With ongoing disruptions to the ways we’ve lived in the past, and the need for many of us to manage competing demands of work and family during the same daytime hours, how can we avoid a sense of overwhelm and maintain interest, much less happiness, at work?
In my wallet I have a tiny piece of worn paper—a tag I pulled off the string of a tea bag 10 years ago—with the words “Grace brings contentment.” I was struggling to survive a period of intense overwhelm when I first read it, and the phrase struck me like a lightning bolt. I interpreted “grace” as “acting gracefully,” such as with kindness, skill, and evenness of temperament. To me, the phrase meant that happiness results from particular inner attitudes and behaviors through the ups and downs of daily life.
Two years into the pandemic, most of us have let go of the myth that once the chaos of pandemic life has passed, things will go back to the way they were—that we need only hold on a little longer and life will get easier. After all, when the pandemic ceases to be a challenging factor in everyday life, the world will continue to be marked by constant change of all sorts.
Change is ubiquitous.
As an example, prior to the pandemic, each of our 2019s looked nothing like our 2018s. In only a year, so much changes.
Children grow and needs arise; we experience gains and losses; difficult situations resolve or fade away as other challenges reveal themselves; we meet friends and we get things done; good fortune waxes and wanes. Our workplaces and routines, the cars we drive, and the people we come home to—they do not remain constant throughout life.
Though sages of many eras have pointed it out, one doesn’t need to be a sage to see that happiness arises not due to ideal conditions, but from our willingness to ride the waves. Do we face forward, buoyant in the shifting currents, or do we turn and struggle against them?
Mindfulness meditation—sustained attention on whatever is here in successive present moments—is a way to practice noticing, and going with, the flow. Bringing the quality of mindfulness to activities of life means we show up interested, with no expectations that things will go a certain way. It is a “let’s see” attitude, which can refresh our relationship to activities that may have seemed uninteresting or unmanageable.
To apply mindfulness in any situation is to switch off autopilot. When mindfulness is present, we do not thoughtlessly "go through the motions."
Like curiosity, mindfulness is an agent of creative engagement that can dampen a tendency to react impulsively to the unexpected. In this way, mindfulness supports us in regulating our responses to the twists and turns of the day as it unfolds.
Especially since the demands and distractions of modern life tend to encourage mindlessness, we must purposefully create the conditions for this quality of mind to flourish. In other words, though mindfulness is an innate psychological faculty, we must deliberately call it forth.
Treating the beginning of our work day as the fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of mindfulness can support contentment, happiness, and ease throughout the day.
Try the following three-part framework for beginning a workday mindfully—you can think of it as taking a SIP of mindfulness, first thing.
What is important is ritualizing the cultivation of mindfulness and its sister qualities—such as calmness, clarity, and patience—so you can bring them into the rest of your day, infusing it with goodness.
To this three-part framework I would add a midday mindful pause, an end-of-the-workday gratitude practice naming the people and things that supported you in showing up as well as you did, and a period of quiet for winding down before engaging in other parts of life (especially if in the before times you had a commute that served as buffer between work and arriving home). These are topics for another day. For now, keep it simple, and start at the beginning.
Create the conditions for a good day by approaching it mindfully from the start.
If you find it easier to practice with others than on your own, check out the Mindfulness & Compassion Practice Group, which for those of you in the Eastern U.S., is first thing on Wednesday mornings.
To expand the application of mindfulness in your professional life—to meetings, projects, and relationships with coworkers—I recommend meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg’s wonderful book Real Happiness at Work.
For 1:1 sessions in applying mindfulness to work or any part of life, contact me! Together we can uncover habits of body and mind that may be challenging you and come up with better routines.
However you do it, skillfully starting your day—perhaps by tidying your space, setting an intention, and practicing mindfulness--is the sort of grace that brings contentment.
This post was simultaneously published by studio BE, a wellness tech company.
is a mindfulness educator, Insight Yoga mentor, and end-of-life doula who cares about individual and collective well-being at every stage of life.