Zen in a noisy workplace

Sit with this paradox: where is the calm center of the chaos that is your work day?  If you can find it, you may find your greatest capacity for the work, while holding onto your wits.

This kind of language is no longer limited to the yoga studio or the temple.   Something fascinating is happening, when the pursuit of deep peace shows up in Forbes Magazine, in a piece called 5 Yogic Tips to Tackle Stress.  Corporate culture may value the ability to remain calm under pressure, and to focus; but if the 1% take heed, they are about to discover that contemplative practice is more than a relaxation technique.

The workplace is a community of sorts, with a complex web of relationships.  Many things go wrong.  People interrupt one another, make arbitrary decisions, promote themselves and fail to help one another.  People feel anxious, powerless, and unappreciated.  People talk behind your back, text message compulsively while talking to you, and use their backyard barbecue voices when you are trying to think.  The workplace is emotional chaos.

Finding the place of quiet at work isn’t easy.  Ironically, the technology that allows us to maintain internet access while on an African safari, also provides smartphone apps with the sounds of Tibetan temple bells, evoking places so quiet that you can hear the chirp of crickets, and the rush of fresh water over pebbles.  These are designed to help us find peace without leaving the office.

We must learn to listen, all over again.

The Zen mind listens to anxiety, and lets most of it go.  Where we pridefully busy our minds with multimedia stimulation, it seeks to gently focus on one thing at a time.  Zen discipline involves basic things like breathing, which of course happens all day without our awareness; the intent is to do it mindfully.  If we listen, and do each small thing mindfully, and let go of distractions, we find harmony where frantic activity used to be.  There is something humbling in thinking of the myriad of things that populate our anxious, achievement-oriented minds, as distractions.

The Daily Mind blog writes about how to use your work as a meditation tool.  If all day long we are meditative about our small choices at work, we slowly create harmony within ourselves, letting go of whatever does not belong.  We remind ourselves of what brought us here, of why we are doing the work in the first place.  We remember our priorities.  As we become peaceful, we gradually release the toxic influences of other people. When we sense we are not at risk of being wounded, we can afford to be more tolerant of those co-workers who remain thoughtless, anxious, or needy, or who have completely lost their way.  The Zen mind becomes compassionate, in other words.

It will be fascinating to see how this process of becoming compassionate evolves, if Zen practice takes root in the mahogany paneled boardrooms of Wall Street.  It will be fascinating to see how each of our workplaces evolve, when we release the small irritations of life in work community, and unearth the true injustices that call us to action.

In short, we can choose our response to the workplace, and choose to regard those who treat us unkindly with compassion they do not earn.  Systems theory predicts that they will have to adjust to changes we bring, in order to maintain the work relationship.  We notice our own emotional responses, and treat ourselves kindly.  If others do not nurture us, we are empowered to nurture ourselves.

Tiny Buddha has blog post entitled Zen business: the Eightfold Path to peace and productivity at work.  When we become mindful of our own inner life, we become mindful of the community as well.  Awkward questions arise: do our own actions in the workplace express the compassion we want for  ourselves and the world?  In multi-tasking, are we participating in each human interaction with a whole heart?  Are we doing the good for the world that we originally intended?  This process of becoming mindful can lead to unexpected places.

In becoming quiet, we come to notice habits of thought that had somehow become automatic: paranoid thoughts,  unkind thoughts, pointless frustration and anger with the annoying habits of others, who are struggling to get their inarticulate needs met.  What we notice, we can let go.  The space left over frees us in unforeseen ways.  What creative inspiration may come, filling the space you have created?


About Lynn Schlossberger

I am a mental health counselor, writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
This entry was posted in Relationships, Spirituality, Stress and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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