Meditating in Meetings
There’s an old saying that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. In organizations, there are also only two certainties: taxes and meetings. Meetings are a necessary part of the functioning of any organization — but they’re not always fun. As a meditator, I found a way to make even the most boring meetings an opportunity to deepen my meditation practice and mindfulness at work.
I like one-to-one meetings quite a bit. You can connect with the person you’re talking to on a personal level, and still get things done. They can be short and sweet. Small group meetings tend to be okay because they still have some of the characteristics of one on one meetings. But I don’t usually like meetings with large groups of people. I find them exhausting and, frankly, boring, no matter how useful they are. I’m as happy as the next person when they end.
I found a way to turn this seemingly-boring situation into an opportunity for meditation practice at work. I pay attention to the people whom I am meeting with. I make the focus space the sounds of their voices, and, if available, their visual appearance, their faces and hand gestures.
I try not to keep track of the meaning of what they are saying. Instead, I pay attention to the details: colors, volume, pitch, etc. I find that I can usually still know what they’re talking about without trying to pay attention. We learned to speak and listen as children, and have been practicing ever since. We can put the conversational part of our brain on autopilot, and try to ramp up our mindfulness at work.
When we take this approach of meditation at work, there are a lot of distractions. I tend to be distracted by quite a few things: my own mental talk and mental images; emotional body sensations; an ingrained habit of pulling out my phone or checking things on the internet. There might also be things happening in the outside world: calls coming in on my phone, or messages sent on chat applications. So I note the sounds and sights of the person as the focus space, without labels; but I use what’s known as dismissive labeling to label any of the distractions as they come up, as a reminder to acknowledge them and return to the focus space. To keep it simple, I say “see” “hear” or “feel” depending on if the distraction is seen, heard, or felt.
I’ve found that this practice of meditation at work can make a boring meeting fun. The more boring it is, the more I get to practice building my mindfulness skills (concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity). My external circumstances are boring, but my internal experience is rewarding.
There’s a benefit that’s even more important than the entertainment value of mindfulness at work. When we practice meditation techniques in daily lifewe integrate our meditation practice with our jobs, relationships, and responsibilities. The deeper this integration, the more both our meditation practice and our responsibilities benefit.
Meetings are a necessary evil. I once had a boss tell me, “If you can find an alternative to meetings, please tell me — but until then, we’ll keep having them.” Even in the age of technological miracle solutions, I still haven’t found a replacement for meetings. Like death and taxes, meetings aren’t going away any time soon. But as meditators, we can make the most of meetings as an opportunity to practice our mindfulness skills and meditation at work.