“I’ve found that the more present we are, the more we are able to see a situation clearly and respond to it in a skillful manner… If I am in a meeting, for example, I can be more present and truly listen to what people are saying, as opposed to getting lost in my thoughts or fixed notions about what ought to happen or what used to happen.”
Lodro Rinzler is the author of a series of meditation books that apply the benefits of meditation to modern life, including the extremely popular book A Buddha Walks into a Bar. His most recent book, The Buddha Walks into the Office, lays out how young professionals can incorporate mindfulness in the workplace and gives them tips on how to mindfully design their career and life paths. Lodro told us a bit about how meditation has helped him succeed as a professional and gave tips for how others can use mindfulness to do the same.
What is your meditation routine?
I started meditating as a child and my meditation routine has changed every few years, particularly when I became a Vajrayana student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in 2001. While I do a sadhana practice under his guidance, the foundation of my meditation practice continues to be shamatha, or, calm-abiding meditation. This is the basic mindfulness practice of coming back to what is going on in this very moment by returning your attention, over and over again, to the physical sensation of your breathing. I often practice in the morning after my morning coffee and teach meditation several evenings a week; thus book-ending my day with meditation practice as a result.
Can you tell me a story about how meditation improved your performance and leadership?
Since I started meditating at a young age, I feel like it has shaped me deeply in terms of becoming who I am today. Meditation practice has calmed me when I felt anxious, softened me when I put up walls around my open heart, and let me to be more present in both the pleasurable and painful aspects of my life.
In regards to leadership, it is said that people are more likely to follow a leader if that individual is relatable in some way. We are inspired by leaders who make themselves available. In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud wrote, “The tension between vulnerability and strength in leaders cannot be lost.” This is the power of maintaining that open heart I mentioned before. It is not a weepy heart we are cultivating in meditation practice, or the heart that whines a lot. It has tremendous strength because it is a heart that is capable, brave, and empathetic. Thus, even when I encountered difficult people in the course of my career I have been able to realize that they too are striving to be happy, and open my heart to them. Allowing for that vulnerability has often dissolved the “me” versus “you” element so many of us carry with us into the workplace. In its wake is an open heart that is looking out for “us.”
Do you think meditation gives you a competitive edge? Why?
I think meditation makes me more productive and focused, because I am more present for whomever I’m working with. If I am in a meeting, for example, I can be more present and truly listen to what people are saying, as opposed to getting lost in my thoughts or fixed notions about what ought to happen or what used to happen. I can actually see what is going on right now and see the logic of a given situation. I’ve found that the more present we are, the more we are able to see a situation clearly and respond to it in a skillful manner.
Can you share some lessons from your latest book on how mindfulness can help you achieve your career goals?
In my latest book, The Buddha Walks into the Office, I revisit the age-old question of “What do you want to do when you grow up?” It occurred to me that given the current educational and economic situation in the United States, maybe the question of what you want to be when you grow up is outdated. Perhaps a better question for the thoughtful career-oriented individual of today would be “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” In other words, what qualities do you want to cultivate in yourself? This will be helpful as you engage your career path, because you can always cultivate the qualities that are important to you, whereas you may not always be able to make a living doing exactly what you want to do.
One of the Tibetan words for meditation is gom. It can also be translated as “become familiar with” or “familiarity.” The more we meditate, the more we become familiar with who we are. The more familiar we are with ourselves, the more we see which aspects of our life we want to cultivate and which we, frankly, might want to cut out. We can decipher qualities we want to build upon and make that the focus of our work, as opposed to dwelling on a specific title or business. So instead of spending decades trying to become the CMO of a specific company we spend that time trying to become kinder, or more compassionate, or more present with everyone we encounter. That is the idea of becoming more familiar with who we are, and less focused on just what we do.
Do you have tips for people who want to incorporate mindfulness into their work lives?
One thing I have found helpful over the last several years in terms of bringing your meditation practice into the workplace is to return to your body and the breath over and over again throughout your day. I often set a timer when I know I am going to be working for many hours straight. Every hour when it goes off I close my laptop, raise my gaze, and practice shamatha. After a minute or so I return to my work, setting the timer again for another hour. Doing so breaks up the work routine and habitual stressful momentum, and allows me to return to what’s going on right now, several times throughout my work day.