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How did it begin?

In 2014 our organisation launched an internal mindfulness programme called In Balance. We had two aims:

  • To help ourselves understand our collective evolutionary purpose
  • And to help reduce stress and burn out

We responded to these needs in two slightly different ways. The first was to hold a one-day session designed to introduce people to mindfulness and equip them with some simple practices that would help them with their capacity to mood manage at work. We also held deeper, enquiry-based two day workshops in which people listened into their personal purpose. In sharing this with others we were able to uncover our collective purpose – the reason why we chose to turn up to the same place and work alongside each other.

What has mindfulness changed in our workplace?

Daily mindfulness

We still run longer sessions with a range of staff, but we also now have daily 15 minute sessions, supported by staff hosts at least twice a day. These were created in response to keep us ‘topped up’ after the day sessions.

We have a dedicated space for practice, which is protected during certain times of day from being used as a meeting space and it is also used for reflection or prayer -basically whatever you need to pause and realign your internal compass. These sessions are incredibly important as they allow focus and letting go of some of the accumulative stress that builds up throughout the week.

Mindfulness as part of the working day

Not everyone can feel like they can step away from their desk, but my advice for them is always the same; ‘if you can’t spare 15 minutes because you are too busy, then you probably need some time to pause, refocus and let go more than anyone else in the organisation’. Sometimes this helps people attend and sometimes not.

Sometimes you see a group of people all come in to a session together because they had a meeting at 9am or 12pm (the time of the sessions) and decided to begin by attending a session together. As an organisation we agreed that anyone who attends any mindfulness sessions won’t need to make time up. As long as they can balance their team’s needs then they are welcome to come to as few or as many sessions as they like.

Mindfulness in meetings

From these ‘formal’ mindfulness sessions, reflective practices such as the four rivers (‘Where today have you been challenged, surprised, deeply moved or inspired?’) have been transferred into meeting spaces.

We also practice ‘check-ins’ at the beginning of every meeting. Sometimes this is to help set the agenda for more open discussion topics, but often it’s just to surface what we are bringing into the room. These check-ins help focus and align us all, as well as offer a chance to share the parts of ourselves not immediately relevant to the work at hand. They are like little breaks for the mind and body and I know that whatever happens, I will move onto whatever comes next feeling kinder towards myself and the people around me.

What has mindfulness changed for me at work?

Mindfulness is a vital part of the support I receive at work, and without all these practices I know I wouldn’t be able to listen to the people who need me to listen to them as effectively as I do now. What helped these practices to become embedded was that they serve an immediate and practical purpose, the value of which is so evident. Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone was really on form and engaged right from the start? Check-ins help grow that presence in a way that is accessible and immediately tangible. If we are all really present for each other then we are able to better communicate what really matters. As well as celebrating the similarities we are able to give space to the differences between us.

Just like with any practice this deeper listening has grown up gradually over time and I know it has shifted something because I worked here before we started mindfulness and the In Balance programme – and I work at Here now. We have a regular space and time for connecting, but my internal space is more connected as well. And I know I’m not alone. We ran a survey at the end of 2015 and again this year after our longer sessions, and over 90% of people said that by attending the In Balance programme they felt their relationships at work had benefitted.

Showing up for the shadow side

It’s not all cushions and rainbows however. Being truly mindful means showing up for the stuff that you wish was different, with just as much presence and enthusiasm. This is the same for any darker feeling. If you work with 40-50 people, and each has a crisis once a year, you will experience a ripple of crisis through them every week, and that’s just the people you work with. The average human community size is about 150 people. That’s up to 3 ripples a week, not to mention your own stuff on top of that. Being mindful of these moments can be like hanging over a dark chasm and shining a light down which enables you to see all of the sharp, jagged rocks you will hit on the way down. It is terrifying, but it also lets you plan the safest route out.

The value of being whole at work

Working mindfully with our purpose means showing up for all of these moments equally. Not placing boundaries around what we will care about and what we will exclude. It takes the passive attitude which somewhere along the lines has crept into the implication of ‘care’ and reinforces it with steel and challenge.

Anyone who works in an open plan office or classroom can tell you that strange things happen in terms of human dynamics when you inhabit an open space alongside the same people for most of your day. I say classroom because just like when we were at school together, for the most part we do not have a choice over who we encounter.

Before we began In Balance, we would be spending most of our week alongside people we barely know. It’s a common situation in the workplace, and one where, in order to accommodate the open nature of the office coupled with moments of high stress, a part of you often closes off. Polite nods in the corridors of desks and small talk in the kitchen barely scratch the surface of ‘how you doing?’

Now I ask the people I work with ‘how are you doing?’ and I get honest responses, in all the colour and complexity of human experience. I get to hear about what is important to people, what really matters to them. The way I ask the question has changed too, from ‘how’s it going?’ to ‘how are you feeling?’. I genuinely want to hear how people are. I am able to care more because mindfulness has unlocked my ability to listen to my own reactions and emotions.

Whenever I have a conversation with people about why they like working here, at the top of the list is always the amazing people we work with. Mindfulness matters because it helps all those amazing people show up, really show up, with the volume turned high on whatever they are experiencing today. Personally, I do not think I could ever go back to working with half human beings because I really like the whole people I work with.

tagged in Circus, Mindfulness, wholeness

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