How do you end your meditation session? Do you find that it’s very easy to hear your timer go off for the time you’ve allowed and then just get up and carry on? It’s a shame to do that though, because you are missing out on a great chance to mix meditation with life.
Here is are some simple steps that I work with that help me to take my meditation forward into my day.
1. What is your purpose in meditating?
Remind yourself why you try to meditateregularly. Most people that I work with came to meditation because they wanted more peace and clarity in their lives. Sometimes there is an element of wanting to work with yourself in order to be more useful for other people. I started meditation because it was important to me to try and make some sense of how the world works and to know my own mind.
Being able to define your purpose for meditating is a good way to inspire yourself to keep doing it—especially if it gets hard. Reminding yourself of that purpose as you end your meditation session is a good way to appreciate the effort you have made. You seal the benefit of the session and can count on it to get you back to your meditation seat for the next session.
2. Don’t switch off your meditation
If you are busy, with a long to-do list, you can end up shrugging off your meditation in your rush to get back to doing what needs to be done. After all the effort you have made to do your meditation, that’s a real pity.
Maybe you have been focusing on your breathduring your meditation. As you end your meditation and get back into activity, keep that focus for a few minutes. You can be aware of your breathing along with engaging in an activity. As you sit at your keyboard, you can check your breathing. As you walk to a meeting, you can be aware of your breath.
Try to gently maintain the atmosphere of your meditation session.
3. With your next action, emphasize mindfulness
While we are meditating, we are being present and mindful of where we are and what we are doing. A good way to maintain the atmosphere of your meditation is to focus on being mindfulas you move into activity.
As you get up from your seat, notice how you move your body, fold up your shawl, or pick up your timer. Move slowly and pay attention to what you are doing. Instead of letting your mind race ahead to what you are going to do next, keep your focus on what you are doing in that very moment.
Without straining or getting tense about it see how long you can maintain this level of mindfulness.
4. Give yourself time
It’s worth adding a few extra minutes to any meditation session to allow yourself time to settle into it and then to come out of it with presence. If you are up against the clock, then it is very hard to end your meditation in a way that helps you to take it into activity.
Remember that we are trying to make meditation a habit. Think of all the things you have learnt to do in your life—they all need lots of practice and regular repetition. If you have learned a second language, or ridden a bike, or play a musical instrument then you know how determined you need to be to make progress.
Meditation is no different in that respect. It needs proper time and attention. It can’t be rushed. It’s much better to do regular short sessions, with proper set up and a good way of finishing than to try and blitz through by trying for a long sit and then making yourself late for the next thing you need to do.
5. The importance of mixing meditation with life
For most of us it is only possible to spend short periods of time meditating. Even if we manage to meditate for an hour—and it takes time to build up to that—there are still 23 non-meditation hours left in the day. So mixing meditation with life is an important part of learning to meditate.
The truth is that once we gain some confidence with meditation it is possible to meditate just about anywhere. Once we are clear on our method and relaxed about being able to do it, then it’s just a case of finding moments throughout the day where we can take a short space for meditation.
Here are a couple of things you can try
My most simple technique is to take an activity that I do a lot—like washing my hands—and then try to be fully present each time I do the activity. So, if I am not present, I am usually thinking about what I need to do next as I wash my hands. I go on to automatic pilot and just get it over with. If I am trying to wash my hand mindfully, then I go a little bit slower. I notice how I turn on the tap, the temperature of the water, and the feeling of it flowing over my hands. Applying the soap gives me a chance to observe the bubbles and enjoy the scent. There is time to notice the texture of the towel and the roughness of it rubbing against my skin. The whole experience only takes one or two minutes, but it brings me right into the present moment and cuts the overlapping flow of my thoughts and concerns.
Standing in line at the supermarket check-out, waiting for the tram, or walking from one meeting to another all give opportunities for a short meditation. Even if it is only one or two minutes, the effect of stopping, coming home to yourself and watching your breath will help to settle you into the habit of meditation. Normally we would just let our minds wander and go over things that are pre-occupying us. This way, we can refresh our mood and increase our awareness.
How you end your meditation may seem to be quite a small, practical point in the whole project of trying to make room for meditation in your life. The thing is that it can also be a way of increasing the impact that meditation has and making it easier to bring to mind during the day.
There is a traditional Buddhist teachingabout the power of not reacting. It’s based on the image of being hit by an arrow. The first arrow is the difficult circumstance, disappointment or stress that we face. This arrow is unavoidable—challenging things are just part of life. The second arrow is how we react to whatever is happening—and here we have a choice. If we react by blaming ourselves, getting angry or complaining we are shooting ourselves all over again with a second arrow. That way we have the original pain to deal with plus the suffering of our reaction.
Recently I witnessed an incident that brought this home to me.
People gazing in the airport
Living in Amsterdam means that my local airport is Schiphol airport. It’s a great airport—spacious, light and airy. There are plenty of good cafes and places to sit. I always enjoy people gazingwhile sipping a hot chocolate. Recently I was waiting at the gate for my flight and had the opportunity to observe an interesting case of not reacting.
Cleaning the floor
It occurred to me that he must have swept this same expanse of floor many times. It’s most likely that he has never actually been thanked for the quality of his work. His pay was probably low, but he did the job thoroughly from a sense of self-respect. He was not looking for any outside acknowledgement. I found it restful to watch him but a bit sad also. He seemed to expect so little.
The next people to take part were a couple running towards a neighbouring gate where a flight to the States had just been called. There was no great rush, but they were obviously concerned to arrive well in time. All their attention was focused on getting to their gate. They were not mindfulof anything else.
Maybe you can guess what happened? They ran right through the pile of rubbish the cleaner had so painstakingly gathered, scattering it all over a wide expanse of floor. The woman checked her steps for a fraction of a second. I thought she would see the cleaner and apologize but instead she picked up her pace and quickly followed her companion towards their destination. There was an opportunity there for a moment of kindnessbut as so often happens, it passed by without being taken up.
I understood then the man’s attitude of not expecting to be seen—this must happen to him over and over again. It is so easy isn’t it, when you’re pressured to simply put your own agenda centre-stage and not even see that others may have an agenda of their own that needs your attention. There was a power imbalance in this incident too—the customer’s needs taking precedence over a mere cleaner getting on with his job. That kind of thing can happen so often in our working life. Maybe we have dealings with a manager, or team leader who may, or may not choose to see our contribution clearly, or as important as their own.
Choosing not to react
Perhaps it will not surprise you at all that the cleaner simply gathered up the scattered dirt and debris and continued with his work almost as if there had been no interruption. He did not reactin any way. He could have called out, or cursed under his breath. It would have been understandable if he had looked around for a sympathetic eye—I admit, I was ready to provide one—but he did none of those things. The cleaner simply continued with his job.
Managing our stress levels
It occurred to me that he considered dealing with that kind of lack of awareness from the people using the airport around him as part of his job. Rather than seeing it as an annoying incident to be stored up to take home and tell the wife about, he just got on with things. By having that attitude, he was keeping his own stresslevels under control. Imagine if he had reacted every time someone failed to see him working how tired and exhausted, he would be at the end of every day.
It brought home to me strongly the power of not reacting when irritating things happen. When we don’t shoot the second arrow it has a big benefit for yourself and everyone around you. Hans Seyle,was one of the first people to research the effects of stress on humans. In fact, he is sometimes called the grandfather of stress research. One of his most quoted opinions is,
It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it
Isn’t that worth a thought next time we have something happen to us that we didn’t want to happen?
How To Make Your Stress Benefit You
If you enjoyed this post you might like to take a look at this online course. It’s full of simple, practical steps to work better with stress.
By the end of 2019 it is estimated that there will be 2.9 billion email users. That is more than one third of the worldwide population. Around 246 billion emails are sent each day. Business users receive about 126 emails per day. Right there is one source for email overload.
How do we get to email overload?
Email has a kind of seduction
Having a constant stream of email certainly gives us the feeling of being busy and in demand. There’s a kind of bravado we hear when people speak about their average daily email totals. The speed and immediacy of the messages flowing into our in-box can have a slightly addictive quality as we plough through them looking for the ones that we hope will make a difference.
The Harvard Business Review recently carried an article on what it called email addiction in which it stated the findings of a survey done for the Huffington Post. Here are two of the statistics:
Out of 1200 respondents, some 60% said they spend less than two waking hours a day completely disconnected from email.
20% spend less than half an hour disconnected.
Our email has embedded itself deeply into our lives.
It creates an illusion of multitasking
It’s not just our email either. We are linked in to any number of communication tools and apps. As we sit at our computers, we are subject to alerts and notifications providing us with information that we feel is essential to keeping in touch and getting things done. We can pride ourselves on being able to switch our attention between several different demands at once but perhaps we also need to question the quality of our attention divided into so many different directions. Think about trying to answer an email on your smart phone while waiting for your train to work, or juggling your shopping in the supermarket. It may feel like using every moment fully but is it worth the risk of making an error of judgement because your attention is not focused?
Our brain is not comfortable with shifting back and forth between several different tasks. It has the effect of splitting our attention and tends to make us less productive rather than more. The quality of attention we give to each task is so reduced that it becomes counter-productive. The risk of replying to an email in this way is quite high. With our attention so divided we are likely to miss things and respond inappropriately.
It’s the same thing if we are trying to write a report while we keep an eye on our incoming email. In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock states that:
on average office distractions take up about 2.1 hours per day
employees tend to spend about 11 minutes on a task before being distracted
people switch activities every 3 minutes
after an interruption it takes people 25 minutes to return to their original task
Some emotional reasons for challenges with email
A lack of intimacy as a communication tool
Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us impact the brain—and so the body—of everyone we interact with, just as they do us. When we communicate face-to-face we are able to form an instant connection and enhance this by how we use our voice, facial expressions and other non-verbal cues.
Add to that the increasing body of study into mirror neurons, which enable us to instinctively feel another person’s thoughts, emotions and intentions and we have a clear picture of the volume and intensity of communication that flows between people when they meet.
None of this is available to us on email. We may conduct long and important business relations with people that we rarely—or perhaps never—see.
It’s easy to misinterpret the tone of an email
When we are under pressure to answer a large number of emails we naturally try to be as succinct and efficient as possible. We cut down on the niceties and go straight for the main point. Unfortunately, for the recipient who cannot see us and maybe does not even know us well, the effect can be quite negative. Email that we intend to be concise and practical can seem to be unfeeling, or even rude.
Add to this the brain’s negativity bias, which makes it much easier for us to interpret something as hostile, even when it’s not. Designed to help us remember dangerous circumstances so we could avoid them in the future in order to survive, this feature easily converts a neutral but business-like message into an unfriendly communication. Having not given our correspondent the benefit of the doubt, we are likely to pass the irritation on in subsequent emails we send throughout the day.
Three simple steps to avoid email overload
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume and persistence of our email traffic but there are a number of simple things we can do that will help. It’s a question of identifying them and putting them in place as our regular habit.
Here’s a few ideas for how to be practical with your email:
Have regular times of day for dealing with email. This will avoid the nightmare of your email spilling over your entire day and making it hard to accomplish anything else.
Try not to answer emails on your journey to work but use the time to prepare for the day. When you are in your workplace you can give better attention to the email you are writing.
Deal with the emails already in your inbox before you start on the incoming messages of the day. This helps you to keep track and prevents an important email slipping through the cracks.
Sort out your inbox regularly. It is encouraging to see the volume decrease in your inbox and helps you to keep track.
Turn off your notifications when you are working on other things. This decreases anxiety when you see emails surging into your inbox.
Check that sending an email is the best means of communication for the message you want to send. Would a phone call work better This helps to ensure good communication.
Check your subject line—is it identifying the topic clearly? The person receiving the email is as busy as you. Helping them assess how to deal with your message will make it more likely it is answered quickly.
Think carefully about who you copy in—do all these people need to see your message, or will it complicate things? It helps to keep the communication channels uncluttered.
We have already looked at how often someone gets distracted from the task in hand while at work and how long it can take them to get back on track. Distraction is not just something that happens to us at work. In 2010, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert and his associate, Matthew Killingsworth conducted a studyin which they developed a smart phone app to measure peoples’ happiness. During the day people were sent a series of questions asking them what they were doing and how they were feeling. The results showed that for 46.9% of their waking hours people were thinking about something other than what they were doing, and they were not feeling happy. Think about that for a moment—it is almost half of your life!
Meditation is the best way to work with distraction. Here is a very simple mindfulness meditation exercise you could try.
A simple mindfulness meditation exercise
Connect with your breathing
—stay with where the sensation is most vivid for you
—moment by moment by moment
—breath by breath by breath
—notice any changes in your breathing
Notice when your attention is not on your breathing
—check where has it gone
—dissolve the distraction
—bring your attention back to your breath
—begin again as if for the first time
Doing an exercise like this regularly will help you be less distracted with your email. Mindfulness means being present. Meditation means developing awareness. Both of these are useful skills with email.
Here’s a few ways to be mindful with your email:
Keep in touch with yourself by maintaining awareness of your body on your chair, your chair at your desk and so on.
Try to avoid sending email while you are on automatic pilot.
Don’t zone out at the computer.
Take regular short breaks to breathe deeply and relax your shoulders.
Re-read your messages before sending them—if they are tricky emails, re-read them twice.
When you receive a difficult email take time to separate the message from your reactions—make sure that you can get your reaction in proportion.
Keep a photo on your desk that helps bring you back when you are distracted.
3. Be kind
We have already discussed how email does not come with an instinctive way to connect. On top of that, the brain’s negativity bias leads us to interpret business-like emails as hostile. We all know that it is all too easy to have a misunderstanding—or worse—over email. Once we are upset ourselves—or have caused upset to someone else, the ripple effect spreads and spreads as we all pass on our irritation and stress to the other people we interact with. Kindness is not something we always think of in dealing with our email and yet engaging with kindness while we deal with our inbox will help the quality of our communication—and even help to reduce our own stress levels.
Here’s a few ways to be kind with your email:
Try to stay connected with the person you are writing to—visualize them in your mind’s eye.
Realize that the person you are writing to is just like you—they want things to go well at work and yet they have all kinds of hassles to deal with.
Put yourself in their shoes—how would you feel about receiving the email that you are sending?
Don’t just dash off a quick reply in order to get it done—it can end up taking up more time.
Never send an email when you are upset, disappointed or angry—‑chances are you are not seeing things clearly.
If you are unsure of an email, put it in your draft box and re-read it the next morning.
Alternatively—read a tricky email out loud to yourself to check the tone.
I would love to hear from you how you avoid email overload – do leave a comment in the box below.
If you enjoyed this post you could check out this free 5-day email course
Do you cycle to work, or drive in your car? Maybe you take a tram, or bus? Perhaps you use the metro or ride a train. Whichever way you make the journey, your commute is a solid chunk of time twice a day, every working day. You’re not at home but you’re not in work either. The time is your own but not really. You’re free to be as you wish but within strict parameters. On the way in to work, the tasks of the day are already pressing for your attention. On the way home, anticipating a pleasant evening competes with processing what has gone on during the day.
Maybe we choose to use the time travelling to fend off the thought of the working day ahead by catching up on some good reading. Perhaps we shut ourselves off from the crowd by turning up the volume on our headphones. I hear of an increasing number of people who watch Netflix during their journeys. Alternatively, we could use this time to steal a march on our working day by scanning through our emails on our phone, or tablet and running through the schedule for the day.
Taking a fresh look at your commute
Here’s another idea—to take charge of this time by yourself and use it for your wellbeing.
In research carried out in 2010 at Harvard University it was found that people spend almost 50% of their time thinking about something different to what they are doing and that it undermines their happiness. One of the most common times when people were ruminating in this way was on their commute.
So how do we take a fresh look at our commute?
A lot of the people that I work with, who are interested in making meditation part of their lives, find it difficult to make the time they need for meditation. Quite a few are experimenting with using their commute as a time to do a meditation session. Some use a meditation app and listen to a guided meditation. Others simply wait to find a seat, and then sit quietly and focus on their breath.
Here is a very simple way to do this.
Try being mindful and come home to yourself
Take a few moments to check in with your breathing—pay attention to the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body
Notice how your body is feeling—do you have any places that feel tired, or weary, or are you feeling fresh and up for anything?
Check in on your mood—are you feeling good about the day ahead, or is there something worrying you?
Try to become aware of the thoughts passing through your mind—notice how quickly they change and turn into other thoughts
Just register all this—try not to get drawn into feelings of liking, or not liking any of it.
What does this accomplish?
When we connect with ourselves in this way we are tuning into the present moment and getting in touch with how things are for us. We try to do this without judgement, without wanting to change anything—just with the aim of coming home to ourselves and settling our minds.
This will help us to move into our work situation in a more relaxed and stable mood ready for whatever comes our way. On the way home, it helps us to shake off the concerns of the day and get ready to spend an evening with our friends and family.
Consider other people as just like you
So much of the stresses and strains of the day come about during our interactions with other people. Often, we focus on the things that separate us from others, when in fact, there is a great deal that we all have in common.
If you still have time on your journey, try to turn your attention to your fellow passengers.
Notice who your neighbours are—take a few moments to scan the compartment, tram or bus and to see as many of the other passengers as you can.
Take note of the thoughts and emotions that pass through your mind as you do this:
—notice if you make a comment in your mind about someone
—notice the people you feel drawn towards and the ones you do not like the look of
Try to imagine how they might see you as you sit, or stand alongside them
Take a moment to be aware that everyone travelling with you wants their day to go well and to avoid any unpleasantness
—just as you do
Then realize that inevitably for some people things will go wrong during the day
—let that feeling touch you and help you to feel a common humanity with your fellow travellers.
What does this accomplish?
Reflecting in this way reminds us that everyone wishes for a happy life and wants to avoid pain and suffering but that pain and suffering are an inevitable part of life. Coping with all this gives a common thread to all our experiences. It enables us to see that however different our interests are, we are all in the same boat. This can help us to develop a feeling of equanimity towards others as we engage in our working day.
It’s up to us
Of course, sometimes we just want to read, or listen to music and that’s completely fine but we do have the option to take a fresh look at our commute. We can prioritise self-care and use this limbo-time in our day to develop our mindfulness—both of ourselves and of others. Spending a bit of time each day in this way will help us to deal with our work from a less stressful perspective. It will also help us to actually relax and enjoy our time when is over for the day.
Do drop a comment in the comment section and let me know if you have tried meditating during your commute and how you got on with it.
If you found this post useful you might like to check out our free 5-day e-course
There is a great deal of information out there about meditation. To meditate is very simple but to make time and space for it in our lives can be tough. We need to find simple, practical ways to make it a habit – just like cleaning our teeth – so it becomes a natural part of our daily schedule.
Here is a simple checklist that outlines the main stages of a session of meditation.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at each part of the checklist and go into more detail.
Until then, please get in touch and let us know if you think we have missed anything out. We always like to hear from you.