Mindfulness isn't anything that we think; it's what we don't think. Mindfulness isn't something that other people do; it's something that we all do. Mindfulness is an ancient, life-enhancing, healing technique that can help us remember our natural state of happiness and health, even if we think we are too modern and too busy to prioritize what's really importantbeing fully alive and fully alive to our full life potential.
Mindfulness at Work reveals how the practice of mindfulnessthe ability to focus our attention on what is rather than be distracted by what isn'tcan be a powerful antidote to the distractions and stresses of our modern lives, especially our working lives. It gives you powerful tools to:
Written by an expert with years of both clinical and personal experience, Mindfulness at Work includes examples of mindfulness in action in the workplace, while also showing you how to apply its lessons to specific professions, from sales to teaching, from law to medicine, from the trades to the creative arts.
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About the Author
Dr. Stephen McKenzie has spent more than 20 years researching and teaching a broad range of psychological topics, including depression, dementia, substance abuse, and, most recently, mindfulness. Dr. McKenzie has a unique ability as a lecturer, researcher, and writer to present potentially complex information in a warm, engaging, and entertaining way. He has recently been appointed as the Research and Evaluation Officer for the City of Greater Geelong's Preventive Health Initiative. He is coauthor of the highly successful Mindfulness for Life.
Read an Excerpt
What Mindfulness Is and Isn't
The practice of mindfulness, of bringing the scattered mind home, and so bringing the different aspects of our being into focus, is called "Peacefully Remaining," or "Calmly Abiding". ... In that setting, we begin to understand ourselves more, and sometimes even have glimpses of the radiance of our fundamental nature.
— Sogyal Rinpoche
Mindfulness isn't what we think it is. Mindfulness isn't anything that we think; it's what we don't think. Mindfulness isn't something that other people do; it's something that we all do. If the only mindful people were the ones doing courses in it or reading books about it or writing books about it, or all three, then humanity wouldn't last very long. We all need to be at least a little bit mindful to get through our days without being hit by the first bus that we mindlessly wander out in front of, or getting hit by the first other totally mindless person whose toes we mindlessly tread on. On a more subtle survival level, being continuously — rather than just occasionally — mindful can help us to get through a day — or even longer — without getting upset by life.
What is mindfulness?
Simply defined, mindfulness is an ancient life-enhancing and healing technique that can help us to remember our natural state of happiness and health, even if we think we are too modern and too busy to prioritize what's really important: being fully alive and fully alive to our full life potential.
However, the essence of mindfulness is, like the essence of everything else, beyond words. Words are just symbols — models — and sometimes they can get in the way of our understanding, rather than help it, so let's just use the word "mindfulness" as a working construct, a sign-post to a fullness that's beyond words.
Mindfulness can be simmered down (perhaps a better mindfulness metaphor than "boiled"!) into just two active ingredients: awareness and acceptance. These two basic elements of mindfulness can be seen as two wings of a single bird that can fly us higher than we could ever have thought possible, as long as we recognize and use both our wings together. Without acceptance, awareness could be scary; without awareness, acceptance could be tranquilizing. When we are aware and when we accept what we are aware of — what's actually happening to us here and now — we are not slaves to our minds and not at war with our lives, and our life circumstances tend to improve.
Being mindful simply means being fully aware, fully able to consciously direct our awareness to what is — right here, right now — and fully accepting of what we are aware of. Living and working mindfully is possible for all of us if we can simply let go of our ideas about what we can and can't be. This is our natural state of peace and happiness, and it happens all by itself when we stop getting distracted by what isn't — our imaginings of times past and future. The trick to mindfulness, if we believe in the power of tricks, is that it's a lot easier than we think it is.
Most phenomena can be divided into two basic types: man and woman, good cop and bad cop, etc. Mindfulness can also be divided into two types: formal and informal.
Formal mindfulness is the regular practice of a formal mindfulness exercise, which can be described as "meditation," if you're comfortable with this term, or as "the systematic focusing of attention on a particular aspect of sensory reality," if you aren't. We can practice formal mindfulness in a suit and tie, or a long dress and tiara, depending on our preferences, or we can practice formal mindfulness in any clothes and at any time.
Informal mindfulness just means giving our complete attention to what we are doing and observing our thoughts about it, no matter how we are dressed and no matter how much our mind resists it. Our thoughts can be hard to resist at first, and they can include such sneakily seductive ones as "I have something much better I should be doing!" (than being happy and at peace?), "This isn't working!", or even Bart Simpson's famous "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" A valuable practice of informal mindfulness is simply being fully aware of an activity that our minds habitually don't accept, such as washing the dishes, and just doing it, without indulging in the potential mental and physical destructiveness of resisting doing it. If this applied mindfulness exercise seems a bit too strenuous, then you could try the classic mindfulness experiment of eating a raisin while giving your full attention to each of your senses, one by one. If even this seems a bit too challenging, then try it with chocolate!
The good news then is that we can all spend more of our time mindfully happy, peaceful, and healthy, and less of our time, as we habitually and unnecessarily do, being miserably mindless. But practicing mindfulness doesn't mean being mindful all the time. If it did, we would probably all give up on it before it did us any good. Practicing mindfulness actually often involves, especially at first, simply being more frequently mindful of our mindlessness, more aware of our lack of awareness, and more accepting of our non-acceptance, and less frequently judging our judging. If we can even occasionally be conscious of our unconsciousness, then we are making huge progress on our journey to greater happiness and usefulness.
What isn't mindfulness?
Despite what some of us might think about mindfulness, it isn't esoteric or weird or impractical, or something that we need to take on faith or practice in a dark room, or only practice within a religious or philosophical tradition, or need a license for. Perfectly sensible, respectable, and ordinary people formally and informally practice mindfulness (as well as some possibly not quite so sensible, respectable, or ordinary people), and it can help all of us. Hugh Jackman is an internationally successful actor who is based in New York. He is also an extraordinarily ordinary person who practices mindfulness and admits to it on talk shows. Hugh Jackman once gave a plug on Oprah for a simple formal mindfulness practice that he does regularly, and which simply consists of giving full awareness to each of our senses, starting with touch and ending with hearing. Hugh described this practice as being simple and natural, and resulting in an increased awareness, which results in him being a better actor and a better parent because he is more connected with his audience and his children.
Unlike some techniques that people sometimes mistake mindfulness for, mindfulness doesn't involve attempting to change how we think. Mindfulness actually helps us transcend our thinking, especially the thinking that goes around in circles and worries us, by enabling us to focus on and accept what's taking place in our bodies and minds without trying to stop or improve what's happening. Paradoxically, this process often does improve our bodies and minds, but this is a fringe benefit rather than a deliberate aim. The aim of mindfulness is to make us more aware of and accepting of our life responses, and to help us observe, rather than be controlled by, our thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are a natural and positive part of our human lives, but thoughts and feelings that consume and upset us aren't; mindfulness helps us to notice the difference and choose what is useful and beneficial.
Mindfulness isn't a life- and wellness-enhancing practice that we have to accept on faith, or even on the basis of our experience. There's a growing body of scientific evidence that demonstrates that mindfulness can help to treat or manage a wide variety of psychological and physical conditions — such as anxiety, depression, pain, and even cancer — as well as make well people more well. There's also considerable evidence that practicing mindfulness can reduce our chances of developing unwanted subtle psychological or physical manifestations of mindlessness, such as insomnia and unhappiness. Mindfulness is an effective and harmless way of helping us to live our ordinary lives by helping us to learn, make decisions, and communicate optimally. And success in each of these aspects of our lives often results in success in others.
Mindfulness is even being introduced into medical courses, such as the course devised by Dr. Craig Hassed that is now being taught at Monash and Deakin universities in Australia, Auckland University in New Zealand, and Harvard University in the United States. Medical students and their lecturers are increasingly recognizing and valuing the vast potential health benefits of the formal and informal practice of mindfulness — for themselves and for their patients. Once doctors take the health benefits of a wellness-enhancing practice seriously, then it can be seen as being mainstream, because these leaders of public opinion often lead from behind!
Ultimately, mindfulness will either help or not help us to live our lives, and acceptance of its benefits doesn't require us to believe in anything other than our own experience. To be mindful, we simply need to have an open mind and heart.
Origins of mindfulness
Mindfulness has been around a long time, probably for as long as there have been people. Ironically, despite its current resurgence, modern mindfulness practices are probably not yet as popularly well-accepted as they were in the ancient cultures where they originated thousands of years ago. (In ancient Indian, Chinese, and other cultures, mindfulness was probably seen as a natural part of people's lives that didn't need to be justified.) It's not known exactly when mindfulness as a formal practice emerged, but there are records of meditation being practiced in China more than 7,000 years ago. Although mindfulness is often associated with Buddhist meditation practices such as Vipassana — to see things as they really are — it's an integral aspect of many formal and informal practices that are vital parts of many Eastern and also Western life-knowledge traditions. Eastern mindfulness traditions include Chinese and Indian philosophies/religions such as Taoism, Vedanta, and Buddhism. Western mindfulness-related traditions include ancient Greek philosophy, as described by Pythagoras, Plato, and others, and also the contemplative traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Sufism (the mystical aspect of Islam).
The sleeping giant of mindfulness practice (and preaching!) has recently awoken in many Western countries after a slumbering consciousness dark age, or at least a dim age. To quote from Mindfulness for Life by Doctors McKenzie and Hassed, "This is an overnight lifestyle and clinical sensation that is thousands of years old."
The benefits of mindfulness
William James is regarded as the world's first scientific psychologist, and he was well ahead of this modern time (and well behind an ancient time!) when he said in 1890:
The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [mentally competent] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.
Mindfulness can bring home the prodigal son of our wandering attention and give us back our missing-in-action mental competence. Mindfulness can also restore our life essence, something that all too many of us these days can think we've lost!
Mindfulness offers enormous potential benefits for everyone. It can help to restore the mental, physical, and spiritual health and happiness of those of us who are physically, psychologically, or spiritually unwell or unhappy, and also enhance and expand the health and happiness of those of us who are well, more or less. Mindfulness can even help people who have never heard of it (mindfulness pagans) and people who know what it is but who don't believe in it (mindfulness heathens), in the same way that life knowledge and also vitamins can help everyone, not just those of us who believe in them. There are advantages, however, in knowing what mindfulness is, even for those of us who already practice it at least sometimes (and that's all of us) and those of us who benefit from it at least sometimes (and that's also all of us). It's a lot easier to work mindfulness into our life acts if we know what it is at the level of our minds, as well as at the level of our experience.
Have you ever been stressed? If you have, then please read on without delay. If you haven't, then please send us some tips! Stress is the root cause of most human unhappiness — and stress is basically being out of our comfort zone for extended periods. Mindfulness can help us to live our lives more healthily and happily by reducing our stress, and therefore reducing our chances of being sick, miserable, unfulfilled, or all three. Mindfulness can help us to prevent, heal, or learn to live with just about every physical, mental, and psychological malady that can cause us to mislay (never to completely lose) the paradise of our natural human condition, while also making our life a generally richer experience.
We think that stress is caused by events that happen to us out there, but actually stress is caused by our minds — and it often ends up in our bodies, and societies of minds and bodies. Stress really comes from how we perceive events, rather than from the events themselves. The same event — losing our job or a relationship — might make us miserable or even happy, depending on how we perceive it:
This is a catastrophe! How can I live without her/him/it?
This is terrific! Now that I don't have to live with him/her/it, I'm free!
Actually, we are always free. Free to perceive whatever level of reality we are mindful enough to perceive, and free to realize that our thoughts — even our happiness- and health-destroying ones — are just thoughts. Stress is the root cause of a wide range of psychological, physical, and general life problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, and job burnout. Being more mindful can help to prevent and heal many of these problems at their roots by enabling us to step back from uncontrolled and controlling thoughts. Being mindful means simply letting our thoughts come and then go, without reacting to them, without allowing the circus of meaningless mental activity to persuade us that it's more real than we are. We are no longer distracted by the unrealities of what might come to be or what might have been. Instead, we are focused on the reality of what is, here and now.
Mindfulness helps us to be aware of and accept our true self, our universal self that's universally connected and eternal, and not our miserable little idea of our self as cut off and alone. It does this by helping us to be aware of what's actually going on in our bodies and minds, here and now. Unhappiness comes from our thinking that we are unhappy, which basically comes from our thinking too much. When we are mindful, we transcend unhappiness in every area of our lives, because when we are mindful, we transcend our incessant circling, meaningless and destructive thinking processes. All we need to do in any situation to be fully happy, fully fulfilled, and fully alive is to forget what we are not — separate, miserable, obsessed — and remember what we are — mindful, connected, happy, and alive.
Now that we understand what mindfulness is and isn't, the rest of this book will explore and explain how mindfulness works at work by presenting mindfulness's working principles, some key aspects of work that mindfulness can help us do better and more happily, and some working examples.
Take-to-work tips for how mindfulness can help
We can work at making mindfulness work by being fully aware of the reality of what is — what we can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and enjoy.
We can work at accepting the reality of what is, rather than wishing for what isn't, or worrying about what isn't.
We can work at not worrying about not being mindful. Mindfulness often begins with our recognising our mindlessness.
We can work at going with our mindful flow — we are naturally mindful when we are not trying to be something else.
We can work at letting go of what our mind thinks is important, and connecting with what's really important — peace, happiness, and productivity.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mindfulness At Work"
Copyright © 2015 Dr. Stephen McKenzie.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 What Mindfulness Is and Isn't 11
Chapter 2 How Mindfulness Can Work at Work 21
Chapter 3 Mindful Decision-Making at Work 37
Chapter 4 Mindful Leadership at Work 59
Chapter 5 Mindful Relationships at Work 77
Chapter 6 Mindful Creativity at Work 103
Chapter 7 Mindful Enjoyment at Work 125
Chapter 8 Some Working Examples of Mindfulness 147
Chapter 9 Mindfulness and Our Life Work 173
About the Author 191