Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Mids t of Work's Chaosby Michael Carroll
When we think of work, we often think of drudgery, frustration, and stress. For too many of us, work is the last place in our lives we expect to experience satisfaction, fulfillment, or spiritual growth. In this unique book, Michael Carroll—a meditation teacher, executive coach, and corporate director—shares Buddhist wisdom on how to transform the common hassles and anxieties of the workplace into valuable opportunities for heightened wisdom and enhanced effectiveness. Carroll shows us how life on the job—no matter what kind of work we do—can become one of the most engaging and fulfilling areas of our lives.
At its heart, Awake at Work offers thirty-five principles that we can use throughout our day to revitalize our work as well as our understanding of ourselves and others. Carroll invites readers to contemplate these slogans and to use them on-the-spot, in the midst of work's chaos, to develop clarity, wisdom, and inspiration. Along the way, Carroll presents a variety of techniques and insights to help us acknowledge work, with all its complications, as "a valuable invitation to fully live our lives." In an engaging, accessible, and often humorous style, Awake at Work offers readers a path to rediscovering our natural sense of intelligence, confidence, and delight on the job.
"One of the best books ever written about practicing spirituality on the job."—Spirituality and Health
"Refreshingly practical and down to earth."—The Beacon
"A revelatory book that brilliantly applies Buddhist principles to the life of work and vice versa."—Warren Bennis, University Professor, University of Southern California, and author of On Becoming a Leader
"Michael Carroll does not just write about being awake at work; he has lived that awakening, thoroughly and inventively. His adaptation of Buddhist mindfulness to the complexities of modern employment is a singular and valuable accomplishment, giving us pithy exhortations and detailed instructions for being awake and aware in every workplace situation."—Lewis Richmond, author of Work as a Spiritual Practice
"An invaluable guide to surviving—and thriving—in today's demanding business environments. I've drawn on Michael's brilliant and wise advice for years. Now everyone can benefit from his wealth of insight and experience."—Deborah Dugan, president, Disney Publishing Worldwide
"A truly unique book. The wisdom that has been developed in two very different realms—that of business and spiritual practice—join together to create much richer insight and wisdom. Given the struggles of these times, these teachings are extremely important."—Margaret J. Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 15: Open
When we are awake at work, we engage our everyday circumstances from a simple yet powerful perspective: we are open. Without our rehearsals, we are mindful and available, precise in our conduct, and familiar with our feelings and instincts. Our mind and body and our physical setting synchronize, and our jobs become both art and science, spontaneous and planned, relaxing and demanding. By being open at our job, we also discover that our work setting cannot be taken for granted. Where we find ourselves is not just a passing landscape, removed and somewhat two-dimensional. Our desk and tools, customers and colleagues, lunch counter and elevator, all share and display a lively intelligence that weaves through each moment and in all directions. We discover that not only are we open but the situation is profoundly open as well: vivid, inviting, and strangely playful.
Waking up to this mutual openness is something that can and does happen quite naturally, requiring no other technique than simply being human. Just noticing a fall leaf tumble to the pavement or the steam gently rise from a hot cup of coffee can immediately reveal the vastness of this life. Sometimes, particularly when work’s tone and pace seem to slow down, we may choose to deliberately remind ourselves to wake up: to be open and acknowledge the openness of our work setting.
At any time during our day we can open ourselves by using the following four simple steps, which I discuss below: 1. Notice, pause, and breathe. 2. Acknowledge mutual openness. 3. Get back to work. 4. Stay open.
Notice, Pause, and Breathe
Being open starts with stopping our minds. We can do so by being mindful of just about anything. Our shoe might be untied; our boss may be walking quickly out the door; a computer screen flickers; a dog barks. And suddenly we notice that our world is simply and energetically happening. Noticing the sheer immediacy stops our minds instantly. Such moments are signals for us to relax further, to slow down even further. Once we stop and notice the immediate moment, we naturally pause. It’s as if there were a gentle invitation to linger—a restful sense that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go. Normally we rush past this pause. Out of anxiety or habit, out of blindness or just speed, we miss the invitation to pause and quickly become removed from the immediacy, talking to ourselves or becoming absorbed in a task once again. But in this case, we deliberately acknowledge the pause by taking a long, deep, unhurried breath.
Acknowledge Mutual Openness
By taking a breath, we accept the invitation to linger with the restful sense of just being present. Lingering in the moment—even for just a split second—can be very personal and touching. There is sharpness to our alertness, yet there is a calm personal warmth as well—a calm alertness. From such a perspective, we consciously acknowledge that we are no longer closed off from our world. Our inner rehearsals, the speed of our job, the worries and firefighting, are not closing us off for that moment; we are simply open, and surprisingly our world is open as well. So open that the world is not what we thought it was all along, so open that our experience is beyond watcher and watched, us and it, before and after. For a split second we may glimpse the vastness of being awake. And then we gently acknowledge this openness, as if quietly within ourselves we joined our hands and gently bowed our heads in respect. At such a moment, we may even be so fortunate as to recognize such openness as an old, old friend.
Get Back to Work
Once we acknowledge this mutual openness, we bring our attention back to the tasks at hand; we literally ‘‘get back to work.’’ We do this not to dismiss or ignore the openness but to avoid confining it. By lingering too long with acknowledging openness, we might make the mistake of solidifying our experience, making openness an object of curiosity rather than what it actually is: this very moment completely free from any agenda or reference points. By getting back to work, we drop any attachment to our experience of openness and let ourselves freely engage our work circumstances as they unfold. Sometimes we may remain open as we get back to work: our body, mind, and action remain synchronized and we engage our job with a heightened awareness that lacks any self-consciousness or hesitation. At other times we may become distracted by work’s speed and excitement. Running the old commentaries, rushing past the present moment, we simply forget to be open. Either way is fine—we simply get back to
Staying open is not a matter of achieving anything, of trying to be present for longer and longer periods of time. Rather, staying open is appreciating that openness happens with or without our even noticing it. Over time we come to understand that being open is not an option that we can turn on and off like a light switch but a condition of being alive. We may space out, forget, get absorbed in our anger or anxiety, or simply mindlessly distract ourselves from the immediate moment, but we cannot escape. Our feet still touch the ground and our head still turns right and left; we cannot avoid such things. The present moment stays open with or without our attention. We stay open, then, because there is no other option.
Of course, this may sound a bit too cute—too koanlike: ‘‘You stay open even when you are not open. Staying open happens even when you close up.’’ Being skeptical of such things makes a lot of sense: we should never buy such a bill of goods without testing it for ourselves. If we doubt such a thing—that we have no option but to stay open even when we are closed—we can do a simple test: stop our mind, notice the black ink on this white page, take a long, unhurried breath, and simply acknowledge whatever happens next.
Meet the Author
For over two decades Michael Carroll worked on Wall Street and in the publishing industry, holding executive positions at Shearson Lehman Brothers, Paine Webber, Simon & Schuster, and the Walt Disney Company. Founding director of AAW Associates, Carroll consults with major corporations on bringing mindfulness into the workplace. He is a longtime student of Buddhist meditation and an authorized teacher in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa. Carroll has taught mindfulness meditation at the Wharton School of Business, Columbia University, Kripalu, and the Cape Cod Institute. For more information, visit www.awakeatwork.net.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Love this book! It has helped me change my attitude toward my work. I love the concept of "Idiot Compassion". Now, more often than not, I am able to reflect on one of the many "slogans" in the book which helps me reframe my attitude and my actions. I have the Nook version for home and keep the paperback version in my office.
I read and re-read Awake at Work often. Yesterday, I re-read a chapter about the silence of fear. Carroll posits that fear is powerful because we experience it in silence. After making an embarrassing mistake at work, I remembered what I had read and decided to address the mistake openly. Before remembering what I read and making the decision to be open I was seriously considered attempting to cover up my mistake. Because of the book I found acting with integrity a little easier.
Not a self help, not a management style book. You don't even have to read this cover to cover. Just open it to any page on any day and read. It will change the way you THINK about work as it relates to your life. I find I go back to it over and over when I am frustrated or feeling lost in the chaos of work. A reminder of fundamental principles of life that apply to work as well as all aspects of living.