Arianna Huffington and director David Lynch have found meditation to be a big boost to life and career. The late Steve Jobs meditated too. Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks, brought meditation to the Knicks’ locker room after using it with previous NBA teams in Chicago and Los Angeles. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll attributes his team’s 2013 Super Bowl victory, in part, to meditation.
Lodro Rinzler, head of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, also believes that meditation—the New Agey practice that’s considered to be wreathed in incense—has real career, workplace, and achievement applications. Toward that end, he has written a new book, his fourth, on meditation and work, called The Buddha Walks Into the Office: A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation.
Meditation is the practice of training the mind to concentrate --- either as a self-standing discipline with its own intrinsic benefits, or as a means to an end (mindfulness, visualization of goals, transcending one’s earthly concerns or achieving goals like compassionate business practices or intense focus). Practitioners may meditate in different places: sitting on a pillow at an ashram, at home, in a group in Manhattan or even on a subway. There are many kinds, some associated with a religion or culture and some not: Buddhist, transcendental (or Vedic, often with a mantra), energizing and a host of others.
According to Rinzler, the values of Buddhist meditation (the kind he practices) in the workplace can start with compassion for yourself and continue with compassion for the jerk at the next desk or the guy who just dissed you at a meeting.
In the preface, he explains why he wrote the book: “Sometimes at work people are jerks. Sometimes you are one of them.” The book, he adds, is about how not to be a jerk “and how to work with others so that mindfulness and empathy can flourish.”
Here are some examples of how people use the fruits of meditation – the presence you gain from a new, more mindful perspective -- in the workplace.
It helps you pay attention.
You might have someone like Brett, who's more and more a jerk. But if you slow down and are present enough, you might notice that something's going on with him. You might be in his office and notice that the picture of him and his wife is no longer on the desk.”
When you notice the small clues, you can solve the bigger mystery: It turns out that Brett is separated, and because of his relationship woes, he can’t concentrate. “And our heart opens for him naturally,” Rinzler said. “But we wouldn't have been able to ‘spare the rod’ unless we could slow down enough.”
The magic happens, Rinzler said, in noticing physical cues like the absence of the photograph. In a business context, meditation helps practitioners tune in to what’s going on right now.
“We can loosen our hold, stop forcing our agenda and be more open to, and inquisitive about, the people we are working with,” said Rinzler.
It helps you listen when no one is speaking.
Let’s say you’re a manager and running a meeting, pushing through your agenda. “As I’m leaving meetings,” Rinzler said, “I'll notice that someone's very quiet."
A person who is focused on the agenda, and the agenda alone, may overlook this stakeholder's silence. But in Rinzler's case, "I'll get inquisitive--‘Jeff, I notice that you haven't said anything about the budget: Is there anything you want to say?’"
Jeff answers by saying he has misgivings about the budget and about priorities, Rinzler said, information that came out only when the boss was present enough to see Jeff’s reaction and ask for his opinion.
“We can start working together better as a team,” Rinzler said.
It helps you diffuse anger.
One of the biggest virtues Rinzler extols is the practice of being benevolent. “Often when we butt heads with someone, they've completely derailed our project, or maybe they said they would do something and didn’t,” he said “We might call them on it, and they get angry.”
But the compassionate results? “We don't have to perpetuate that response,” he said. “When someone' s very angry with you, you can come right back to them and say ‘Listen, buddy, I have to warn you, if you keep getting angry with me, I'm only going to get more gentle with you.’ ”
Rinzler likens this to a bull in a pen at a rodeo. The handlers tease the bull, rile it into a frenzy, and only at a certain point release it from the pen, raging, kicking and snorting.
“More often than not, when people are angry, we keep poking them,” he said. “But as a result of meditation, we can be benevolent: opening the gate, and letting the bull fly out of the gate into a wide open field. At some point, the anger exhausts itself. The bull kicks and screams and eventually tires out. And then you can communicate.
“In other words, you don't buy into the anger – you give that person enough space to calm down, and then you can relate to them like a normal person.”
Rinzler was one of the instructors at The Path, a new meditation-focused start-up that holds weekly “sits,” as meditators refer to group sessions. in the West Village in Manhattan. It was founded by Dina Kaplan, formerly of blip.tv, and you can request information or an invitation to join at thepath.com.
Separate from The Path, Rinzler also does sessions in person and online, as do many teachers. If you want a deep dive, his Institute for Compassionate Leadership in New York City has a six-month part-time training program: a mix of meditation, leadership skills, and coaching. If your workplace is already compassionate enough, you can read one of Rinzler’s other books, Walk Like a Buddha: Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again.