How To Be Mindful at Work [Audio]

A talk on mindfulness at work by Sharon Salzberg:

So, my book, Real Happiness At Work, came out on January 1st and I’m sure it was here a couple of years ago. My book, Real Happiness, came out, and talk about how that particular title wasn’t something I’ve chosen. It was something that the publisher had given to me out of a series of circumstances. The book was going to be called “something else.” And then, I got an advanced copy of a friend’s book with that “something else” as the title.

And, so, we quickly had to find another title and I came up with Real Happiness, which I felt some ambivalence about.

And on one hand, I think it’s what we all actually want. And it strikes a chord. We want something that’s around inner sustenance, resource fullness, a sense of wholeness that isn’t going to be so dependent on circumstances, isn’t going to shatter and break as things shift, and we don’t get want we want, or someone disappoints us, or we get afraid, even, you know, there can still be something that is, like, a resource for us. I think that’s what we actually want. And on the other hand, I thought, well, that’s going to be difficult, and I was right.

In the first interview I had, the very first question was something like, “Are you trying to tell me that the kind of happiness I feel when I’m having lovely dinner with my wife isn’t real?” And I said, “Of course, I think it’s real.” And I think, if anything, if we paid more attention, and we’re more appreciative, and more grateful, we will enjoy it a whole lot more, and we also know how joyful and wondrous are those experiences are, but they’re not forever. They come and they go. And I said to him, “What about the night you don’t like your dinner all that much?”

And I thought, but didn’t say, “What about the night you don’t like your wife all that much?” Because that happens, right?

So, it’s not to put down or disdain those experiences, but I know we can have a much deeper, more refined, more sustainable sense of happiness so we enjoy the pleasure fully when it comes and we don’t feel so defeated and so defined by the difficulty when it comes. So, I went through with that book and it was really very funny, because people were not very happy with what they’re happy, or happiness. You know, so often, seems like something happy-go-lucky and superficial, and just the endless pleasure seeking which we’re used to and people say, well, that’s where I start to practice, to unhook from that.

You know, what is this happiness obsession? And, I kept trying to redefine the word so that it didn’t mean just pleasure, it certainly didn’t mean something selfish. Because, like when I would go on tour, people would say to me, town after town, have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says “If you’re not depressed, you’re not paying attention.” And I’d say, “Well, I actually have seen it.” And I understand the sentiment and what about when we’re depressed, and we’re exhausted?

And we feel depleted, and we feel overcome, we feel overwhelmed. There’s not a whole lot in us that we feel we can give to somebody else.

And it reminds me a lot of the teachings about generosity where they say that the best kind of generosity actually comes from a sense of inner abundance. It’s not dependent on how much you have externally, and we know that right? Because we probably all know people who might have very little, materially, externally, but they’re very generous, and perhaps, you know people who have a huge amount more, externally, but don’t ever seem to have the internal feeling that ever have enough. And so, it’s so much harder to give and to share. It’s not just about material generosity. It’s about generosity of the spirit.

When I teach loving kindness meditation, one of the categories that we offer loving kindness to is that someone is a benefactor, someone who has helped us, maybe they’ve helped us directly, they helped pick up us when we fallen down. Maybe not, maybe we’ve never met them, but they’ve inspired us. They embody the sense of possibility of love and kindness for us, and so, many times, people, given instructions, okay, now, it’s time to offer love and kindness to benefactor, and afterwards, somebody will come up to me and say, you know, I chose the ___ as my benefactor, and things were going fine, and then suddenly, I thought, wait a minute, he’s the ___, what did he ___ for? And I find that interesting. First of all, how do we know that, right?

For all we know, every single day was life, he’s sustained by the prayers and well-wishing and loving kindness of others, and what an interesting assumption— what I have to give is so nothing, is so negligible, couldn’t count, couldn’t possibly ever, ever make a difference. So, from that state, we don’t have love and generosity, because we don’t have a lot of that sense of inner abundance to feed it, to be the wellspring. We can’t even pay that much attention to somebody else. It feels like an intrusion, because we feel so impoverished within. And so, when I say happiness, I don’t mean, you know, just like endless delight and enjoying yourself, but more that sense of that wellspring and being able to access it.

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