How to Use Simple Mindfulness to Improve Your Mental Habits

“Watching our state of mind changes our consciousness.”

– Ringu Tulku, “Mind Training”

In working through the above book, which has proven to be an informative, straightforward, and practically beneficial read, a story regarding an old Tibetan shepherd jumped out at me as particularly relevant. In the story, the shepherd sought dharma instruction from a well-respected and wise teacher in his area. As an unlearned person, he asked the teacher for a simple meditation that would work well for him.

The teacher told him to first collect white and black stones. Next, while tending his flock, he was instructed to watch his thoughts. For every “negative, angry, or mean” thought, he was to set a black stone aside in a pile. For every “good, kind” thought, he was to set a white stone aside in a separate pile.

The shepherd was at first alarmed by how much larger his pile of black stones grew, as opposed to the pile of white stones. However, after being reassured by the teacher to continue with the simple practice, he noticed over time that the white pile matched, and then exceeded, the size of the pile of black stones. By watching his state of mind, he had changed his consciousness and “flipped a switch” to start seeing what Tulku refers to as the “positive potential” in his day-to-day encounters.

Think of how applicable this can be in your work-life. For starters, many of us have a near-absolute lack of mindfulness in our work. Particularly in a white-collar, office setting, much of what we do has become routinized. This can be especially true in the first hour or so of our day. We might park in the same spot in the parking garage, say the same greeting to the security guard at the front desk, get a cup of coffee, check our emails, respond to emails, and so on in an almost trance-like, inattentive state. The first step is to snap out of that state and engage in what you are doing. Try not to let your mind wander and instead pay attention to what you are seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, tasting, etc in that moment.

After that simple first step, we can try to incorporate more specific practices related to Tulku’s story of the old Tibetan shepherd.

Practice: Meetings and conference calls are two specific examples in which we have a tendency to have a complete and utter lack of mindfulness and/or engagement in the present moment. We might go through tens of minutes at a time in which we aren’t required to contribute to the meeting or to the call, and we let our thoughts wander and end up drifting out of the present moment.

This is the perfect time to try something like what Tulku’s shepherd incorporated in his life.

  1. First of all, try to truly engage yourself in what you are seeing and hearing in the meeting, without your mind wandering. If you can do this – great. However, if you find your thoughts drifting away…
  2. If you’ve got your notepad with you, make two columns, one for Good and one for Bad (or however you want to title them). The important part is that you use one side to tally your “good” thoughts, and one side to tally your “bad” thoughts.
  3. After each tally, try to re-engage in what you are seeing and hearing in the meeting or call. You may be able to do this with a clear, unobstructed mind for 10 seconds, or a minute, or 5 minutes…but the next time you find your mind wandering again, take a moment to notice and mentally repeat what you were thinking, and then tally it under the appropriate column (Good or Bad).

Continue this for the rest of the meeting or call, and then see how your totals end up. Like Tulku’s shepherd, I would guess that your Bad column is much more full than your Good column for the first few meetings or calls in which you attempt this practice. In the corporate world, meetings and conference calls more often than not cause boredom, anxiety, frustration, stress, and a variety of other negative emotions.

However, after 5 or 10 attempts at this practice, you will not only be better at simply being mindful in what used to be one of your most mindless responsibilities, but you will also probably have a more balanced, or even positively-skewed, mindset. Chances are that this will result in you feeling more comfortable with actively participating in meetings and calls, offering valuable feedback, and seeing solutions to problems, instead of just getting frustrated with the problems themselves.

An important part of this practice is to not allow yourself to be burdened with guilt or blame. These are your thoughts – the “Good” or “Bad” that you are classifying them as is just for the purposes of clarity and illustration. The ones that end up in the “Bad” column are not truly bad, in some moral or ethical sense – they are just what happened to come across your mind, nothing more and nothing less. Just take note of them without attachment or aversion to them, and you will most likely see yourself naturally erring on the side of positive, constructive, thoughts which can be beneficial to the meeting or call as time goes on.

I hope you find these ideas useful and they make a positive impact for you in whatever your workplace may be. Remember, if you find these suggested practices to be valuable, please consider making a donation by clicking here. It’s quick and simple and all amounts are always appreciated! You can also follow the blog via email at the bottom of the page. Thanks for reading!


The Three Poisons of the Mind and Their Impact on the Workplace

The three poisons of the mind are a recurring theme throughout Zen Buddhism. These three poisons are most commonly referred to as greed, anger, and delusion. Together or separately, these mindsets cause both internal and external suffering, and tend to perpetuate themselves into more and more damaging effects over time. In the workplace, they damage relationships with peers and bosses, lower efficiency, and crush morale.

However, thinking of these poisons strictly in terms of the three words of “greed, anger, and delusion” leads to a somewhat limited understanding of the attitudes that can hinder our mental well-being, and, in turn, our work. When we hear “greed” we tend to think only in terms of money. When we hear “anger” we tend to think of a very obvious verbal or physical outburst, brushing aside more subtle forms of anger. And when we hear “delusion” we might ask: “Delusion about what?” This is perhaps the most ambiguous term of the three.

In listening to an excellent podcast from the Rochester Zen Center recently (“The Three Poisons as Our Common Lot,” October 22, 2017), I took particular note of the speaker’s efforts to further define the three poisons. Here are some other terms that he associated with each poison.


  • Liking
  • Desire
  • Wishing
  • Longing
  • Fondness
  • Affection
  • Attachment
  • Lust
  • Cupidity
  • Craving
  • Passion
  • Self-Indulgence
  • Possessiveness
  • Avarice


  • Ill-will
  • Enmity
  • Dislike
  • Disgust
  • Revulsion
  • Resentment
  • Grudge
  • Ill-humor
  • Vexation
  • Irritability
  • Antagonism
  • Aversion
  • Wrath
  • Vengefulness
  • Fury
  • Rage


  • Stupidity
  • Dullness
  • Confusion
  • Folly
  • Prejudice
  • Ideological dogmatism
  • Fanaticism
  • Wrong views
  • Conceit

Obviously, we will all have these emotions at some point in the workplace. And we should. We shouldn’t be striving to eliminate “fondness” and “affection” entirely from our lives.

What we need to strive for is excessive buildup of these emotions. As in: such fondness of and attachment to a certain routine in the office that we lose our mental focus and clarity if we have that routine disrupted one day. “Dullness” is another great one for the workplace: are we becoming so numbed to our routine that we don’t notice when there is an opportunity for greater efficiency or an innovation to a product or service? What about “irritability”? Do we get so caught up in our annoyance with the tone of an email, which takes 15 seconds to read, that we can’t keep a sharp mental focus on our work for the next 6 hours of our day? Wishing…lust…possessiveness…ill-will…dislike…resentment…grudge…ill-humor…vexation…irritability…antagonism…confusion…conceit…all of these stand out to me as particularly applicable to the workplace.


For each of the three poisons, pick two synonyms from the bullet point lists above. For each of those two emotions or behaviors, think of the most recent experience in your office or workplace in which you had that feeling. Try to visualize it in as detailed a way as you can, but do not allow yourself to start feeling that same emotion again. View the scenario in your head as a calm, collected, outside observer would. If possible, try to pick some experiences that are recurring in your office, and which you’ll likely come across again soon.

Now, next time a similar situation comes up, try to take on more of that calm observer role while the situation is actually unfolding. Take notice of the negative emotions you’re feeling, but let them slide on by and don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you’re feeling them. “I’m feeling (emotion)…it’s okay, I understand why I’m feeling (emotion)…I can stop feeling (emotion) whenever I decide to” should be about what’s going on in your head as you become better at spotting these negative emotions as they begin to creep into your actions.

As is virtually always the case with any kind of Zen practice, shifting your attention away from the thoughts racing around your head and instead down towards the breath moving in and out via your diaphragm will go a long way towards detaching you from the negative emotions as well.

I hope you find these ideas useful and they make a positive impact for you in whatever your workplace may be. Remember, if you find these suggested practices to be valuable, please consider making a donation by clicking here. It’s quick and simple and all amounts are always appreciated! You can also follow the blog via email at the bottom of the page. Thanks for reading!

Finding the Space Between Attachment and Aversion

In Mind Training by Ringu Tulku, one of the first lessons of the book focuses on the negative impacts of both attachment and aversion on our day-to-day happiness. While many of us that are even casually familiar with Zen principles are likely aware of the aim of avoiding attachment, the need to steer clear of excessive aversion in our thoughts is not quite as intuitive.

In Tulku’s words, attachment means “possessiveness and grasping as we fasten onto certain objects, people or experiences for gratification.”

On the other hand, aversion is described as “trying to eliminate upsetting things.”

Think about the things that you mentally attach to or are mentally upset by and therefore try to avoid in the workplace. Are you so attached to your morning coffee routine that half your day is thrown out of whack if it gets interrupted? Do you have such a negative opinion of one of your coworkers that you go out of your way to avoid him, and get instantly annoyed when a conversation strikes up?

Between attachment and aversion is a space in which you accept the flow of what comes to you, rather than striving for something in particular or running away from something unnecessarily. In the workplace, this will make you more adaptable, pleasant to work with, and could even provide you with increased opportunities to conquer new challenges that you had been avoiding before (e.g. leading a committee, taking on voluntary presentation duties, or even just speaking to your boss about something that you’ve been afraid to confront with him or her).

Practice: Start small: for 1 week, before you go into work each day, pick 1 thing you feel that you enjoy and may be overly attached to, and 1 thing you’ve been excessively averting. Force yourself to be mindful of both of these things for the entire work day. Set a couple reminders on your phone if you think you need the extra help to be aware of these aspects of your work that day. For the thing that you are attached to, make a note whenever you are desiring it, frustrated that you don’t have it, getting bored without it, etc. Write down your thoughts at that time – it can even just be one sentence. Do the same for the thing you’re trying to avoid, stressing about, getting angry with, getting annoyed with, etc. Forcing yourself to stop for 30 seconds and slow down your mind enough to write your thoughts down will gradually train you to recognize not only your sources of excessive attachment and aversion, but also the exact moment that they bring up negative emotions. For the daily item/person/activity of attachment, follow the writing of your thoughts with a reminder to yourself that “It’s okay if I do not have so-and-so.” For the daily item/person/activity of aversion, remind yourself that “I will not live in fear or anxiety of so-and-so.”

I hope you find these ideas useful and they make a positive impact for you in whatever your workplace may be. Remember, if you find these suggested practices to be valuable, please consider making a donation by clicking here. It’s quick and simple and all amounts are always appreciated! You can also follow the blog via email at the bottom of the page. Thanks for reading!