I took a class in mindfulness meditation last Fall. I have always been very curious about both the practice and reported benefits of meditation: increased brain function, spiritual centeredness, greater capacity to go with the flow, despite life’s trials and tribulations. I had been drawn to the idea of it for many years, knowing deep down inside that there might be tools a practice could provide that would truly be transformative in my personal and professional life.
But I was afraid that it would be torture to sit still for any length of time. I was fearful that I would be alone with my most negative inner voice – the shadow self that I try so hard not to shine a light on, the one that whispers to me in times of doubt that I’m not trying hard enough, not doing enough. I had a feeling that meditation would be my final frontier, but could I go where I had not boldly gone before? Could I really sit still and not drive myself crazy for even five minutes?
During the eight-week course we studied a variety of forms of mindfulness-based meditation: sitting meditation, body scan, meditation of sight and sounds, breathing meditation, choiceful meditation, walking meditation, loving kindness meditation. We even ate a meal mindfully, in silence, which was a trip for me because I love food and I particularly treasure conversation at the dinner table. We meditated sitting down, lying down, doing yoga, walking around, and sitting close enough to touch another’s arms. We meditated for three minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, even up to an hour.
We spent an entire day together in silence, listening for the bells that called us to different events and for the kind, soft voice of our teacher, Denise. Our small group of eight was remarkably present, honest, and vulnerable throughout our time together. And I learned that there are remarkable gifts available to me when I just sit still.
I now practice each morning for 20 minutes – that’s my sweet spot – the amount of time that I find equally challenging and nourishing. I have a bright orange cushion and a small wooden altar made by a friend that creates a kind of sacred space in front of a large window that faces the woods behind my home. I wake, I turn on my Insight Timer iPhone app, a bell chimes and I sit. And I breathe. The bell rings to close the session. And then the most surprising thing of all happens: I bring the gifts of mindfulness to work with me.
In my professional life as an Account Director at Enlighten my job requires that I support my clients, my team, and my organization, in a variety of ways. While the details of what I “do” each day are deeply rooted in business, this job is all about relationships.
Here’s how I believe my mindfulness meditation practice is helping me become a better AD each day:
- I’m learning to be more fully present in conversations. As I become a better listener, I find that I’m less likely to jump to conclusions or filter the information I am receiving through unhelpful assumptions about people or processes. This keeps me focused on creative solutions, rather than problems or personalities.
- I’m becoming more courageous. Instead of ignoring feelings that arise in reaction to business situations, I am able to mentally note, “Oh, I am having a reaction.” Rather than being hooked by the feeling (and a potential wave of emotion) I can ride along with it. When I ultimately seek to understand what triggered the reaction, the answer often directs me to where a conversation needs to go in order to address it. Or not.
- I’m learning to stop arguing with reality. The moment I say to myself, “This shouldn’t be happening!” Yet the truth is: this is happening. There is no argument. There is only fact. Peace is accessible to me at any moment, in any circumstance, when I maintain this level of acceptance.
- Most importantly, I am growing in compassion, for myself and for others. Most people truly are doing the best they can in any given situation. I am learning to honor their spirit, honor the moment, and work towards helping each of us get the most out of our relationship. That makes me richer, for sure.
While I had high hopes that meditation would strengthen my spirit—and it’s delivered—I had no idea that simply (though not always easily) sitting still a little while each morning would be so beneficial at work. I’ll keep at it, and I invite you to come on by and sit awhile with me.