A Contemplative Toolbox for Workplaces and Organizations
Over the past ten years, we have come into contact with organizations across the country that are trekking through the pathless land of integrative workplace dynamics. All kinds of organizations, from nonprofits to corporations to informal collectives, have derived great benefit from the integration of contemplative practices into their workplaces.
This web site includes some basic information that may be helpful to you and members of your group as you begin this process. Please keep in mind that the information offered here is a sample of what we can provide to interested social justice organizations. When working one-on-one with organizations, we offer uniquely designed experiences based on the individual or organizational culture.
You are embarking upon an experiment in organizational transformation and community building, the effects of which will be felt beyond the walls of your organization and will help encourage a movement to make life in this society more sane, compassionate, and wise. It is exciting and inspiring for us to know that you believe that a shift toward the contemplative is a viable and beneficial direction for you and your workplace. We hope we can be of assistance in developing a process that is fun, comfortable, and demystifying for everyone involved.
How to use the Toolbox
The materials in this Toolbox are designed to encourage you to integrate a contemplative approach into many aspects of your work life, but this does not mean that we have a prescribed cookie-cutter way this should look. This process should happen in a way that is authentic and at a pace that is natural and comfortable for the members of your staff. We offer some general frameworks, forms, and concepts that encourage community building by clarifying shared values and creating an environment that supports people to be fully present and passionately and compassionately engaged with themselves, each other, and their work.
From our experience, it is quite possible that you or members of your group have had some doubts as to whether to take even this preliminary step in exploring an unfamiliar organizational form. This is understandable because you are attempting to do what is still a rather radical idea in our society: to add a contemplative dimension to one of your life’s primary activities – work. But we suggest that the idea isn’t very radical at all. In fact, the doubts and fears themselves speak to a strange illness in our society that would allow a workplace of tension, anxiety, exhaustion, and conflict to be the accepted norm.
Some people may initiate a program to bring contemplative practice into the workplace with a very concrete sense of what the outcome will be. They may say, “This will make everyone happier and more relaxed and this will make our office a great place to work” or “If we do this contemplative practice stuff, it will stop all of the bickering, tension, and conflict that has arisen in our office.”
From our perspective, it is probably not too helpful to put too much weight on these ideas. In the end, they may very well prove to be true, but it isn’t helpful to think that contemplative practice will cure all organizational maladies overnight. Creating a contemplative organization is an exploratory process that should be enjoyed and appreciated in and of itself – fundamentally as a process without too much attachment to a certain kind of final product.
Introducing contemplative practice into your workplace will not prevent conflict from arising or difficult issues from coming up. In fact, initially, this shift may very well provide space for conflicts or challenging dynamics that have otherwise been suppressed to come out into the open. No one can really stop this from happening and any efforts to do so will likely result in an oppressive and alienating situation for everyone involved. Fear of conflict generally leads to much more suffering than the actual conflict itself. What you will likely notice with the integration of contemplative practices is that when difficult issues do arise, they do not result in devastation and turmoil, as might normally happen, but are more skillfully acknowledged, held, and responded to by the group. Your staff will learn to develop the inner resources that will help them navigate through difficult, trying, and stressful situations with more ease, comfort, and grace.
As staff become more comfortable with the spaciousness of the office, new challenges can arise. As people open up and bring themselves more fully, honestly, and authentically to their work lives, statements can be made or subjects brought up that challenge the boundaries of the container that has been created. This is a direct result of an increased sense of trust and openness in the workplace and will also serve as a means of further expanding and strengthening those bonds.
We recommend paying close attention to how we relate to conflict when it arises. When real growth is happening in a group, it can often result in some discomfort. Reconnecting with our intentions around the process and the commitment and responsibility we feel to organizational health can help guide us through the times of purification so that we may truly experience and enjoy the honesty and authenticity that follows.
Depending upon the situation in your office, it is possible that members of your staff may be suspicious of an effort to bring contemplative practice into the workplace. If some people are feeling exploited in or alienated from their jobs, the effort to bring meditation into the workday may be seen as coercive or insincere. Much of the new research attributing improved focus, equanimity, ease, and concentration to a long-term meditation practice could be interpreted on the part of employees as a self-interested attempt by management to increase productivity. Many of these concerns are justifiable in the eyes of workers based on a history of employers introducing new techniques to increase productivity without a parallel concern for the benefit to the employee.
It’s important to remember that no technique imposed by management will ever replace the need for fair pay, decent working conditions, clear job expectations, and respect for their part in the production process. The desire to introduce a contemplative dimension into the workplace should arise from a quality of respect in the employee/employer relationship rather than one of manipulation. As an employer takes an interest in the well-being of their employees, they should be careful to do so with integrity.
For nonprofit organizations, the concerns may be different but not necessarily less complex. In the often frantic and overworked world of nonprofit work, who has time to take a half-hour out of the workday to sit and do nothing? There may also be resistance to what may be interpreted as shallow, superficial distractions, getting in the way of “real” concrete efforts to make change in society.
In the end, a great diversity of responses and reactions can result from this effort. Our suggestion for a response is quite simple: Hold a conversation.
Before going ahead and implementing a new work program/paradigm, hold a series of staff discussions to explain the idea and the motivation behind it and hear peoples’ responses. We suggest that you encourage them to explore the Toolbox for themselves to see what resonates. This may be a good way to decide how to implement various contemplative strategies in your group, and will go a long way to ensure a sense of respect and transparency on the part of management.
When people come together to work toward a collective goal, it is a sacred act. The reality of that should be acknowledged, respected, and used to create the best environment possible for everyone involved. We are available to support you on this journey. Please contact us if we can help in this process, and please let us know how things are going for your group. We are constantly learning about this work and look forward to hearing your comments, questions, and suggestions. We wish you the best of luck and know that you and your organization will benefit from even the smallest integration of these tools and ideas into your work.Contents: