Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stressing Down the Work Environment: The "Tea Mind"

This is the one time of year that the season helps us easily get in touch with our natural selves. Many people taking vacation, being enveloped in the beauty of the outdoors and its calming capacity. All of us feeling just a little less perpetually stressed because of the opportunity to take a break.

If only we could reproduce that feeling of being relaxed and less in emotional turmoil more regularly in the work environment. The Japanese call this the “tea mind”, Zen-like in its awareness, at rest with clear attention to the moment, seeing things freshly. Those who meditate regularly would know very well what this feels like.

There is no shortage of data reinforcing the stressfulness of the work environment. Research from Linda Duxbury at Carlton University and Chris Higgins from the University of Western Ontario clearly points the finger at overload: balancing family with work demands. Middle managers are particularly burdened. Harvard’s Teresa Amabile blames the trap of time pressure that builds over the week. Her research demonstrates that creativity takes a nose dive due to “pressure hangovers”.

To offset the tread mill of time pressure, Amabile recommends strategies that help the “tea mind” flourish, similar to what happens when we take a relaxing vacation. She encourages “ruthlessly guarding protected blocks of the work week” for individual reflection. To work, this shielding of self and staff from distractions and interruptions must be an accepted norm.

The surrendering to the present, “mindfulness” in meditation terminology, releases emotional build ups. In turn, it enables our inner worlds, our inner wisdom to be more available to us.

Toronto’s Poet Laureate, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, who “walks the talk” on mindfulness, expresses the value of the “tea mind” by comparing it to the need for oxygen. “You can’t live without oxygen; nor can you live without primal human reflection.” The impact when we return to being with others is powerful.

In Di Cicco’s words, these generate “compassionate moments” in any “civic interaction”. They are “authentic moments”.

Good for everyone!

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