What popped into your mind the instant you read the word “Zen” in the title above? Rock gardens and bonsai trees, maybe? Bamboo. Tea. Meditating monks. I’d be willing to bet that at least a few of these mental images leapt into your head. Conversely, I doubt that when “Zen” is mentioned that very many of you think of collared shirts and ties, of office desks and phones, conference calls and customer email chains and team meetings. It’s all too “modern”, too “westernized”, to apply to such an ancient and seemingly exotic concept…isn’t it?
Not entirely. In fact, I would argue that in our modern professional world, this practice is needed more than ever.
It’s no secret that we deal with emotionally-trying encounters around nearly every corner of our daily lives. If not careful, it can be all too easy to cave in to the stress and let mishandled emotions get the better of us. Sometimes, it seems as if the universe is actively conspiring against us, just waiting to see how much it can heap on us until we reach our breaking point each day. Deep down, we know that’s not actually true, but the knowledge does little to alleviate the pressure when we encounter it.
And what’s more, we all know that giving in to such negativity never solves anything. Screaming at the person who cut you off in traffic won’t make them a better driver; losing our temper with a frustrating or unreasonable customer won’t change the course of the interaction; panicking under the stress of a deadline will not alter the flow of time or make things any easier. These are purely instinctual gut-reactions, none of which do anything to create a more favorable result in the end. More often than not, it only makes things worse. And that is exactly when incorporating a little Zen into our professional lives becomes a truly invaluable practice.
While the practice itself encompasses a vast expanse of practices, theories and doctrines, there is one simple tenant to always be mindful of – take no action that does not result in the change you wish to see. We can’t change other people, no matter how badly we might wish we could. You can’t alter another person’s behavior, the ways in which they communicate, their habits and actions. But what we can change is ourselves. What we can alter are the ways in which we perceive and react to stressful encounters. Don’t immediately act and speak out of anger or fear; take just a moment to reflect and look at things from a new perspective. It’s too easy to only see the world through our own eyes, and life is too short to not get a change of scenery – even mental scenery – on a regular basis.
Stress will always come around. It can never permanently be avoided. What we can, and should, avoid instead is negativity and anger, remembering to manage our emotions, not blindly giving in to them and needlessly lashing out, when the pressures of the modern world come our way.