Is there a difference between spiritual growth and learning to be more effective at work? Les Kaye, abbot at Kannon Do, a Zen center in California, and a former employee at IBM for more than 30 years, believes that the two parts of his life complemented each other in richly satisfying ways. As more of us look for mindfulness practices to tackle stress and anxiety, perhaps, this is the perfect time to see how, with the help of some of its greatest teachers, Zen and mindfulness can also help us bring our best to work.

Zen practice #1: Openness

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”

— Thích Nhất Hạnh

As businesses become more concerned about building agile teams, we can learn from Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese monk and Nobel Prize nominee. When we are not anchored to any fixed thoughts or ideas about how work must be done, how we must be perceived, or how we should interact with our colleagues, we are more open to change.

For instance, when we make plans, we are more open to prototyping when we realize that nothing has to stay as is, and everything has the ability to evolve. When we see a potential defect in a code or a process, we do not simply continue with the status quo, but we stop and engage with the problem in that moment and rectify errors before moving on.

Zen practice #2: Stillness

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

— Alan Watts

In our busy workday, very little time is spent on doing nothing. Yet sometimes, to be effective, we need to give ourselves permission to do nothing. Everyday, our speeding thoughts and anxiety-inducing narratives create mental noise that stops us from acting effectively. When we stop for a moment, we welcome calm and clarity to the situation.

In a similar vein, Joseph Grenny, author and social scientist, also points out how managers sometimes need to handle escalations at work by finding the lowest level of involvement for themselves.

Zen practice #3: Peace

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”

― Dalai Lama

Caterina Kostoula, executive coach and Global Business Leader at Google, discusses how keeping the peace at work has a lot to do with letting go. Ever so often, workplace decisions may seem unfair and illogical. And while it is often worth fighting to make things better, sometimes we need to focus on our peace of mind. This means accepting things as they are and letting go.

Zen practice #4: Perspective

“Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”

– Buddha

Everytime we successfully close an important project, or your team faces a roadblock that delays their work, it helps to remember how interdependent we all are. Your success is as dependent on your manager’s team management skills as on your own technical abilities. Your colleague’s ability to meet a deadline is as dependent on your project management skills as her own coding skills.

This interdependence keeps your team working seamlessly to meet targets and surmount deadlines. Remembering the Buddha’s words like a talisman could keep your team grounded and offer a deeper sense of perspective. Each of you can then perform your individual roles with greater understanding of the bigger picture and a keener sense of responsibility.

Zen practice #5: Confidence

“The most important point is to accept yourself and stand on your two feet.”

― Shunryu Suzuki

An academic study on clinical social workers who practiced Zen Buddhist meditation revealed something very interesting. The respondents’ Zen practice gave them a greater sense of confidence, borne out of awareness, acceptance, and comfort with uncertainty. As a founding father of Zen in the USA, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi understood that this confidence came from a greater sense of awareness and acceptance of oneself, one which a more mindful perspective at work could offer. This confidence, in turn, could translate to more initiative at the workplace.

The Buddhist and Zen teachers highlighted here are just a few among the rich global tradition of stoic philosophers who have helped people develop greater awareness and a holistic approach to life and work. Have you come across other practices or wisdom that have shaped your mindfulness muscle at work and beyond, and helped you become a more effective professional, a wiser manager, and a deeply compassionate colleague?

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