FAQ: Presence at Work

FAQ: Presence at Work

Cultivating Presence and Ease at Work

What's the main reason for bringing these (meditation, yoga, awareness) practices into the workplace?

Meditation, yoga, and awareness practices help people stay in their center so they can navigate volatility and radical change with more presence and ease. 

A friend who worked in investor relations for decades mentioned volatile stock markets are very challenging for people who don’t have any kind of meditation or yoga practice.  He said it’s especially difficult for younger people who have not witnessed the cycles of the market.

“They don’t know the stock market will go up again; they think they’re going to be fired.”

These practices also support the overall well-being and flourishing of employees.

Meditators, especially, report increased clarity, the ability to access deep insights, and enhanced creativity.

What do you recommend for Type A personalities and people who work in competitive environments.

In the age of “agile,” when everyone is expected to produce with ever-increasing speed, the concept of being rather than doing can be hard to grasp.

I worked on Wall Street, in global banking, for many years, so I have some ideas on what might help.

Here are a few tips:

Slow down. Do one thing at a time.

Recognize that every moment is an opportunity to cultivate presence—to tune into your breath and widen your awareness: become aware of your thoughts and emotions, the sensations in your body, and what’s happening around you.

Eckhart Tolle, Teacher of Presence, says it this way: “take pauses throughout the day to create spaciousness.”

For many people it’s also helpful to commit to a daily meditation practice.

A great meditation koan for my many friends who work in competitive environments or who have Type A personalities is: Practice without gaining mind.

For those conditioned to maximize every minute to gain something, this koan throws you in at the deep end of the pool and cuts through to the heart of the matter.

What a relief it is when we drop gaining mind and relax into the present moment.

Practice without gaining mind.

What IS mindfulness?

From Jon Kabat Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

When defining mindfulness, people typically mention that when we’re mindful, we’re in the present moment, not lost in thinking—ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

A Buddhist monk, Jinmyo Renge Osho, writes in The Meaning of Mindfulness:

Mindfulness is… attending to our experience as it actually is—directly, without strategy, without interpretation.

She mentions that:

Practicing attentiveness is releasing yourself into the sensations and colors and forms and sounds. It is letting go of the endless internalized babble of self-image to experience the body-mind and the world in which it arises—as they actually are.

In my blog, “The Essence of Mindfulness,” I write about one of my favorite practices from the Tantric tradition which offers us a sweet way to cultivate an awake awareness in the present moment.


On the Essence of Mindfulness

Why do you use other terms, like presence and awareness (rather than mindfulness)?

Mindfulness is a foundational concept from Buddhism—one that we badly need in the age of distraction.

Two of the best mindfulness trainings—The Power of Awareness, with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, and Mindfulness-Based Street Reduction with Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyers—are available online, through Sounds True. I have taken and highly recommend these classes.

It’s certainly a positive development that meditation and mindfulness have become mainstream.

There are other ways of talking about “awake” states in the present moment that are also potent. For example, we can ask:

Am I present or absent?
Conscious or unconscious?
In a state of contraction or a state of expansion?
Am I in the grip of ego or do I have access to some space, mentally?

In general, I prefer the term “presence” as it quickly anchors me in the present moment.

Jack Kornfield talks about James Joyce’s character Mr. Duffy, “who lived a short distance from his body.”

In the age of distraction, a lot of us can be like Mr. Duffy—disembodied, so lost in thought, we’re not in touch with what’s below the neck, the sensations in our bodies or the ground beneath us.

For many people, “Am I in my body?” is a good question.

“Are you present or absent?” is also an invitation to check in and come back into your body if you’re lost in thought.

Father Thomas Keating, who was a meditation master, remarked that mindfulness is a kind of heartfulness.

Many traditions believe that the seat of our awareness is in the heart center. Breathing in and out of the heart center is a potent practice for getting us out of our heads and into a more present, more awake state.

In the physical practice of yoga we reconnect to the center of pure being in the belly center. We can also open that center in meditation. When we’re connected to the heart center and the belly center, we have access to our deeper embodied wisdom.

Aside from “presence,” it makes sense to talk about the nature of awareness. Regardless of whether we embrace a wisdom tradition or a secular approach, what we’re exploring is our primal awareness.

How do we overcome the challenges of adoption? Our people have work-life balance issues and no time to practice.

The communications have to inspire people to practice. The practices have to be respectful of people’s time. In the beginning, especially, they need to be short. The attitude has to be gentle and supportive, especially for people who have harsh inner critics.

One of my “unique competitive advantages” is my background in global communications. To make these programs work in global corporations, you need nothing short of a professional, internal global communication program.

I think these programs will be most effective if they’re customized for your culture and unique needs.

I also think they need to focus on the practice that has been proven to change both people’s states and neural circuitry for the better, which is meditation.

Finally, these programs need the support of senior management. If you don’t have the support of senior management, it will be hard to effect change in the organization.