Workplace Zen

We are all plugged up. Cell phones, blackberries, I-Pads, I-Pods and other electronic devices have erased the boundaries between work life and private life.  At dinner we can switch from talking to our children about their day at school to answering an urgent message from a colleague in another time zone, to twittering about the awesome wine we’re drinking to skypeing with our boss who is away on a business trip.  In the morning we immediately check one or all of our gadgets to make sure that even before we’ve had our first cup of green tea we feel a sense of urgency or dread that indicates that our workday has begun. It is now literally impossible to leave work at the office.

For this reason it is critical to create a “Zense” of tranquility about our work lives.  Historically, Zen is a fusion of the traditions of Indian Buddhism and Asian Taoism, in simple terms a merging of internal peace and external reality. It’s a way –often referred to as ‘the way’– to navigate life, letting go of the frivolous while holding on to the essential. Taking a Zen perspective and, for example, figuring out how to independently define frivolous (aggravation thanks to the printer jamming) and essential (a colleague getting credit for your hard work) can spur an overall psychic inventory-taking and provide a point of departure towards a more focused way of tuning in and turning off.

Bringing a bit of Zen into your life means learning to be mindful of what you are doing in the moment, even if it is something menial like organizing documents. The more we can do this the less anxiety-provoking life becomes, because whatever happens you know you can handle things one moment at a time. Being in the now also means that we give ourselves fully to what we’re doing, which can help us focus and be more productive while we are working, freeing up time to forget our emails and just relax.

Zen principles tell us that our path towards enlightenment begins with ourselves. It forces us to focus on who we are and how we want our life to be. While this kind of reflection can be deeply challenging, once we clarify these questions, we can move forward with a sense of inner calm knowing that we are on the path that is right for ourselves. For some of us this may mean a realization that we need to reorient our professional lives, which is daunting but also exciting and filled with the freedom of possibility.

If you can learn to be happy with what you have and who you are, you no longer need constant external affirmation. This translates into less time spent on Facebook, twitter and all of the other social networks that have come to take up so much of our time –work and down- and have such an influence on our daily moods. In other words, detach and operate from a place of containment and self-acceptance., no matter how many “hits”, “likes” and “followers” are sacrificed. Detachment takes the sting out of the comments of a critical boss and softens the competitive edge that makes so many offices seem toxic.

One of the hardest aspects of working in an office can be dealing with the very personalities that make the workplace feel like a battle zone. We’ve all worked with people whose own insecurities push them to make the office atmosphere unfriendly or downright hostile. Navigating these various characters and dodging the barbs and power plays can be exhausting. Instead go Zen and transcend and rise above the interpersonal trips that can threaten and distract you. When you rise above a situation you can see it from a higher perspective and your grievances and unhealthy resentments fall away. We don’t have control over others, but we do have control over ourselves. So as a Zen Master once said, “In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit….” And at work, just work.

Once you’ve found your clarity, recognize all that you have and let go of hungering for what you don’t. In order to surrender yourself to the now you can’t be longing after what you don’t have (and may likely not need anyway). Only then can you discover an inner peace that will pervade your actions and temper the energy that fuels unhealthy and time-consuming anxiety to do whatever we think (sometimes incorrectly) it takes to succeed. Zen philosophy encourages us to do all actions in the right spirit. Approach work as if it were sacred, even the most mundane of tasks. If we do with it with intention we will do it well.

Once you’ve mastered the art of work Zen you will prosper and grow which will only help you find more peace and success in your work life. Chasing after professional status, a hefty bank balance and flashy consumer goods is in part driven by insecurity and lack of fulfillment. We wouldn’t need external affirmation if we were content with who we are and this is the defining difference between doing and being.  We do because we don’t know how to just be. In rushing around doing we are constantly distracting ourselves from ourselves. Many of us are terrified to spend any time in our own company and rely on plugging in to deal with this anxiety. If we can learn to spend a little more time just being in our own company, a sense of joy and calm will begin to filter into our lives and we can discover the right balance between work and all the marvelous rest.