Chris Gagné

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Why and How to Start a Meditation Club at Work

Why should I meditate?

Wikipedia describes mindfulness as “Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.” It is primarily acquired by developing skills in meditation. Early benefits can be seen within just a few weeks of daily practice lasting 10-20 minutes per session. Carrying an intention to be equally mindful through all of one’s daily activities—such as walking, eating, listening, exercising—not only makes our mindfulness stronger, but also enhances our lives in a myriad of ways.

Mindfulness has and continues to transform my life. I find more joy in each moment and my lows are shallower. I am more aware of my mental, emotional, and physical state, which gives me more opportunity to improve it. In a work setting, I am less identified with stressors and can act more reasonably and rationally during crises or conflicts. I am a better listener than I used to be, especially in terms of picking up on the subtle verbal and physical cues that enable me to better understand the person I am in dialog with.

Meditation is a thousands-year-old practice. It is as diverse as the term “sport,” with many different styles to choose from. Though it is often associated with eastern philosophies and religion, in most cases there is absolutely no question of conversion and it is compatible with virtually all religious backgrounds, including not having a background at all.

Therefore, given that mindfulness has so many significant benefits and can be taught without treading on grounds traditionally served by religion, I recommend it to anyone who wishes to find greater joy, love, and satisfaction in their life.

So why should we practice at work? How do we start a meditation club? Read on for more.

I practice what is called the “Samatha-Vipassana” method, following the instructions of one of my teachers, Upasaka Culadasa. This is a combination of the two primary forms of meditation in the Buddhist tradition: Samatha (offering “calm abiding, which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind”) and Vipassana (offering “insight into the true nature of reality” through direct experience). Samatha provides mindfulness and concentration, while vipassana offers insight. Combined with ethical behavior, they lead to profound personal growth that ultimately result in the cessation of all suffering. Yes, such a thing is possible.

Though I hope that all people find their own way of developing the ethical behavior, mindfulness, and wisdom that leads to such profound benefits, not all people want the same things. Many people equate discussion of ethical behavior with religion, commandments, and the threat of fire-and-brimstone. Although there is nothing religious in nature about this sort of wisdom—there isn’t even a question of faith as it must come from direct experience—it can conflict with deeply-held beliefs. Thus, it may inappropriate to talk about these subjects in a workplace setting.

That leaves us with developing mindfulness and concentration, which is immensely valuable in its own right. Sitting meditation is a great way to get started. Practicing seated meditation with others seems to “deepen” and improve the quality of the meditation for reasons that are not quite clear to me. A possible explanation may be that one is less likely to quit halfway through, but this does not seem to explain the entirety of the difference.

Why should I meditate at work?

Meditating at work will help you develop and maintain a daily practice, enable you to sit with others regularly, and improve your performance and relationships at work.

Why should I start a meditation club at work?

Having a meditation club at work, even if informal, will help you meditate at work more often and make more friends. If you don’t have one, you can start one!

How do I start a meditation club at work?

You’ll need:

  • An introduction, including a sample schedule. Example below.
  • Reasonable ground rules. Example below.
  • A quiet space or room to meditate with enough stationary and supportive chairs for everyone. Folding and lunch-room chairs work great; swiveling desk chairs can make noise and may be too comfortable. Some noise like street traffic isn’t too bad, but talking or meetings can be particularly distracting.
  • A timer of some kind. I like Insight Timer on iOS/Android and Meditation Helper on Android, but you can use anything that keeps accurate time. I recommend something that isn’t too jarring.
  • Basic instructions to offer to new meditators. Optional, here’s an example.
  • The blessing of your HR department. Recommended if you want to promote your club. The more secular you make your introduction, ground rules, and instructions, the more likely they are to approve of your activities.
  • Meditation supplies such as a cushions, benches, and a white noise generator to offset noise from nearby meetings. Optional.

What’s a good introduction and sample schedule?

It’s best not to meditate immediately after eating. Otherwise, you may feel extra sleepy. In offices that serve catered lunches, consider starting 15 minutes after food usually comes. This will let people grab food and put it on their desk, then go meditate.

How long should you meditate for at work? I recommend 20 minutes: it’s long enough to be interesting for more experienced meditators, but short enough that you can still fit it into a lunch hour or other 30-minute block.

Here’s the introduction and schedule I created:

[Company]’s Meditation Club

  • Who: You! All are welcome, regardless of experience or background.
  • What: 20 minutes of silent, stationary meditation. Use any technique of your choice that will not disturb others.
  • Where: “Golden Gate Bridge” meeting room.
  • When: 12:15p sharp, every day.
  • Why: Reduce stress and negative emotions, gain new perspectives, possibly reduction of stress-related illnesses, and much, much more!
  • How: Our goal is to create a safe and comfortable space for contemplative practice for people from all traditions and backgrounds. You can practice anything you like (shamatha, vipassana, zazen, guided, Transcendental, silent prayer, etc), so long as it is stationary and silent. If you don’t have a current practice, here are some basic instructions you could try: [Link to something useful but secular; I adapted my teacher’s instructions.]. If these don’t work for you, you can find many more instructions online or ask your fellow mediators for ideas.

Schedule

  • 12:15 → 12:20: Arrive and prepare cushions, blankets, etc.
  • 12:20 → 12:21: 1-minute “on-cushion” preparation (adjusting posture, relaxing, etc)
    • this is optional and depends on the person setting the timer
  • 12:21 → 12:41: 20 minute sit begins and ends with a chime.
  • 12:41 → 12:45: Put your cushions away and get back to work! 

We published these on our wiki and invited folks from all backgrounds to share instructions and guides that they liked so that new meditators could choose from a variety of options. Personally, I’m a huge fan of The Mind Illuminated as a guide (I’ve given away over 40 copies to friends, family members, and co-workers). Although it’s my opinion that getting good instruction in meditation is critical for making progress, being secular (in a work context), welcoming, and non-judgmental is much more important.

What are some good ground rules?

Here’s the ground rules we used:

“Ground rules” for keeping the space

  Out of consideration for your fellow meditators, we respectfully request that you observe these ground rules when joining us:

  • Please be ready to start by 12:15p sharp so as not to disturb others. If you cannot arrive on time, please come the next day!
  • Please endeavor to remain still and turn off anything that will make a noise, including vibrating phone alerts.
  • Guided meditations: If listening to a guided meditation, please strongly consider wearing “in-ear monitors” (earbuds that insert snugly with foam or rubber tips) so as not to disturb others. Even very low volume sounds can be disturbing to others.
  • Please do not leave during the sit. If you are concerned that you may get called out to fight a fire, please come the next day!
  • Please consider installing a meditation timer app on your phone so that you can time the meditation for others. The stopwatch feature on most phones also works but the sounds can be a little jarring when coming out of a sit.

Image from Betty Nudler on flickr.

2 Comments

  1. Mindfulness is basically just paying attention — it is easier to get more out of life if you are paying attention. Meditation is the exercise that aims to achieve this practice of mindfulness. Meditation is the act of clearing your mind from the day to day clutter and quieting your thoughts by focusing on one thing for a deliberate period of stillness.

  2. Chris Gagné

    April 21, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Dear Lama Surya Das,

    What a delight it is to see you comment on my blog!

    In his book “The Mind Illuminated,” My teacher Upasaka Culadasa describes mindfulness as “An optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness.” I’ve come to greatly appreciate this perspective as the peripheral awareness—similar to peripheral vision—allows me to spot potential deviations in attention before the monkey-mind wanders. I’ve found that developing both this peripheral awareness has made developing that attentional stability much easier.

    What do you think?

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