10-20 minutes. Possibly practice mindfulness meditation. Leave behind a small gift such as a coin, brass button, or strip of colorful cloth in an appropriate spot. 4. Play with money’s power. Here we purposefully “play” with money, being sharply mindful of the conflicting emotions & insights such play provokes. Purchase a lottery ticket, place it in an envelope, & mail it to a randomly selected address or place it in a randomly selected book in a bookstore. Notice how Notice how your mind reacts to giving away a chance at winning. b. Take 2-5 fresh, lg bills -- $100 if you can afford it, $20 or $10