The Zen of meetings: Remembering to listen

Sometimes being in the moment means being bored. That is the uncomfortable reality of attending meetings.

I’m not a big fan of meetings. If they go on too long, and what meeting doesn’t, they release the squirmy preteen who lives in my head.

bored looking preteen girl
My inner squirmy preteen

She flicks her gaze back and forth between the clock and whoever is speaking. She scribbles nonsense in the margins of her legal pad. When she has exhausted all socially acceptable diversions, she resorts to that middle-school favorite, criticism.

“Let’s think outside the box,” she fumes silently. “Really?!”

Of course she’s not the only person who finds that cliché, or any cliché, distasteful. After all, clichés indicate a certain laziness in the speaker, right, so it’s okay to heap scorn and mockery on their heads, right?

Simmer down, I tell my inner brat. It isn’t that simple.

Sometimes using clichés is a mistake. But sometimes using them indicates a code, a common language indicating common goals, a way to get to the point faster. In those instances, a cliché can be an effective communication tool. So what’s really going on here, I ask my inner tweenster. Why the eye roll?

The ugly truth

The truth, it turns out, is very unflattering. To me. The truth is that when I’m bored and fidgety, it’s often because I’m not truly listening. I’m using boredom as an excuse to disengage and think snarky thoughts. Rather than tuning out, I need to tune in.

Listening is a skill. It’s an active process requiring not just my attention but thoughtful consideration of the message. It requires setting aside my own impatience and extending the courtesy of my full attention to the speaker. In short, it requires mindfulness.

Coming home to mindfulness

It all starts with the breath. I begin silently counting my breaths, from one to four. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count one. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count two. When I get to four, I start again.

Four Leaf Clover
I count to four and start again

This return to mindfulness helps me engage my listening skills. And once I do,  the meeting transforms. Or rather, my experience of it transforms.

I feel more connected to the others in the room. I start to understand what it is they’re saying, or trying to say. I’m more actively involved. This sense of connection is a good clue that I’ve tuned in again.

Do I still get fidgety? Of course. And I still think no meeting should last more than 20 minutes. But I’m getting better at reminding myself to listen. One meeting at a time.

zen garden
Zen garden
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Fitting meditation into your schedule: Mindfulness behind the wheel

I’m always seeking ways to bring serenity to my life. Meditation helps, but it can be hard to fit into my schedule. But recently I’ve discovered ways to incorporate mindfulness practices into daily activities. I’ve benefited a lot from practicing mindfulness while I’m driving.

road ahead mindfulness


Before we go any further, a word of caution: Stop the mindfulness exercise if you feel drowsy or unable to focus on your driving.

How to practice mindfulness at the wheel

In my experience, meditation helps me stay both alert and calm while I’m driving. I hope it does the same for you. Before you start, turn off any news or music you have playing, and take some deep breaths. Here are some practices I’ve used:

  • Observe the feel of your breath on both the inhale and exhale. You can focus your attention on the flow of air at the tips of your nostrils, or on the rise and fall of your chest.
  • Observe the flow of traffic in both directions, not judging it, not commenting on it, just watching it flow.
  • Observe the sounds: engine, wind, tires, rain. Let each sound enter your awareness without judgment.
  • Repeat a mantra, such as the word peace, or love, or lovingkindness, either silently or aloud.
  • Allow yourself to feel goodwill or lovingkindness toward other drivers.
  • Bestow a blessing or feeling of lovingkindness on other drivers. You could say, “safe journey,” or “blessings,” or “peace,” either silently or aloud.

These last two may be difficult when you encounter drivers who are rude, thoughtless, or reckless. But that’s all the more reason to try. When I can let go of my anger and irritation at other drivers, I feel calmer and lighter, better able to get on with my day.

When I can, I sit in mediation for longer stretches. Sometimes for 20 minutes twice a day, sometimes for a longer period once a day. It all depends on what else I have to fit into my schedule.

How I’ve benefitted from practicing mindfulness at THE WHEEL

I’ve enjoyed many benefits from practicing mindfulness at the wheel. Here are just a few:

  • I arrive at my destination feeling calmer
  • I find the commute less stressful
  • My reactions to other drivers are less extreme and angry
  • I feel good about having done something positive for myself

If you want to learn more about mindfulness while driving

I found this book to be very helpful: Meditations for Manic Motorists by David Michie which is offered as an audio book by Bolinda Audio (and which is read aloud by Nicholas Bell in a soothing British accent)

the audio book Meditations for Manic Motorists by David Michie
This audio book guides you through several mindfulness exercises

At her website Renee Burgard LCSW/Mindfulness & Health, Ms. Burgard has recorded some mindfulness exercises that are free to download for personal use only

This article at The Mindful Word describes 4 simple ways to practice mindfulness while driving.

Have you tried mindfulness at the wheel? Will you try it now? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Mindfulness: Can I squeeze meditation into my hectic schedule?

The short answer is — yes!

Even if you only have a few minutes, you can practice meditation and reap the benefits.

In fact, some experts say it’s more beneficial to practice for only 10 minutes each and every day than to practice for an hour once a week. I’ve found this to be true. Although I would love to sit in quiet contemplation for an hour every day, that isn’t realistic right now. I take whatever serenity I can get!

lady in meditation
My  ideal meditation: An hour every day

Meditation provides many benefits and strengthens the mind-body connection. One benefit I’m especially grateful for is that meditation also improves mindfulness.

So how do we find the time? How do we practice? And what the heck do I mean by mindfulness?

Mindfulness

What I mean by mindfulness is a state of relaxed awareness in which we relax control of our conscious mind. We let our thoughts drift through our consciousness like fluffy clouds drifting across the sky.

Clouds drifting across the sky
Let your thoughts drift like clouds across the sky

We don’t hold on to them. We don’t try to change them. We just let them go. In this way, we still both our bodies and our minds. Not perfectly, of course, but enough that some of our tension, anxiety, and distractedness drift away, at least for a while. Over time we can learn to apply mindfulness to situations that occur outside of our meditation. When I do this I feel more centered and less prone to distractions.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. But first we need to find the time.

Finding the time to meditate

I was surprised by how easily I found openings in my day, once I decided to do so. It turns out there were many moments waiting to be filled with a little bit of serenity and calm:

  • in line at the grocery store;
  • at my desk between tasks;
  • washing the dishes.

I find longer stretches in these kinds of moments:

  • on walks in the park;
  • in the early morning when everything is still quiet;
  • when I turn off the TV and computer.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. I’m going to describe how I do it, but if this doesn’t work for you there are many other methods and a wealth of information online. I provide links to some free online resources below.

7 steps to practicing mindfulness

  1. Start by taking several deep breaths. If you’re feeling tense, roll your shoulders or clench and unclench your fists a few times.
  2. Decide how long you’re going to meditate, whether it’s 2 minutes, 10 minutes, or longer. (Some people set a timer. I just peek at my watch from time to time.)
  3. If you’re comfortable doing so, close your eyes. If not, find something to look at and soften your gaze so you’re not staring. Some people like to gaze at a candle flame.

    A candle flame
    Gazing at a candle flame can help with meditation
  4. Focus on the physical sensation of breathing. Follow each breath in and out, from the very beginning all the way to the end.
  5. Scan your body for tension, and where you find it, relax your muscles.
  6. When thoughts pop into your head (and they will!), just let them go (you might visualize those big fluffy clouds drifting by), and gently bring your attention back to the breath.
  7. When the time is up, slowly bring your mind back to the present, and take several deep breaths.

That’s it. That doesn’t seem too hard, does it? You could even try it out right now.

Free online meditation Resources

UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free guided meditations on their website.

The Free Mindfulness Project offers mindfulness meditation exercises you can download free of charge.

For beginner’s, here’s a video on YouTube produced by AudioEntrainment that offers 5 easy steps to meditation.

When I can, I sit in mediation for longer stretches. Sometimes for 20 minutes twice a day, sometimes for a longer period once a day. It all depends on what else I have to fit into my schedule. With all the other things I have to worry about, finding time to meditate doesn’t have to stress me out. Remember, even small doses of meditation are helpful.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you meditate? How do you find time? How do you practice?

The Oregon coast at sunset
Sunset and serenity on the Oregon coast