Working with Mindfulness

Mirabai Bush

[More Than Sound, 2012]

The workplace can be a hub of competition, deadlines and pressure that causes stress, agitation and unhappiness. Often we get so preoccupied trying to catch up that we don’t realize the power our minds hold to help us expand our reaches. Mental exercises to calm our minds can profoundly increase our ability to work with more focus, clarity, creativity, efficiency and positivity. Mirabai Bush, a seasoned mindfulness meditation practitioner and teacher, brings mindfulness exercises to her CD Working with Mindfulness. Bush is a key contributor to Google’s Search Inside Yourself course and is co-founder of the Centre for Contemplative Mind in Society. She has provided mindfulness trainings to employees of many fast-paced organizations and corporations including Google, Monsanto and Hearst Publications.

The CD contains an hour of guided exercises conceived especially for the workplace. Bush begins by recounting her first experiments with mindfulness. After working in a number of jobs where she realized she was separating who she was at work from who she was in other parts of her life— as if “love was for home and discipline for work”—she decided to create a work structure where this wouldn’t happen. She started a business called Illuminations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, fostering an environment in which its workers could “grow and wake up…[and] could be fully present at work to make the whole thing seamless.” This was based on the concept of “right livelihood,” which she came across in Asia and which exists under different names in different religious traditions. It advanced the idea that work is beneficial, not harmful. “And you do it in a way that increases your own kindness, creativity, productivity,” Bush says. “And that allows you to align your own values with what it is you’re doing for the world.”

At the core of this idea is the practice of mindfulness, which Bush describes as the capacity of “becoming intentionally more aware of just what is happening in the moment without judgment.” She experimented with this concept for thirteen years and realized there were exercises that could be developed for the modern workplace “to make our lives happier, more inspiring, awakening and closer to the lives we want to live.” Using her experience with mindfulness, she taught workers at different organizations to translate certain workplace or other daily rituals into mindfulness practices.

The basic principles of mindfulness practices are to simply to notice your breathing, certain movements, sounds or sensations as they occur in the present moment and to notice without analyzing or judging them. As a listening exercise, you could close your eyes and focus on a particular sound occurring in your surroundings “with wide open awareness,” as Bush says, “noticing it rising and falling away.” Regular practice of this helps improve your listening skills by making you more alert, fresh and calm and you’re able to listen to people talking with more attention, respect and without presumptions. Bush explains that listening involves more of your participation than simply hearing, which is involuntary, and thus needs to be developed as a skill by practice.

Mindfulness can also be practiced during the most routine activities like walking. When walking, bring your attention to the sensations felt in the body, and again, just notice them. After some days of mindful walking, notice if you feel calmer and clearer when you reach a particular destination. Similarly, a “wake-up” exercise that can be useful at work is converting an activity that you do several times a day into a “wake up.” Bush uses the example of putting a hand on a doorknob. This is something we do many times a day. When reaching for a doorknob, forget everything else for a moment or two, bring your attention to your breathing and feel the sensations on your hand. Then when you open the door, you step into a new moment. You can use this concept when entering an elevator, answering a phone call or any other activity that occurs frequently to wake up! As you enter this new space or moment, Bush says, you would be much more present in that new moment than you would have been without the exercise.

Another innovative workplace appropriate exercise Bush introduces is mindful emailing. Before hitting the send button on an email you just wrote, pause to take a few full breaths, forgetting the email and everything else and just concentrating on your breathing. Then, come back to read the email from the reader’s perspective as much as possible. According to Bush, this helps to clear up potential misinterpretations and has been very helpful to Google employees.

Bush has also included exercises targeting other issues commonly faced by employees at work like accepting and responding to changes without reacting to them, dealing with negative emotions like anger and building positive and empathetic relationships with co-workers and others. Bush teaches the exercise of observing your thoughts, noticing them rising and falling away, helping you become more accepting of change as a constant when done regularly. You learn to be present in the moment “as the river of change flows around you,” says Bush. To develop kind and appreciative relationships with others, Bush teaches a few exercises including the “Just like me” practice, which helps you to proactively remind yourself that others are also humans that feel good and bad things “just like me.”

The underlying principles to all these mindfulness exercises are the same: to notice breathing, sensations, feelings or thoughts without naming, analyzing or judging. Bush mentions that many neuroscience studies show that the practice of mindfulness makes us more attentive, reduces stress levels and improves memory. Working with Mindfulness caters especially to people in the workplace, however regular practice surely can bring mindfulness to other parts of your life too. As you practice more, Bush says, you can even create your exercises, becoming more mindful of and more present in the moment.

Keep updated: Follow these sites for daily “break time” mindfulness exercises (workingwithmindfulness), articles on emerging scientific studies of meditation, and other videos and podcasts with Mirabai and her colleagues. 

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