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!


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