Workplace Awakenings

The next time you get bored at work, try waking up instead of zoning out.

From "Awake at Work" by Michael Carroll, c 2004. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Rather than rejecting work's difficuties as bothersome interruptions, we can instead acknowledge work, with all its complications, as an invitation to wake up and live our lives honestly and fully. From this point of view, the problems that arise in our jobs are not inconvenient speed bumps or demoralizing battles but valuable experiences worthy of our wise attention. We can learn to welcome whatever stares us in the face--whether disappointing, exhilarating, confusing, or routine--confidently and fully.

If we take a moment to slow down and open up to our work circumstances, we will discover that work is continually inviting us to help, not hide; to listen openly, not close up; to connect, not detach; to perfect our skillfulness, not put it in question. But in our impatience to succeed and become better, faster, and more profitable, we overlook the fact that work, with all its pressures and problems, is encouraging us to be engaged, resourceful, and alive--right here, right now.

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Acknowledging Small Boredoms

All of us experience small boredoms at work--routine, seemingly dull events that we often take for granted: remaining "on hold" on the phone, waiting at the copier or coffee line, pausing for a computer screen to open, being stopped in traffic. We may consider such moments irritating or unproductive, a waste of our time to be avoided if possible. However, properly handled, such small boredoms can ease the speed and restlessness of our jobs, helping us remain alert, available, and awake at work.


A common small boredom for many of us is traveling in an elevator. We press the button and wait a moment or two while other passengers assemble for the brief trip. When the doors open, we pause while passengers exit, then slowly file into the small space, selecting our destination and taking our place among our fellow passengers. The doors close and a familiar yet peculiar experience occurs. If we are paying attention, we might notice two things.

First, during those few seconds in the elevator, our physical circumstances seem quite immediate. We are close to the elevator walls and to our fellow passengers, with little to see, hear, and smell. Our senses seem unusually keen and our surroundings distinctly vivid. The second thing we might notice is that this immediately makes us slightly uncomfortable. We quickly begin to do little things to distract ourselves: we shift our weight from foot to foot, glance mechanically at our watch, check the floor numbers and then glance at our watch again. What is so powerful about the small boredom of the elevator--indeed, about small boredoms in general--is that we are actually trying to avoid our experience, to distract ourselves from the sharp immediacy of the moment.

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