One City

One City


The Buddha at Work – “Take Your Cushion to Work Day”

posted by Jon Rubinstein

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Throughout this week, while everyone’s minds were on the upcoming holiday and the four day weekend, I found myself slightly distracted, trying to figure how to address the next of the Six Paramitas and how it applies to the workplace. 

The fifth of the Six Paramitas (in the Mahayana tradition) is dhyana, which Thich Nhat Hanh calls “the perfection of meditation.” I’ve also seen it described as concentration, mindfulness, and mental stability. I was feeling a little stuck on the topic, not really clear on how exactly it applies to what we’ve been talking about. How does dhyana help me in my business?

I sat down at my computer to do a little reading on this topic and realized I first needed to check the most recent comments on Jerry Kolber’s Sarah Palin Post. So I looked over those for a few minutes, worrying about whether the comments I’d previously posted were okay, or did they reveal me to be an awful human being. I reexamined my comments for a few seconds and then it hit me that I hadn’t looked at Facebook in a little while.


So I popped over to Facebook, posted a few comments (OMG did you see that thing in Gawker? Crazytime!), changed my status (“Tom Selleck look out”), and then realized I hadn’t posted a pic of my new mustache in a while. After doing that I worried for a few seconds about how absolutely ridiculous I look with a mustache, and whether people think less of me for growing one. Once I took care of that it hit me that I hadn’t listened to the Glee cast’s recording of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ in ages! Have you heard that track? It is awesome. Seriously awesome.

Don’t stop believin’!

Hold on to that feelin’!

Then the song ended. Wow. That was really cool. While the Glee cover of Endless Love played, I moved on to check my email. A reminder from the payroll company! Got to make sure everyone gets paid this week. A moment of worry, what if I forgot? Then no one would get paid! Then my assistant brought in a box from Amazon. Which reminded me that I need to get new winter boots before it snows. Which reminded me that Sundance is coming up. I hope our condo isn’t too far from Main Street.  

Wait. What was I doing again?

Oh yeah. Dhyana.

So here’s the thing. It’s really hard to do anything well unless you’re just doing that one thing. We live in a world that tells us we can mulitask, that we’re not truly accomplishing everything we can accomplish unless we’re doing ten things at once. But the truth is, when we’re doing even two things at once, we’re not doing either of them justice.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche tells us about how hard it is for our minds to settle, in his book Joyful Wisdom:

“Left to its own, the mind is like a restless bird, always flitting from branch to branch or sweeping down from a tree to the ground and then flitting up into another tree. In this analogy, the branches, the ground, and the other tree represent the demands we receive from our five senses, as well as thoughts and emotions. They all seem very interesting and powerfully attractive. And since there’s always something going on in and around us, it’s very hard for the poor restless bird to settle. No wonder so many of the people I meet complain of being stressed most of the time! This kind of flitting about while our senses are overloaded and our thoughts and emotions are demanding recognition makes it very hard to stay relaxed and focused.”

Hence, dhyana.  H. H. The Dalai Lama refers to the Fifth Paramita as “Concentration.” Here’s what he has to say on it, in his (and Laurens van den Muyzenberg’s) book The Leader’s Way:

“By concentration I refer to the ability to focus all your mental energy on one issue. Most people have very poor concentration, bouncing from one thing to the next. They waste a lot of time thinking about things that went wrong in the past, worrying about the future, about problems with employees and family. Leaders are not immune to this. However, people who cannot concentrate are unable to focus their mind, which is essential for improving the quality of their decisions.”

So what does this have to do with meditation? Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche described the importance of training our minds “in stability, clarity, and strength” in his book Turning the Mind into an Ally.

“Training our mind through peaceful abiding can create an alliance that allows us to actually use our mind, rather than be used by it. This is a practice that anyone can do. Although it has its roots in Buddhism, it is a complement to any spiritual tradition. If we want to undo our own bewilderment and suffering and be of benefit to others and the planet, we’re going to have to be responsible for learning what our own mind is and how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold. Once we see how our mind works, we see how our life works, too. That changes us….

…We might have a deep aspiration to slow down, to be more compassionate, to be fearless, to live with confidence and dignity, but we’re often not able to accomplish these things because we’re so set in our ways.”

So here’s something to consider this Thanksgiving weekend: Meditation is not just about the time on the cushion. The time we do spend sitting, though, is practice that helps us “create an alliance that allows us to actually use our mind, rather than be used by it.” And when we’re able to use our minds and concentrate on one issue at a time, and not be distracted like a bird flitting from branch to branch, we’re sure to be more effective in our workplace.

Personally, I find that when I’m able to concentrate on one thing at a time, I accomplish a great deal more than when I’m bouncing from task to task. Meditation is awesome, but you may also wish to consider setting up your workplace in a way that supports you in your desire to “concentrate your mental energy.” Consider turning off your email and only checking it at specific times, and turning off the instant messenger. While we often think that we need to be accessible 24/7, we can organize ourselves in a way that allows us to respond effectively and in a timely manner, but not instantaneously. I used to find myself always looking at email while on the phone, until I noticed how doing so prevented me from paying attention to the person I was talking to.   

Granted, we can’t always avoid distractions; sometimes that “quick meeting” you’re asked to take is an urgent matter, or some other important situation arises. But if we train ourselves to stay focused on one task at a time, we’ll surely find ourselves better able to concentrate on that task and get better results.

And, of course, that’s a whole lot easier to do when our minds aren’t “flitting about” in the first place. Hence the “peaceful abiding.” Most of us don’t have the space or privacy or freedom to sit shamatha in the office, but we can always find time to breathe mindfully and return to the present moment. Even a few breaths in this manner can make a huge difference in calming our minds and allowing the “poor restless bird to settle.”  



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Lucy WILLIAMS

posted April 26, 2010 at 2:00 am


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posted August 5, 2010 at 7:56 pm


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