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Bringing Practice to the Workplace

We are on a roll!  Another new contributor, Alan Bell, offers this fascinating insight into bringing Zen Practice into his work as an IT manager:

“In this short article I wanted to express how practice has informed my life and specifically how it informs my life at work.

Firstly, please let me describe the sort of work I am involved in. I work as an IT Portfolio Manager, for a company called Unilever, managing a large team of project managers (20 people) based in the UK, US and India – we deliver global IT infrastructure solutions to the R&D, Marketing and Information and Analytics functions of the business. Overall, it is something I enjoy – particularly helping people in the team to grow and develop gives me the greatest satisfaction.

Earlier on in my career – I was very much focussed on climbing the corporate ladder and reaching my full potential. There is nothing wrong in this particularly – but for me it brought a lot of grasping and therefore suffering. Nowadays, my focus is more on the quality of service I can provide – and focussing on this primarily, and letting promotions take care of themselves to a large extent (which they have) – for me it is amazing that when I practice relinquishing control and just simply focussing on doing my best and letting the outcomes take care of themselves – how paradoxically, things tend to fall into place. This not only helps reduce my stress levels but also brings more joy into what I do.

Please let me also explain though, that I can still get hooked/caught in grasping and aversion, that is, suffering from time to time. This is why practice for me is so important …and it was my own personal suffering that brought me initially to a practice of yoga some 15 years ago and then more to a meditative approach via Zen some 5 years ago. Daily sitting for me enables me to practice being with whatever arises in a non-judgemental way, which I have found allows me to create a space around the suffering that arises and also experience the joy (from time to time).  In a lot of ways for me practice is about connection, connecting to myself and connecting to others and the world around which can over time seems to bring a more grounded and full experience to my life.

As highlighted earlier, I do still struggle from time to time and can experience episodes of doubt, fear and anxiety – and often situations or events at work and the behaviours of others (that I may wish to try and control) lead to this suffering. As such I have found the workplace to be a great place to practice, what I nurture on the cushion and also what I bring to the everyday realness of my experience at work.

I have personally found that what I (and others) call informal meditative practices in being present to ‘what is’ to be as equally (if not more so) important than formal daily sitting practice. For example, I do try to bring a conscious effort to my experience in any given moment e.g. bringing myself back to my breath throughout the course of the day, even if only for 30 seconds or 1 minute – just pausing and re-connecting with my experience through the breath, can be quite refreshing and energising. I find this simple practice to be invaluable and I notice that when I don’t practice it regularly – I can start to feel my small and reactive self (the ego), starting to rear its head. This truly is a simple practice that can be done without needing to even move away from your desk, or if it feels more comfortable for you – you can practice it in a quiet area of your workplace, whatever feels more comfortable for you.

Another practice I follow which is a little more involved but great when I get hooked by fearsome thoughts, negativity or worry is to connect to the felt sense of our emotions more deeply. This is via the practice of R.A.I.N – (see below) this is something I learnt via the Buddhist teacher and psychologist: Tara Brach who is based in the U.S. Tara has also wrote a superb book called ‘Radical Acceptance’ which I highly recommend!

Please note that this is something you can practice on the spot when you feel triggered or can check in with yourself for maybe a few minutes, two or three times per day whilst at work (or even outside of work!)

An example where I may practice this technique could be if I am feeling anxious about a difficult meeting I am about to have with a difficult member of my team, that may bring up fear and anxiety in me …Let me describe the process in a little more detail, and how the acronym R.A.I.N breaks down

R Recognise. Which is to say notice that I am feeling not at ease

A Allow. Say ‘Yes’ to the thoughts and feelings that I am experiencing. For example, saying yes to the fear, the anger – the thoughts that are spinning in my mind. Bringing an accepting/allowing quality to your experience.

I Investigate – notice with kindness, where in the body you may be feeling the emotion or sensations. For me – If I am experiencing anger I will notice it as a gripping sensation in my stomach, if it is fear I will notice a tension in my chest or throat area. Some people may simply feel numb – whatever you experience, do so with a spirit of kindness and try to connect with the underlying sensations. If your mind starts to think and judge your experience – just notice that and bring your awareness back to the sensation. Note: we are not trying ‘to get rid of’ our experience – that is fear coming through the back door creating further resistance.

N Non-identification. It is important to not identify personally with your experience and therefore create a self out of it– it is just energy that needs to be experienced and will either pass through you or will lead you to having space created around the experience that you are having in the moment. This step, further lets us move into an accepting way of being that will eventually allow us to let go of the experience and move on in with our daily activities.

I have personally found practicing R.A.I.N particularly at work when I am triggered to be of value.

R.A.I.N. is something you also may wish to experiment with, or try out the simple act of bringing your awareness back to the breath and body several times per day and see if it helps you in the same way that it helps me.

In my experience, the work-place is a great place to bring our practice to our everyday experience.”

Alan Bell