Zen at Work: Some Thoughts About Mindfulness

This past weekend, I was listening to Speaking of Faith on public radio, and heard some of host Krista Tippett’s 2003 interview with Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese Zen monk, poet, and peacemaker. While I’m not a Buddhist (lord knows), a lot of what “brother Thầy” says rings true for me. (Thầy is Vietnamese for teacher and they call him that affectionately.)

One thing in particular he talks about is the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, kind of paying attention to whatever is happening in your life while while staying in the moment. Some people think it’s about removing yourself from reality, but in fact, to paraphrase what he said:

True mindfulness is not an evasion of any kind.
It’s a serene encounter with reality.

Even in the workplace, mindfulness has great value. Rather than getting caught up in the drama of something someone else said or did and finding yourself carried away by emotion (which only weakens your chances of reacting in a way beneficial to you), it might be a terrific time to practice mindfulness.

  • Observe what’s going on without becoming the drama.
  • Stay in the moment rather than drawing on old anger or creating visions of future hurt.
  • React to the reality with as much serenity as you can muster.

If you’d like to find out more about brother Thầy and maybe even listen to the podcast, click here:

Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh

Of course, emotions are only human

We all get carried away by emotions at times. Some of us many many times. But you can even practice mindfulness in those moments by learning to watch yourself get carried away, recognizing that it’s ok to be human, and staying in the moment as much as possible anyway. And when you are ready to let go of the emotional hot-air balloon that wafted you away – recognizing we can choose to stay caught in it or let go – you can then come back down to earth and return to handling the situation with your best shot at serene mindfulness.

Any situation you’re handling will be the better for it. And sometimes, especially when a colleague is coming at you head-on with emotional weapons blazing, countering his attack by meeting him or her with serene mindfulness can actually deflate their emotional balloon. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll even hear a police officer telling how she used that technique to defuse the rage in a man she was trying to arrest.  Seriously. She now teaches the technique to fellow officers.

What about in your own work life? Can you think of any situations where mindfulness might have been useful? Have you ever faced down a head-on attack with your own version of serene mindfulness? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts.

Ronnie Ann

A few related posts:

Zen and the Art of Being a Receptionist (and Other Under-Appreciated Jobs)

Your Attitude at Work: Know Your Own Triggers

Help! My Boss Wants to Tell Me What to Do!

Now and Zen at Work

The Non-Linear Path to Happiness at Work


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Love this post! In our work with people in the workplace, we find that nothing “sustainable” really can happen to shift how we feel and think without mindfulness, which is just another term for awareness. Conscious awareness. When we get “caught” in emotional reactivity, the hard wired fight or flight response has kicked in – and we have to do something to de-activate it (average recovery time is about 12-20 minutes).
    There is now ample neuroscience to attest to the positive impact of mindful awareness. While the criminal justice system (and many prison programs) have begun to use this process (with great success) it is still rare in the workplace. Why? Many reasons for that, I believe, but one important one is that the prevailing belief in the Western culture is that work is somehow seperate from our emotional state. We relegate emotions to the soft side of human dynamics at work. The thinking brain doesn’t operate as a seperate unit from the rest of our physiology. Hopefully, the recognition and development of the power of mindfulness will advance that awareness.
    PS highly recommend listening to and reading Thich Nhat Hahn who is a wonderful teacher and an oasis of peace.

  2. Thanks Louise!

    I know you and George do a lot of work with emotional intelligence (something I intend to post about one day). Would be nice if corporate intelligence finally caught up with basic findings of neuroscience. Of course, I know you’re working on making that happen. 😉

    Ronnie Ann

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