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Mindful : August 2013
Do we see what is really there, or is what we experi- ence filtered through our own thoughts a nd preconceptions? Maybe we should check how we’re seeing before we try to change what we’re seeing. First, we need to ma ke sure our lens is clea r. Much of the suffering and discomfort we experience at work—and elsewhere—stems from our deeply held views, opinions, and ideas that become lenses through which we perceive the events of our lives. No doubt the machinery of perception each of us has developed has served us well for the most part, guiding and supporting us at critical junctures. But the burden of adhering to set patterns of perceiving while we grapple with the dra ma and minutiae of everyday life can be limit- ing and, frankly, an invitation to misery. When we’re convinced things ought to be a certain way and they’re not, we suffer. When someone refuses to act in the way we think they should, we suffer. When we don’t get what we want, when we want it—or when we get what we don’t want, any- time—you guessed it: we suf- fer. The workplace, such a mi- crocosm of life in its entiret y, is rife with opportunities to march straight into suffering. What we need to explore is whether our distress really derives from the workplace itself or instead from how we apply our default ways of perceiving to the challenges we face at work. The mind will try to force any situation it meets into its favorite ways of perceiving and will react with distress when it meets resista nce. Many years ago I had a co- worker who consistently got me riled up. She had a way of doing things that just got under my skin. I would think to myself, “If she would only act this way instead of that way, we would all be happier and more productive.” This was pretty much a daily, and sometimes hourly, occurrence. Of course, what I was really feeling was that if she acted differently, I would be happier and more productive. I was seeking the comfort of the familiar and the expected and yearned for my coworker to act in a way that precisely supported my needs. How- ever, as soon as I realized that I was caught up in a particu- lar way of perceiving, I found I could alter my perception and apply real choice to how I felt about her. And when choice entered the equa- tion, I quickly realized I no longer needed my colleag ue to change—because I had. It can be difficult enough to be open-minded towa rd others, but it is even more difficult to be open-minded toward oneself. It takes real training. To discover the ways of perceiving you’re apt to blindly apply, experiment with keeping yourself curious, attentive, and receptive. Whenever you detect yourself falling into a n old, familia r pattern, stop and ex- amine what is actually going on. Notice the physical sensa- tions in your body; notice the emotions that have bloomed; notice what stories your mind is generating that make your body tense a nd infla me your emotions. But it’s important not to disparage yourself for falling into a n old and unhelp- ful pattern. Recognize the potentially explosive nega- tive charge generated by your body, thoughts, and emotions. Accept that it has arisen, then make the decision to be in control of it instead of being controlled by it. Check Your Lenses Whenever you detect yourself falling into an old, familiar pattern, stop and examine what is actually going on. in practice 72 mindful August 2013 insight