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I Did Not Lose My Mind (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

I Did Not Lose My Mind

It took an illness of the brain for MEG HUTCHINSON to discover the inherent sanity of her own mind. Her breakdown was actually a breakthrough.

I was twenty-eight years old when my life fell apart. I had been quietly struggling with depression since I was nineteen, but increasingly the lows were followed by periods of ecstatic exuberance and boundless energy. What I had always written off as an “artistic temperament” was starting to become an exhausting ride.

Earlier that spring, I’d been selected to participate in a whirlwind musical tour of the U.K., performing with several other bands. We drank too much and slept too little, and it all felt easy to me. I was quick to laugh, suddenly extroverted, filled with creative energy. But when I returned to Boston, I quickly spiraled downward.

I began having trouble sleeping, even for an hour. I got lost driving in my own neighborhood. My reflexes slowed down and I had trouble playing the guitar. When I tried to pack for a trip to Minnesota, I found it difficult to make decisions. My brain could no longer handle even simple tasks. How many clothes would I need for a two-week trip? How did that knob on the washing machine work? What season was it?

As I felt the fog closing in on my life, bewilderment turned to fear. My brain was racing in tight circles of anxiety, but try as I might, I couldn’t untangle my thoughts. I felt as though I was rapidly developing Alzheimer’s.

I was experiencing what I later learned is called a “mixed state,” in which someone with bipolar disorder is suffering mania and depression simultaneously. After five days of total insomnia, I called my family. It took tremendous courage to say, “Mom, there is something chemically wrong with me. I’m coming home.”

My parents are former hippies. My sisters and I went to an alternative school and were raised on homeopathy and co-op foods. In my family, if you’re feeling “blue” you eat a little more kale, go on another hike, or write a poem. But I was no longer in control of my brain function; none of the things that had helped me with depression in the past were having any effect.

It took all of my focus to drive those two and a half hours home to the Berkshires. The Mass Turnpike was still relatively empty as the sun began to rise. Looking at the colorful morning sky, I realized I wasn’t responding to beauty. It was like the channel through which I perceived life had turned a muted gray.

People who have never experienced severe depression often imagine it to be an extreme sadness. Those of us who have lived with it know that it’s beyond that. It is a profound dullness, and it manifests in the physical body as tangibly as any major illness.

As I drove that morning, I had lines from Theodore Roethke’s poem “In a Dark Time” stuck on repeat in my head. They were lines I had painted on my bedroom wall as a teenager:

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade...

What’s madness but nobility of soul

At odds with circumstance?

Those words seem like foreshadowing to me now. I felt myself sinking down into the deeper recesses of my subconscious mind, wondering what I might find lurking there. I focused on the word “nobility.” I thought, let me handle this absolute confusion with some kind of nobility.

I pulled the car into my mom’s driveway and walked up the path to the house I was born in. “I have never seen you look this way,” my mom said. I saw the first wave of fear cross her face. As a child, I was so happy and calm that Mom used to call me “Buddha baby.” I’d always been emotionally self-sufficient, and my response to adversity had been to work harder and stoically wait it out.

Yet now I couldn’t solve my problems on my own, and it was beyond the abilities of my family too. For several days my sisters tried everything—salt baths, warm food, massage, slow walks, sleeping medication, valerian root, therapy—but finally we agreed it was time for the hospital. Fortunately my younger sister was studying for her master’s in social work and was able to educate all of us about psychiatric illness and advocate fiercely for me.

I checked myself into the psychiatric inpatient unit at Berkshire Medical Center, where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and stayed for twenty-one days. I fought to stay alive with my whole being while the illness ravaged my brain and made me desperate to escape my body. That is where this story really begins.

Because my brain was so compromised, I had a tremendous opportunity: I had the chance to see what remained. I didn’t have words for it yet, but what remained was a deep thread of consciousness connecting me to something at my core. A breakdown, I came to find out, is actually a kind of accelerated spiritual lesson. So much is accomplished so rapidly when the brain undergoes a terrific malfunction. One’s entire identity is shattered.

I was suddenly stripped of everything I had ever counted as my “self.” I was wearing a combination of my sister’s clothes and hospital pajamas. I was sharing a desolate room with a total stranger. I wasn’t allowed many personal possessions, and none of the food resembled anything I normally ate. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read even a paragraph, and when I looked in the mirror, my eyes were so dark and my face so thin that I didn’t recognize my reflection. None of the ways I’d defined myself in the world had any bearing.

On a psych unit, no one cares if you were a straight-A student, if you were a three-season varsity athlete, if you were popular or successful. Your personal narrative is useless in there. In fact, I experienced a strong allergic reaction to my own ego. I was overwhelmed with memories of my arrogance and competitiveness and felt a strong regret for all the ways in which I had judged others.

Reality is totally up for grabs on an inpatient unit. When I said, “I’m a folk musician and I was on tour in Europe,” I got the same impartial stare from the social worker in group therapy as the guy next to me received when he claimed there was a devil living in his neighbor’s garage.

I had none of the tools left with which I’d always oriented myself in the world. Instead, I discovered a deep knowing that was a witness to my experience and guided me even when my brain was failing. What remained was a quiet gentleness, a belief in something larger and greater than the excruciating emotional pain at hand. It was this deeply ingrained instinct, however faint, that kept me safe from even myself. I did not lose my mind that summer. I found it.

It took six weeks for me to sleep long enough to dream again. The first night I did, I dreamed I was walking up a steep mountain road with hundreds of fellow refugees. The earth was gray and dark, but we were all dressed in bright colors and carried our few belongings on our backs. The dream was vivid, and I woke the next morning with a strong sense of hope.

The second night I dreamed that I was walking along a forest path. The trees were tall and green all around me. I began to run faster and faster, leaping higher and higher until I lifted right off and flew.

Slowly, each day, the world returned to me. My sister took me whale watching off the coast of Provincetown. We had been on many whale watches in our lives, but this one was extraordinary. Three whales came right up to the side of the boat and began to breach and splash backward into the water. They danced and played, staying beside us for a long time.

I stood at the rail, holding my sister’s arm, laughing and laughing with her in the salt air. As the sun went down, the sky turned the most amazing purple and gold, and I felt the beauty reach me. I thought about that Roethke poem again: In a dark time, the eye begins to see. I was seeing the world in a way I never had before.

This is not a miracle story. I survived because I got help. My brain stabilized because I already had a solid foundation of health and a good support network, I took medication diligently, went to therapy, and changed my lifestyle. I healed because I walked through that door the illness opened for me.

I no longer think of that summer as my “breakdown” but as the year of my “breakthrough.” At age twenty-eight, I was given a wake-up call, which will inform the rest of my life. I was given a profound teaching on the truth of suffering, on the nature of reality, and on the preciousness of human life. Without that pain, I may not have woken up until I was a very old woman. Or not at all.

I have always had an interest in Buddhism, yet it was my experience that summer that prepared me to meet my teacher and take refuge. For many years I’d been walking past a Buddhist monk on a path near my house. I’d always felt a strong connection to him but hadn’t felt bold enough to say hello. After returning to Boston, a friend invited me to dinner with a Tibetan lama. It turned out to be that same monk I’d been walking past all those years. I was ready now to become a student.

In these seven years of recovery, I have found a middle way between Buddhism and Western medicine. In order for me to practice meditation, I’ve finally accepted that medication must play a role in keeping my brain healthy. But it’s the spiritual work that has allowed me the most profound healing, both physically and emotionally.

I think we’ve made a grave mistake in calling psychiatric illnesses “mental illness.” This implies that at our core, we are essentially diseased. Many illnesses of the brain are severe enough to cloud our mental consciousness, but my experience confirmed for me that the mind and brain are not the same thing.

It took an illness of the brain for me to discover the inherent sanity of my own mind. Now I meditate every day to strengthen that clarity. I meditate to give it more and more space in my life, to ensure that this inner witness is even stronger the next time I have to go through something difficult. Having lived through a small death, I recognize the importance of practicing for the bigger death of this physical body.

There is no greater incentive in recovery than the realization that we have always been well. We come into the world with the “nobility of soul” that Roethke talks about. No matter what the circumstances are, that purity remains and we can find our way back to it. Illness can break our hearts, but it can also break our hearts open.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Photo: Meg Hutchinson, by Stephan Hoglund

About a Poem: Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

About a Poem: Pat Enko O'Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun


Searching for spring all day, I never saw it,

straw sandals treading everywhere

among the clouds, along the bank.


Coming home, I laughed, catching

the plum blossoms’ scent:

spring at each branch tip, already perfect.


Everybody is looking for something. The writer of this poem, a Sung Dynasty nun, is seeking “spring.” How do you seek spring? How do you seek happiness? Or enlightenment?

Well, seeking requires going somewhere or doing something in order to find. And yet, it is that which seeks that is what is sought. With this nun, we traverse a mountain path, hear the creaking of straw sandals, find ourselves among clouds and at a riverbank. Trailing her, we feel the grit of our own longing, our desires for more.

Then she catches the scent of plum blossoms and laughs. It’s as if, suddenly coming to her senses, she realizes what’s been there all along. How could she have missed it? There is “spring at each branch tip, already perfect.”

We can experience the scents, sights, and sounds of spring only in this moment. Spring or awakening can only be experienced when we drop our idea of it. When we come home to its reality in our daily life, then the gnawing of “I want” becomes the joy of “I am.”


Pat Enkyo O’Hara is the abbot of the Village Zendo and the author of  Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges.

Poetry translation by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton from The Poetry of Zen.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Into the Light with Dale Cooper (Review; May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


Into the Light with Dale Cooper 

Twin Peaks’s quirky-cool special agent famously upended the idea of the TV G-man. Now he’s back in a deluxe new Blu-ray set. ROD MEADE SPERRY looks at one of pop culture’s most endearing, enduring dharma friends.


Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery
9 Blu-ray discs; Paramount

A man is dying on the floor of a jail cell between two mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Not even two weeks ago, despite his middle age, he’d had a head of youthfully dark hair. Now it is completely, shockingly white.

The sprinkler system of the sheriff’s department that holds him has been set off, creating the effect of a tumultuous indoor storm that rains upon the white-haired man and his captors.

One of his captors—the very one who has most doggedly pursued him—is kneeling. The white-haired man has committed the kind of unthinkable crimes that would disgust and shake most of us to the core, but FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper remains fully with the moment. He holds the white-haired man, stroking his hair, comforting him even as the horrors of his crimes are finally admitted between last gasps. Then, Cooper speaks. The words come out of him naturally.

“Leland,” he says, “the time has come for you to seek the path. Your soul has set you face-to-face with the clear light, and you are now about to experience it in all its reality, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like a transparent vacuum, without circumference or center. Leland, in this moment, know yourself, and abide in that state… Look to the light, Leland. Find the light.”

Though spoken as much from the heart as from the head, Coop’s words are not truly his own. Compare them with this passage from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, meant to be recited to the dying as they pass on:

O, nobly-born [so-and-so by name], the time hath now come for thee to seek the Path [in reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself, and abide in that state.

Leland, though in his final moment, is surprised, almost smiling, in response to Coop’s urging that he “find the light.” “I see it!” he says.

“Into the light, Leland… Don’t be afraid.”

And with that, Leland Palmer is dead.

It’s unusually moving; hardly your typical SVU jailhouse scene. But this is no ordinary TV jailhouse, and it’s certainly not ordinary TV.

This is Twin Peaks, where nothing—not family, not FBI men, not even an owl in a tree—is as it seems.


Fast-forward about twenty-four years, and you’ll find that Leland Palmer has, in fact, been reborn.

It’s not necessarily the kind of karmic (or “dharmic”) rebirth that Special Agent Cooper was shooting for, but Leland and the entire Twin Peaks cast are again finding new life—and new fans—by way of a just-released Blu-ray set.

The show was, of course, a true pop-culture phenomenon in the early nineties (despite a short run of clunker second-season episodes). The brainchild of writer-directors Mark Frost and David Lynch, it posed a now-famous question that seemed meant to remain unanswered—Who killed Laura Palmer?—and then, bafflingly, went ahead and filled in the blank. A full viewing of the series makes clear a sad truth with which even its creators agree: without that question, the show, despite guidance from directors like Diane Keaton, Uli Edel, and Lynch himself, became more or less direction-less. (Luckily, when Coop’s nemesis, Windom Earle, finally appeared in the last few episodes, he brought with him a renewed sense of the old Twin Peaks spirit. By then, though, most viewers had lost the thread and weren’t interested in looking for it anymore.)

But throughout Twin Peaks’ run, there’s one constant: Dale Cooper. Played with quirky confidence by previous Lynch co-conspirator Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Blue Velvet), Coop was young, handsome, and—by all network-TV standards of the time—seriously weird. Though a bit of a goody-two-shoes, Cooper was somehow, enviably, cool—a thumbs-up, yet decidedly non-Fonzarelli, kind of cool. His contagious can-do-it demeanor was only enhanced by his stated work style, made from a mix of “Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck.”

All this, of course, makes Coop eminently watchable. But he’s more than that. He’s more, even, than the “top-notch lawman” that Twin Peaks’ sheriff describes him as. Coop may even be a bodhisattva.

Now it should be said that David Lynch is not a Buddhist, and there’s no word on co-creator Mark Frost’s spiritual leanings. But no matter. Neither Lynch nor Frost needed to be Buddhist to create Dale Cooper any more than Bob Kane needed nocturnal crime-fighting experience to create Batman. Or, to put it another way, as Lynch wrote in his book Catching the Big Fish, “The filmmaker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering.”

But it should also be said that, while Lynch is no Buddhist, he is a meditator. For some thirty-four years, he’s been a practitioner of TM, or Transcendental Meditation, which was taught by the famous/infamous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and thrust into the public’s collective consciousness by John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney. (Ringo Starr tolerated his bandmates’ dabblings at the time but would have preferred that they’d stayed focused on music.) So it’s not a stretch to see, as one astute friend of mine has suggested, that Coop is Lynch. It’s all a matter of, as Bill Clinton put it, what your definition of “is” is.

Like Lynch, Coop delights, wholeheartedly, in the odd. Like Lynch, he believes in the power of dreams and intuition. He marvels at the mysteries of the natural world, and he’s fascinated, lovingly, with human beings and what makes them tick. As such, Twin Peaks can be argued to be a meditation on life, death, good, evil, and identity as seen through Lynch and Cooper’s shared vision.

Also like Lynch, Coop meditates, as is confirmed in episode No. 28. (He reports to his never-seen assistant, Diane, that he’s been meditating in lieu of sleep, which has not been coming easily what with all the goings-on in Twin Peaks.) So he shares with Lynch an active interest in how he can better perceive reality by first looking closely at his own mind. More important, though, Agent Cooper seems to be a fine dharma friend to his colleagues at the sheriff’s department, whether any of them know it, or care, or not.

Being unashamed of his intellectual and spiritual sides, it isn’t long before Cooper’s got the entire department not only tolerating his ways but also playing happily along. In an early episode, he gathers them in the woods for an experiment. Employing a blackboard that he dragged into the great outdoors, he gives the TPSD crew a summary of his admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as a quick Tibetan history lesson. Then, he asks them to indulge his beliefs about “deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck” with a session of unorthodox, dream-informed mind-storming meant to sort the wheat from the chaff in the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder.

Though initially skeptical, his colleagues warm to Coop’s unusual ways; they suspend all they know—or think they know—and instead trust and affirm their new partner in crime fighting. In a following scene, we even see Lucy Moran, the supposedly ditzy department receptionist, reading a massive hardcover book titled, simply, Tibet.

Now, Dale Cooper never declares himself to be “a Buddhist,” but that too is of no matter. What matters is the way he connects with and inspires the people around him; the way he lives every moment as truly and deeply as he knows how. He lives in exactly this way even when his methods have clearly failed him.

At one point in the series (I’m doing my best to exclude spoilers here!), Coop is, at least temporarily, stripped of his FBI badge and gun in response to what the Bureau sees as a cavalier and dangerous attitude. But the former special agent is nonplussed. While he feels that his dressing-down is the result of Washington’s being shortsighted and closed-minded, he goes with the flow even as bureaucratic justice goes unserved. He’s come to love Twin Peaks—the people, the landmarks, the unanswered questions that seem to reproduce like dandelions—and so he takes his ex-agent status as an opportunity, forgoing the G-man outfit that he wears so nattily for more region-appropriate duds. Cooper, it seems, is just as comfortable in a classic flannel shirt as he is in his old standard-issue black-jacket, white-shirt, black-necktie outfit. He even starts investigating local real estate offerings, thinking that he might just have found his home. Right where he is.

And what is it that could fill the gap in his life now that his career, to which he has been so dedicated, might be going the way of Twin Peaks’s endangered pine weasel? Coop, unashamed and calmly excited as ever, states his new priority himself: “Seeing beyond fear, and looking at the world with love.”


Rod Meade Sperry is the associate editor of the Shambhala Sun and the editor of the new anthology A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers.

Painting by Caroline Font.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Who Are We, Really? (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


Who Are We, Really?

Although the world gives us plenty of evidence to the contrary, human nature is basically good, says SAKYONG MIPHAM. Believing in humanity’s basic goodness is our hope for the future.

Throughout history, the deepest minds have come to the conclusion that there is something profoundly worthy about being human. In the Shambhala tradition, we call this the sun of basic goodness. The sun is a symbol of life, warmth, and wholeness, like the wisdom that is naturally within the mind. When we practice the view of basic goodness, we enter the heart of being human by connecting to our inherent dignity.

Right now there seems to be a not-so-subtle feeling that humanity is bad. The tragic stories we read in the news are often a sign that people are not connecting with their own and other people’s goodness. The moment we do not respect ourselves or others, we have bought into a system that destabilizes our dignity as individuals and as a society. For what is society but a network of relationships among people?

How we conduct our lives is based on our values and understanding of ourselves. Through the ceremony of daily life humans collectively perform, we contextualize our existence and come up with a sense of self-identity. At the same time, our environment has a tremendous influence on our sense of who we are. Based on this feeling of self-identity, we determine how life will proceed. This is what the Buddha called interdependence.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s most recent book is
The Shambhala Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure.

Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

The Myth of Multitasking (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

The Myth of Multitasking

We have the illusion that multitasking makes us more efficient, but it only makes us unhappy. SHARON SALZBERG shares some tips for getting work done well without getting worked up.  

We would like to believe that attention is infinite, but it isn’t. That is why multitasking is a misnomer. The brain can focus only on one thing at a time. We take in information sequentially. When we attempt to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously, what actually happens is that we switch back and forth between tasks, paying less attention to both. This does not mean that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, of course. What we cannot do is concentrate in the same moment on two distinct, input-rich activities that require our attention. While we may be able to talk on the phone and stir coffee simultaneously, we can’t carry on a conversation and text at the same time without losing information and time. Studies show that when people are interrupted and have to switch their attention back and forth, they take—on average—
50 percent longer to accomplish the task and make up to 50 percent more errors. That’s because each time you switch tasks, your brain has to run through a complex process to disengage the neurons involved in one task and activate the neurons needed for the other. The more you switch back and forth, the more time you waste and the lower your quality of work.

Strung out by information overload, however, many of us are becoming habituated and addicted to distraction. “Successful” multitasking has been shown to activate the reward circuit in the brain by increasing dopamine levels—the brain chemical responsible for feelings of happiness. The danger of this is that the dopamine rush feels so good that we don’t notice we’re making more mistakes. This is comparable to the rush you might feel while playing the slot machines in a casino. Stimulated and entertained by the flashing lights, the ringing bells, and the distracting, carnival-like atmosphere, gamblers go into a pleasure trance, addicted to the illusion of winning money when, in fact, they’re going broke. It’s important to be aware of how multitasking can stimulate us into mindlessness, giving the illusion of productivity while stealing our focus and harming performance. “When you are walking, walk. When you are sitting, sit,” is ancient wisdom. Hopping rapidly from one thing to the next, answering the phone while we’re shuffling papers while we’re sipping a latte, we fritter away our attention and forget more easily. In addition to dopamine, multitasking prompts the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, which contribute to short-term memory loss as well as long-term health problems. This also means that the information we take in while multitasking is harder to retrieve later than information we take in while concentrating. That is why learning to be a unitasker in a multitasking world is so vital.

Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed attention. A Web designer named Brian figured this out for himself with no knowledge of neuroscience. “I work for a community news site and have to be online from nine to five,” Brian says. “It can really fry the brain and get tedious. I’ve found that if I take ten minutes or so for every hour of work to do something for myself, like read somebody’s blog or take a walk, it helps me concentrate when I turn back to my duties.” Although this may sound difficult, Brian’s increased focus enables him to return to the task at hand with surprising ease. “Instead of hopping from thing to thing—which is so tempting with the Internet—I focus on what’s in front of me. Then I let myself dillydally to give my brain a rest. When it comes to work, less is definitely more in terms of feeling satisfied. And efficient.” While this may sound counterintuitive, relaxing our focus for regular intervals and pacing our sustained concentration sharpens attention and renders the mind more flexible.

Debunking the myth of multitasking, we become much better at what we do and increase the chance of being able to remember the details of work we have done in the past.


The Pauses That Refresh Us

Being more in touch with our motivations or intentions will reveal a lot about the ethical dimension of our actions. Before a conversation, pause for a few moments to determine what you would most like to come out of it. Do you want most to be seen as right or as helpful? Do you want to foster progress or hinder it? Also pause before sending an email, with the same reflection: What do I most want to see come from this communication? The other party to feel diminished or encouraged? Them to go away or increase their involvement in my project? And do the same thing before a specific choice or decision—What do I most want to see as the outcome? Peace or excitement? Ease or stimulation? You don’t need to condemn what you see or decide you’ll always see the same thing inside yourself, like a fixed characteristic, but try to become more sensitive to what is motivating you in this moment before you speak or act.


One Thing at a Time

In this meditation, we try to be more fully present with every component of a single activity. At a time when you’re not likely to be distracted or disturbed by obligations, make yourself some tea. Fill the teakettle slowly, listening to the changing tone of the water as the level rises, the bubbling as it boils, the hissing of steam, the whistle of the pot. Slowly measure loose tea into a strainer, place it in the pot, and inhale the fragrant vapor as it steeps. Feel the heft of the pot and the smooth receptivity of the cup. Continue the meditation as you reach for a cup: Observe its color and shape and the way it changes with the color of the tea. Put your hands around it and feel its warmth. As you lift it, feel the gentle exertion in your hand and forearm. Hear the tea faintly slosh as you lift the cup. Inhale the scented steam and experience the smoothness of the cup on your lips, the light mist on your face, the warmth or slight scald of the first sip on your tongue. Taste the tea; what flavor do you detect? Notice any leaf bits on your tongue, the sensation of swallowing, the warmth traveling the length of your throat. Feel your breath against the cup creating a tiny cloud of steam. Feel yourself put the cup down. Focus on each separate step in the drinking of tea.


9 Tips for Stealth Meditation at Work

1. As you sit down to work, scan the sensations in your body, from your head to your feet. Notice areas of tension and breathe into them.

2. Nourish yourself! Eat a meal mindfully, noticing the colors, the flavors, the textures of what you are eating. 

3. Try to perform a simple, conscious act of kindness every day. It can be as simple as holding an elevator door or saying thank you in a sincere manner.

4. Mentally acknowledge those who have helped you learn the skills you have, who have taught you to be better at your job. We are all part of a larger web. 

5. Notice how you are holding something in your hand—a pencil or a cup, for instance. Sometimes we exert so much force holding things it exacerbates tension without our realizing it.

6. Every time you feel bored, pay more attention to the moment. Are you listening carefully or are you multitasking?

7. Read an entire email twice before composing a response. 

8. Travel to work some days without your iPod, book, or phone. Experience the transition to work as a journey.

9. For an upcoming one-on-one conversation, resolve to listen more and speak less.

Reprinted from Real Happiness at Work by Sharon Salzberg, with permission of Workman Publishing

Illustration by Andre Slob.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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