Mindfulness at Work


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"It has really helped me deal with work stress - I can't recommend the course enough."

"I'd been working a lot before Christmas and felt I needed a bit of a break so I decided to go on retreat for a week. I'd just arrived back home from visiting relatives and plonked my bags in the hall and rang the retreat centre.

After giving the woman on reception my details she informed me that I was 13th on the waiting list. I exhaled, and my mind said, 'Forget it mate you aren't going. You might as well unpack your bags'. I was disappointed. I felt a kind of sag in my belly. Unhelpfully, my mind added; 'Well! It's no good being disappointed. What can you expect? You leave things to the last minute and this is what happens. You are totally disorganised''.

I passed the unpacked bags in the hall on the way to the kitchen. They were still sitting there the following day when the retreat centre called me back to say I had a place on the retreat and a room! I said to my mind, 'You were wrong mate. We are going!' And I actually think I heard her whispered retort 'That was a fluke'.

Now, throughout my life, my mind has told me many things that have been just plain wrong, but it doesn't learn from mistakes and would never say to me: 'Clearly I got that wrong about the retreat and obviously, judging by the way it didn't unpack the bags, your body is smarter than me! Maybe we should include her in conversation next time? Next time I'll stay a little more open to possibility before I make definitive statements about what's going to happen.'

Another noticeable characteristic of my mind is that when things don't go to plan, or don't go my way, instead of being loving and supportive, my mind frequently attacks or lobs a load of criticism my way, impacting on my confidence and mood.

My mind has also told me many things in my life that have been unhelpful and untrue and I don't remember getting an apology for these either, my mind has never said to me:, 'Look, I know I've spent years telling you you're not good enough, and that other people are better than you, and that you should lower your sights, but now I see this is quite cruel and very unhelpful so I'm going to stop doing it'.

Even though this kind of 'mind talk' actually impairs my ability and judgement, my mind doesn't seem to comprehend this and so sees no reason to adjust. Instead it keeps on saying the same things ad nauseam regardless of the emotional, psychological and physical consequences it creates for me.

It never occurred to me to consider or watch what my mind was up to or to really listen to what it was saying. Even if it had, I wouldn't have known where to stand in order to watch it from, because I was always in and looking from it. I (or my mind) assumed that my mind (or itself) was reasonable, rational, self-regulating and self-reflexive. This is plain wrong!

Valorisation of the mind in Western cultures has afforded it immunity from investigation and appraisal. This kind of immunity has allowed my mind to go unchecked and unchallenged for 40 odd years.

But, here's the happy ending. Mindfulness cultivates an ability to be aware of what's happening in your mind, the kind of thoughts you're having, how often you're having them and where they are leading.

Mindfulness-based meditation provides a focus for our attention (e.g. the breath) or a place to stand in our body (as opposed to our minds) from where we can view the contents of our minds. Having seen the productions of the mind and what usually passes for fact, (You're hopeless! That's beyond your ability! You're too old!), having heard the erroneous instructions (You'll never do that. Give up. You're not able.), and felt the harshness of judgements (Who do you think you are to do this? You're kidding yourself, mate!), mindfulness then offers us a choice. Do we want to continue to believe these thoughts, these judgements? Do we follow their advice? Do we want to take their message on board? Or do we allow ourselves to see thoughts for what they are: mental events which are not necessarily facts but the by-products of having a mind?

You can't change what you're not aware of. Mindfulness helps us to wake up, to bring into awareness, what's going on inside our own heads. Once we're aware we have a choice, a chance of meeting our stuff in a different way. And lastly and perhaps most importantly, mindfulness supports us to respond with kindness and generosity to ourselves when things get tough. This in turn, enables us to pause and choose more wisely and more kindly.