Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

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Chris A, modified 8 Years ago.

Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/17/11 Recent Posts
What practices do you use for working with greater concentration and effectiveness while you work? What practices do you find helpful for keeping your concentration on your projects, especially getting unstuck and moving through difficult work with ease?

This next month I will be focusing on working some projects all day (in a hotel in Nepal, where I've been doing retreats). I want to use this time for productivity, but also to work with greater concentration and effectiveness. I hope to bring greater ease to my work, both to building ease and enjoyment up as I work and also bringing ease to "stuck situations.". I sometimes find myself getting stuck for an hour or more, trying to solve a problem and just getting agitated. Or I'll find that when a task feels "bigger than me" that my stress level goes up and my brain freezes. So hopefully ease will help with this.

One activity I've found effective is to monitor my "ease level" as I work, to try to keep a strong sense of flow or ease. When I lose ease, I blank my computer screen and just focus my concentration on a corner of my laptop case, monitoring my breath for a few breaths as I stare at the corner. This brings a "mini access concentration" which helps me feel more focused and at ease for the next bit of work.

Anything you've found useful for ease or effectiveness at work?

PS: I eventually want to work on enlightenment through work activities (noting, etc) but I thought ease and effectiveness would be a good place for me to start--right now trying to note during complex project work is overwhelming for me.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work? (Answer)

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Work has been my main context for practice the past couple of years. It causes me a lot of anxiety and despair. I am quitting my job at the end of the month, taking a few months off to see what direction my life points when there's no one pushing it in any particular direction, and probably switching careers after that. I definitely think the practice of facing what disturbs you, as you described in you last response to Kathy, is a good way, as long as you choose things which aren't so disturbing that they steal away attention.

When you get stuck, try some kind of joy meditation. E.g., keep expanding awareness to include all six senses when you notice it's collapsed down.

For anxiety, try some kind of metta meditation.

What kind of work do you do?
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katy steger, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work? (Answer)

Posts: 1745 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Chris -

Assuming you're not responsible for harming others (and it really doesn't read like it), then dedicate your mind to becoming suffused with joy and pleasure in the actual work. This is how anapanasati "works" - over weeks and weeks the mind becomes trained to relax and be joyous/deeply pleased in the in-breath and the out-breath. Kind of cool, right? Since we in-breath and out-breath all of our lives. Then the mind becomes very pleased to be calm and it becomes naturally concentrated, and seems to release more pleasure-sensation. Snow balls.

Be sure to take your breaks in natural areas: look at the sky, look at trees, smell air, take in sunrise and sunset, full moon. Listen to birds.

Best wishes.
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Richard Zen, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work? (Answer)

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
I've used so many tools at work so this is a long list.

Attenuating the emotions with vipassana up to equanimity and beyond is quite helpful. I would continue noting during work (especially during unpleasant sensations). Concentration is nice but I find the final practices are more helpful when reading or working on problems. The intention and force to concentrate can also be a stumbling block. "Why isn't the concentration working?! Why I'm I thinking so much when I'm reading? Ahhhh!" LOL.

Return to the source

Striving in your mind for concentration can also be the same kind of striving to meet a deadline in your mind. It's agitating. I used to read and force concentration but it wasn't as good as letting the automatic senses work as they are. Just looking at a page to read I can just let the mind do its thing. When you start out and the reactivity is large it seems hard to do but when you use vipassana to see sensations, thoughts, and emotions arise and pass away over and over again you gain equanimity over the process and eventually negative tensions start to melt and lose their strength. It's important to note (FEEL) the 3 characteristics (especially dissatisfaction from the tension caused by craving and clinging) to develop dispassion to mental attachments. Clinging is like the mental image/talk after the craving arises. The final practices help you melt tension related to attachments to meditation attainments so you can actually see how far you've come over the years. It takes years but it's worth it. Do the last practices and the preliminary ones to see where you are going and if you find the final ones good enough then just stick with those. In the end you should just look at problems as activities to deal with and anything you have no control over you have to accept. Daniel Ingram's MCTB noting descriptions along with Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions helped me greatly at work and dealing with difficult people. I could be insulted in front of other people at work and I could keep my composure despite the reactivity and maybe respond with something funny or move on like nothing important has occurred. At first when you note negative reactions it works only a little bit but after diligent practice over a length of time I could deal with angry and insulting people with much less reactivity. Seeing the dissatisfaction part of the 3 characteristics is very important and the noting must emphasize awareness of the sensation more than the word label.

This is another good common sense guide on noting properly:

Gil Fronsdal - Noting

Concentration is a form of repression so there are benefits to it but if you try to understand your reactivity with insight practice you will want to get to the point where your stress at work is just another thing that arises and passes away and you are able to accept tiredness and frustration instead of having to nuke it away by focusing on your keyboard.

It's also important to look at the good in what is bad and the bad in what is good to develop a larger spectrum of reality. Sometimes responsibilities are irritating but the result of completing them is quite pleasant. Addictions seem pleasant in the short-run but it's important to develop some disgust with negative mental habits and I would also recommend loving kindness practice to help stabilize the mind while you pursue an insight practice. It helps with ill will and aversion. When I get aversion I can feel a contraction in my chest and my willpower decreases but just by looking at it with mindfulness and waiting for the tension to melt away on it's own (acceptance) that willpower returns. That way I don't have to repress negative sensations with concentration but just let it go away naturally. Dispassion (seeing 3 characteristics clearly) is the key to reduce the strength of the reactivity. Then seeing the value of sticking it out with difficult projects can help with the desire which will motivate action.

BTW this practice can make you feel so satisfied that you may want to quit work or neglect challenges. Despite what is taught in Buddhism I would actually allow some of your career goals to be concentration practices. Desire appears when some projection in your mind brings up something that is desirable and that desire motivates willpower. You can see dependent origination in action when you notice a craving or aversion and then some sound or image appears in your mind and then the desire or aversion strengthens like a steam engine that needs release with action. To avoid getting too lackadaisical it's good to think of a difficult project and imagine the enjoyment of completing it. The longer you keep those goals in your imagination it can trigger strong desire which can overcome some of the aversion you might feel. If you cultivate healthy desires it will keep you from thinking that enlightenment will make you successful at work. It won't. It helps with reframing problems so that they are less rigid and feel more like organic processes. Some people think playing chess will help them with work but you could be a chess master and sleep on a park bench. emoticon

Shinzen Young Mindfulness

There was a link that I think Tarver Jeff Grove had in another thread but I forgot about it. Maybe he will chime in. It was about non-dual practices and I found they nudge you in the right direction. I got lots of relief, for example, to look at an object and locate my typical sense of self behind the eyes and then close my eyes and use the "self" as a concentration object. That puts you into your automatic senses after a while.

Awareness watching awareness

I would also look at some of what Nick Halay has posted on apperception/Dzogchen and Actual Freedom practices. I'm not entirely convinced that this would be good to make permanent but there are others who are convinced and are quite advanced in the practice. It depends on how satisfied you get with your other practices but I am convinced with my limited experience at least it can create great reduction in emotional suffering for an extended period of time. The way the brain works is that as soon as your senses zoom in and objectify an object it naturally wants to decide whether it's good or bad and your amygdala will respond. Now if you don't zoom in on objects as much and your actions are simply done because they are useful. Noting HAIETMOBA (How am I experiencing this moment of being alive) is like noting all your automatic senses (including automatic thoughts) at the same time which can be like a switch. As soon as you start zooming on something and objectifying it then the results start vanishing. I've used this in recreation but I haven't really used this at work yet.

The Yogi toolbox HAIETMOBA
HAIETMOBA Wiki

Finally I found a thread that Stian started that led me to Gendlin. What I find fun now is when there is a reactive bit of anxiety over something (like feeling generally spooked or negative about some state of affairs in my life) instead of investigating the 3Cs I can actually just look at what it's telling me. Just being compassionate about the impulse and trying to understand it quickly reduces the suffering and gives you basic knowledge about what your impulses are telling you. "Hey you are delaying an important choice that you need to act on soon!" Then of course if you use it to act on it then that impulse should recede and hopefully the action was necessary. If the impulse is bullshit and you can see that logically then the logic should do away with it. "If I have trouble with this project I'm a loser!" "Ah..no that's not logical" "Oh. Ok". emoticon These practices have all helped me and still do.

Good luck in Nepal!
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Chris A, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/17/11 Recent Posts
Wow, thanks for the quick replies. I'm excited about having your ideas to practice with over this period.

@fivebells: right now the work I'm doing is for myself. As I explained in my other post, I've taken the last couple years, and the forseeable couple, to just focus on the path. But, like Daniel says in his book, I believe you have to keep cultivating real life, too, as you always return to it. So the projects I'm working on involve making my real life (and the future) strong. I can tell you more, but in an nutshell, I am working to cultivate three things I think are essential for my (currently unkonwn) future. These are: a mind that rebalances as life situations arise and need dealing with, a healthy body that can make it through the situations with vitality, and financial and other resources to deal with life situations. So far I'm making great progress. It's amazing how much projects like these are being aided by my past investments in concentration and insight. I believe this stuff works! ALSO, I find it difficult to do metta meditation when I'm anxious. My mind will keep returning to the state or thoughts that are plaguing it and it's difficult to really connect to subtle sensations, which is usually where I find the fuel for "may I be liberated, may others be liberated, etc." Any suggestions?

@katy: In the future I plan to do some work for others, but right now it's all for me (as described two paragraphs above). But I do believe I can apply your advice, since I am doing something for myself, and that's a place I can take joy and pleasure-- knowing that I'm working on making my material situation better to relieve the kind of suffering that I experience when that situation is not good. ALSO, About your suggestion of the nature breaks, I experience the same--sometimes even just looking at a plant does so much more for me than staring at a blank wall or some man-made object. Why is that?

@Richard: thanks for all the great tools. Let me look those over and then perhaps I'll have some questions. Regarding your vipassana/noting suggestion: one thing I've been trying the last day is to keep asking myself "what am I doing?" answer might be "typing" or "reading." I then try to spend the next few moments paying attention to those situations, watching for the arising of new sensations as I type for example. And like you mentioned, I find it helpful to note the non-neutral sensations that arise and distract, like "back pain" and "bored" and "I can't do this--oh, overwhelmed". Is this the general idea you're speaking of?

Thanks,
Chris
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Chris A:
...I find it difficult to do metta meditation when I'm anxious. My mind will keep returning to the state or thoughts that are plaguing it and it's difficult to really connect to subtle sensations, which is usually where I find the fuel for "may I be liberated, may others be liberated, etc." Any suggestions?


This has been very tricky. I was making reasonable progress with the methods I describe in this thread. But the big recent breakthrough came from taking an anxiolytic (cymbalta.) It's been very interesting. All the anxieties keep coming up, but they're far easier to disidentify from and cultivate metta for them.

That unmind link reminds me: Doing tonglen with in-breath compassion and out-breath metta as I describe here is also quite helpful. I cultivate compassion as described here (look for the part of suffering which "hurts good," like a vigorous massage.)
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Richard Zen, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Chris A:
@Richard: thanks for all the great tools. Let me look those over and then perhaps I'll have some questions. Regarding your vipassana/noting suggestion: one thing I've been trying the last day is to keep asking myself "what am I doing?" answer might be "typing" or "reading." I then try to spend the next few moments paying attention to those situations, watching for the arising of new sensations as I type for example. And like you mentioned, I find it helpful to note the non-neutral sensations that arise and distract, like "back pain" and "bored" and "I can't do this--oh, overwhelmed". Is this the general idea you're speaking of?

Thanks,
Chris


For noting I would keep it more simple like this:

Daniel Ingram - noting
Mahasi Sayadaw - Insight practice instructions
Kenneth Folk - Noting

You may want to look at the wikipedia for a basic description of the 4 foundations of mindfulness which look at the different categories you can note. Basically if you can label it you can understand it. What you understand more and more becomes less and less bewildering.

If you want to ask a question instead then "How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?" is more like noting all your senses and automatic thoughts at the same time. Reactivity wants to zoom in on one or another of the senses when technically they are all working at the same time. It helps to let go of thoughts about the past, then let go of thoughts about the future before you ask the question to then allow all automatic senses and thoughts be in the foreground. I found it easier to do this after some years doing the noting practice to develop dispassion for what is impermanent & dissatisfying because it's impermanent and not defining my "self" to automatic reactivity and other automatic processes. Reactivity is not personal it's just natural. I don't need to repress it but to understand it. Noting is less repressive than concentration but developing good concentration is like a rocketship pulling you from Earth's gravity. Once you don't need those boosters (you have enough concentration to investigate reactivity) you can start investigating. Using word notes are tricky in that the goal is not the word concept but the experience. The word concept is like training wheels that help the brain conceptually understand what is going on like a dispassionate watcher and to also give the conceptual brain some work to do otherwise it will want to conceptualize "what I'm I going to have for dinner"? emoticon As you feel and notice body sensations, feeling tone (pleasant, neutral, unpleasant), mind states (emotions, how nice it feels when they aren't there), and hindrances (desire, aversion, sloth-torpor, restlessness, doubt) you learn about how you get hung-up. As you get to know your own reactivity it becomes less bewildering and you can see what attachments you have. Dispassion for what causes this suffering = weakened reactivity. When these phenomena can be seen to arise and pass away and you can enjoy when it passes away you're probably feeling a lot better. You can do this while walking or most activities that don't require a huge amount of conceptualization. The general public has a narrative habit where they dwell in concept and with this practice you want to develop a habit of being in your senses. So when you conceptualize work (like we all do) you naturally go back to the senses instead of more conceptualization. You'll know when you're getting more progress when you notice that concepts almost check you out of reality and when you are very present with the practice colours, sounds and experiences are more bright and alive. They always were but now you are paying attention. Again the key is to notice the sensation first before you apply a word label if you want to get anything out of this practice. Mechanical noting without experience in the senses is no different than getting lost in thoughts.

Daniel has a good sticky that shows the insight hierarchy:

Insight practice hierarchy

To develop a continuity so you get good at this it's important to find 30 mins to 1 hour per day or at least every 2nd day so you can try this stuff out for an extended period of time. Adding it to your daily life is a must in order to make it a habit. Unfortunately it's possible to be good at this only on the cushion.

To develop basic concentration you relax your facial muscles and body muscles (because reactivity manifests in body tension) then you find some practice that reminds you to come back to the breath. I usually would count the breath by saying in my mind "just" for the in breath, & "one" for the out breath. I would count to 10 and if my mind wandered I probably counted 11, 12, 13 or I lost my spot. The Dalai Lama would say the best student would not get into any negative descriptions or judgmental talk in the mind and just return to the breath. You would start at 1 again. If you get to 10 without losing your spot I preferred to go backwards back to 1 because I found that variety makes the brain more interested. I use my abdomen as a concentration spot and some others use the feeling of air on their lip under the nose. Use what you find easier to follow. At some point you might experience a sense of relief where self referencing and the mind chasing scenarios greatly reduces and stays in the background or stops completely and you are just absorbed in the breath. When that happens it usually leads to a jhana where certain factors appear. The initial application (Vitakka) of the mind on the breath overcomes sloth and torpor (laziness). Sustained attention (Vicara) overcomes your doubt about the practice. The relief should give you some delight (Piti) which finally overcomes aversion. You'll start feeling happy or content (Sukha) and that will overcome restlessness. Finally desire is overcome because at this point you are totally collected with one-pointedness. It's like you finally feel like you don't need anything. Of course this is still somewhat repressive and takes lots of work to get there. All the different jhanas are just more refined versions of the same thing. Once I was consistently getting to the 2nd jhana I started the investigation practice with noting to understand how reactivity works. Concentration is like cocooning yourself. To use this during the day is quite difficult because it would often take me 1/2 hour to get to the 1st jhana. The wet path is to develop jhanas first and then to investigate reactivity afterwards or to just start investigating (dry path) and develop concentration naturally from the noting practice.
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Chris A, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/17/11 Recent Posts
Richard,

Thanks for all your good notes and ideas. You have given me months of good ideas for keeping my practice rich and interesting. At first I was overwhelmed: how to process all this good stuff! But I'll enjoy it bit by bit.

I've already found a few things to immediately practice. I've been doing the 1-10 exercise you describe, but find my mind can often do it while still wandering. I will try your 1-10 backwards idea--I think that will help me get a deeper concentration with that exercise.

I also am excited about this: in the Ingram pamphlet on noting, he says you can return to your breath AT THE NOSE as an anchor. I recently added noting to my practice (I've been doing the Goenka body scanning). Working with the abdomen as the noting "anchor" I found difficult, because all my anapana training had been with the space under the nose, not the abdomen. So now I have a free license from Daniel's pamphlet to use my preferred anapana spot as my noting anchor (I think I'll try in-out rather than rising-falling as that's what the experience feels like there). Wonderful!

I like your ideas you shared about noting. They reinforce something I've experienced with noting: it's easy to get so caught up in finding the right word I either overwhelm myself or miss the 3Cs in the sensation. Naturally I've gravitated to a long term view--let me experience the sensation, and if that means all I have time for is a simple note like "thought, unpleasant--state, pleasant" instead of "self-judgement thought--proud" then fine. I'm finding over time the more accurate vocabulary is emerging anyway, since I'm not feeling it as a requirement. I think I get noting's purpose--it's about noticing, and then making sure your mind is as you say, dispassionate for a moment about the experience. Very powerful.

And noting has come at just the right time for me. I wouldn't say I was stagnating with the Goenka practice, but the last six months or so I've experienced it as much more difficult to focus on sensations--sometimes I need to "look at them sideways" and I have a lot more "fuzzy" spots on my body. (These phenomenon feel a lot like what Ingram describes in his book about Dark Night and how sometimes the periphery becomes stronger.) I previously dealt with this phenomenon by relaxing or "looking sideways" or "allowing the sensations to come to me" -- but these methods often had me losing concentration if it wasn't sharp during the sit. Anyway, I find noting in body scanning helps a lot. It somehow feels more satisfying to note "fuzzy, light pulsing, barely feel vibration" then just feel the sense of "why can I barely feel these sensations?" that the body scanning has been giving me lately. I also find with noting I can "peel apart" an area. Noting one sensation in an area, I often immediately feel another aspect or sensation underneath or around it. So I've become a big fan of body scanning with noting at each spot to help focus my mind and help me see the 3Cs.

So thanks for your generosity. It will not be wasted on me! I am a very serious practitioner, and my hope is that these ideas will be fun and effective at helping me get the velocity and momentum needed to move along the path.

Chris
Chris A:

Anything you've found useful for ease or effectiveness at work?


When you get stuck on some task, the reason for the agitation is that you're equating 'stuck' with 'failure' and then linking that to beliefs about goodness/badness of your self. So the solution is obvious: self-acceptance.

I try to work without goals. Working towards a goal but without any mental reference to the goal. Sometimes I'll self-talk with something along the lines of "I have no interest in achieving goal x". By the way, this technique actually works and that's why I use it.
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Richard Zen, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Your practices for greater concentration and effectiveness at work?

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
C C C:
Chris A:

Anything you've found useful for ease or effectiveness at work?


When you get stuck on some task, the reason for the agitation is that you're equating 'stuck' with 'failure' and then linking that to beliefs about goodness/badness of your self. So the solution is obvious: self-acceptance.

I try to work without goals. Working towards a goal but without any mental reference to the goal. Sometimes I'll self-talk with something along the lines of "I have no interest in achieving goal x". By the way, this technique actually works and that's why I use it.


I like this too. I would often get better exam results of it didn't think about the result ahead of time. I just kept studying.

This is a good podcast which covers how people face up to challenges that cause fear and aversion in the context of exercise.

Strengthening the body and mind