|The more conscious we become, the more we deepen our relationship to the words we choose to use.Words carry energy and this gives language its power and its potential to heal or hurt. Most of us can remember a time that someone sent a word our way, and it stuck with us. It may have been the first time we received a truly accurate compliment, or the time a friend or sibling called us a name, but either way it stuck. This experience reminds us that what we say has weight and power and that being conscious means being aware of how we use words. |
The more conscious we become, the more we deepen our relationship to the words we use so that we speak from a place of actually feeling what we are saying. We begin to recognize that words are not abstract, disconnected entities used only to convey meaning; they are powerful transmitters of feeling. For the next few days, you might want to practice noticing how the words you say and hear affect your body and your emotional state. Notice how the different communication styles of the people in your life make you feel. Also, watch closely to see how your own words come out and what affect they have on the people around you.
You may notice that when we speak quickly, without thinking, or rush to get our ideas across, our words don’t carry the same power as when we speak slowly and confidently, allowing those receiving our words time and space to take them in. When we carefully listen to others before we speak, our words have more integrity, and when we take time to center ourselves before speaking, we truly begin to harness the power of speech. Then our words can be intelligent messengers of healing and light, transmitting deep and positive feelings to those who receive them.
Sarina, a high-level executive, recently left me an urgent voicemail message, “I am utterly exhausted and yet I wake up at 3 a.m. every night. My head starts spinning through my ‘to do’ list or the things I didn’t do well or the things I wish I had said. I try to go back to sleep but it’s a useless effort. I finally give up and get up, but it means another day of feeling tired. And I know I’m not doing my best work. Can mindful leadership training help?”
Sarina was suffering from what I call the 3 a.m. Wake-up Call from her brain. And she was asking if there was a way that mindful leadership training could “block the call.” Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly was something I struggled with for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make myself go back to sleep when my mind started racing. Little by little, my resiliency was lessening until it felt that I was using every bit of my energy just to make it through the day. I was always feeling tired. When I did manage a good night’s sleep, it was striking how much it changed my experience of the next day. I was not only more alert, I was more patient, clear and creative.
Learning to sleep well moved to the top of my list. I did not want to take sleeping pills. I needed a healthy, long-term solution. Thankfully, by this time I was deeply involved with the development of mindful leadership training, so I began to experiment with a simple practice each night. Little by little, I began to sleep more restfully and for longer periods of time. There are still times when that 3 a.m. call rings but I now know how to answer it in a healthy way.
If you are ready to sleep better, try these simple steps:
3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep
1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.
2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.
3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying ‘not now’ to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.
Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are worth it. Happy dreams!
An estimated 3.8 billion email accounts worldwide fire off more than a quarter of a trillion messages each day, some of them not even spam. Out of this staggering sum, some will be sent outside of typical working hours and the controlled environment of the workplace.
Such was the case for Sam Hagerman, founder and owner of a boutique building company in Portland, Oregon. He had just returned from a festive holiday party at his alma mater, shed his tuxedo, brushed his teeth, and crawled into bed. Work still weighed on him, though, so he snatched his laptop to check email. The only light in the room shone from the laptop’s backlit screen, which he had darkened so as not to disturb his wife. There he found a message from a client he had spent countless hours wooing. This, he hoped, would be the news he had been waiting for.
Hagerman did not like what he read. The client complained that his firm was making the process too difficult for her. Too difficult for her? Hagerman thought, remembering the two years he had put into the deal. Perhaps deft diplomacy would salvage things, but Hagerman lost his patience and replied to his team: “I think this fish is rotten at the head. Let’s cut bait.” Then he shut his laptop and went to sleep—not realizing he had hit “reply all.”
The deal, of course, was over by the time the client saw the email the next morning.
Possibly, the late hour affected his judgment. But Hagerman had sent the email in the dark, and studies show that we humans act differently in low light than we do in the light of day. When the lights are dim, humans tend to feel less connected to others. In the shadows we care less about what others think of us. One theory is that ambient darkness lowers a person’s visual acuity and makes him feel hidden from others. So we let down our guard and are more apt to make more hedonistic (read: authentic) choices.
For Hagerman, this may have meant letting off steam instead of managing the client.
Light in the Workplace
To thrive in today’s globally competitive environment, companies at the top of their game expend great effort toward giving their workers any edge. In addition to generous compensation packages, they provide perks and benefits that range from health club memberships to on-site laundry facilities to stress-busting programs. But there’s also a critical link hiding in plain sight that helps people function at their very best.
We are talking about light.
Vision comprises 80 to 85 percent of our perception of the world around us. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that lighting can act on people in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It can affect how we feel, what we do, and how well (or poorly) we do it. The right light can wake us up in the morning—as much as a strong cup of coffee—or help us wind down for a blissful night’s sleep. It can coax greater productivity, concentration, and creativity out of workers.
Lighting can be designed to change throughout the day, mimicking the movement of the sun and helping us keep our bodies and minds in sync. Or it can be used to help shift the mood in the evening, making it ideal for a networking event. Coupled with decent ventilation, studies show that good lighting can improve employee job satisfaction by almost 25 percent, increase productivity by 16 percent, and lower absenteeism. And it can minimize mistakes, too: an associate professor at Harvard University reportedly reduced errors at NASA Mission Control by switching to rich blue lighting, which could also be applied to healthcare settings to reduce medical errors.
Equally true, however, the wrong lighting can be harmful. A study at Cornell University found that people working in offices with poor lighting saw a 15 percent drop in their creativity while having a 6.5 percent higher likelihood of falling sick. Artificial light such as the kind emitted by fluorescent and halogen bulbs has been connected to disruptions in our internal body clocks, which causes the light-triggered release of hormones that regulate bodily function.
To some degree, businesses have long understood the importance of good lighting. They employ lighting designers and other experts who know what sparks our brains and what doesn’t. They choose the kinds of lights they believe will yield the best results—when to turn up the lights or tune their color spectrum to increase concentration and coax greater productivity from workers. Over at WeWork, there’s even a 14-person team dubbed “The Dream Squad” tasked with designing the ideal lighting for co-working spaces.
But the obvious question is, what about all the legions of people who don’t work in company offices or special co-working spaces? They take their work home with them, or are the harried folks you see typing reports and holding videoconferences on the run, or replying to texts and emails in coffee shops, airports, and aboard airplanes at all hours of the day and night. These digital doers aren’t getting much guidance, yet their performance can obviously have a great impact on an organization’s performance.
For his part, Eric Higgs, founder of Florida-based LumaStream, suggests that these people seek cooler lighting “while they are maximizing productivity and warmer light into the evening.” Of course, this is easier said than done for the business warrior who’s checking into a hotel at 2 a.m., waiting for a flight to Newark, typing an email on a mobile phone in the back of a taxi—or accidentally hitting “reply all” to a client’s email in bed after a long day.
What Businesses Do
Offices typically employ three basic types of lighting applications: general lighting for open spaces, task lighting for desks and focused work, and videoconference lighting. But they all have one thing in common: they utilize blue light, which tends to energize us humans.
That’s because of the way we process light, which potentially can cover the spectrum of colors. It comes down to nature. The sun, which is the ultimate lighting source, provides full spectrum light—light that not only spans the entire visual spectrum, it also has colors we can’t even perceive. When the sun rises it gives off warm colors like orange and red, which suffuse us with calm. At the height of the day, with the sun overhead, the light is cooler, which means it’s sharper and enriched with more white and blue hues. As the sun heads toward the horizon, the colors become warmer again, until nightfall. That’s nature’s way of telling us it’s time to sleep.
“A lot of our body chemistry is based on the day-night cycle, which we refer to as the circadian rhythm,” says Stan Walerczyk, principal of Lighting Wizards and chair of the Human Centric Lighting Society. “If you do not get sufficient exposure to sunlight, your circadian rhythm gets messed up and that, in turn, messes up your hormones—and then you’re all screwed up.”
But there is nothing natural about working inside in an office: “We spend 90 percent of our time indoors,” Higgs says. “Our biological clocks are out of sync from work and life conditions.”
That’s why companies have to give lighting some serious thought, especially if workspaces are in windowless settings. People who work in such conditions report lower scores on quality-of-life measures, while studies show those with windows in their workplaces received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours. They then slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.
It isn’t just the existence of light that affects workers, it’s also the type and quality of light. “There’s no question different spectrums of light can cause different effects,” Higgs says. Cooler lighting is more typical in a workspace than in the home since it is perceived as more energizing, while warmer light, with its red and orange hues, settles you down.
Until recently, many companies opted for florescent lights in offices because it was cheaper in the short term through energy savings. But such artificial light has been connected to disruptions in our internal body clocks. The good news: as the cost of LED lighting has dropped, there’s been a movement among companies for more “human-centric lighting.”
The experimentation, though, has only begun. For instance, for the 2015 season, the Seattle Mariners hired Walerczyk to design and implement an LED lighting strategy in the home team’s locker room. The goal was to design the lights to intensify the players’ moods, increase energy levels, and improve their on-the-field performance.
“We tuned it so that before a game the players were exposed to blue-enriched light and after the game they received a warmer light, so they could eventually go to sleep easier,” Walerczyk says. (The team’s record improved, although with players regularly switching teams it’s hard to track the lighting’s role.)
What About Those Outside the Office?
Millions of Americans work outside the office. One poll found that 43 percent of employed Americans spend at least some time working remotely. Companies, meanwhile, are finding that allowing their workers to telecommute is simply good business, saving millions of dollars in office space (and expensive lighting designs), raising morale and loyalty, and meeting the demands of younger job seekers—i.e., millennials—who prefer it.
Obviously, organizations can’t come into people’s homes, but experts think guidelines for remote workers might help in a number of ways, such as reminding workers about the pitfalls of communicating with staff, vendors, and customers late in the evening or in places with poor lighting. Raising awareness is half the battle.
For his part, Walerczyk advises investing in a tunable lamp in homes and home offices, which can be adjusted to emit more blue light to energize, and more red or orange light when it’s time to wind down. Being near natural light always helps, so put your office desk near a window, and ditch any fluorescent or halogen lamps you might have. Above all, “email and text should be turned off while people are sleeping or resting,” he says.
Not one to lack ingenuity, Sam Hagerman, the construction firm owner who accidentally hit “reply all” on a message his client wasn’t supposed to see, came up with his own proactive, foolproof steps to prevent anything like that from happening again. He had an assistant set up a passcode on his mobile phone so he couldn’t respond between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“I made her promise not to tell me the code,” Hagerman says.
During the day, we can monitor our thoughts to see if we’re investing our energy where it is useful.
Our thoughts are powerful forces in the creation of our experience of life. You may be able to recall a time when frustration that was based on a misunderstanding completely evaporated when your understanding changed. This is because our interpretation defines our experience, and it can change in an instant. Our only true reality is the present moment, so rather than merely accepting that life is happening to us, we can harness the power of our thoughts to actively create a positive reality. For example, we can choose to appreciate beauty around us rather than focusing on traffic or look for admirable qualities in the people we deal with rather than focusing on the negative. By choosing how to interpret and define each moment with your thoughts, you truly create your reality.
Throughout the day, we can monitor our thoughts to catch ourselves in the middle of investing our energy elsewhere–such as into belief in limitations–and instead pull our focus back to the infinite possibilities of the present. Taking a deep breath will help us center our thoughts on being in our bodies right now. Regular meditation allows us to gain mastery over our minds so that we can still our thoughts to focus on the pureness of being. If we mentally dwell on the past or the future, we may miss the experience of living in the present moment. Setting and visualizing goals is wonderful, but we can bring our thoughts into our current experience by taking steps to create them now.
Our minds are powerful tools that we can harness to create our reality. Through them we move the unformed energy of the universe into form, which gives us direction for our words and actions. Each thought is like a stone dropped into a lake, sending ripples out into our world to affect all they touch. We can choose our focus and how we invest our energy, which gives us the power to design our lives to be whatever we choose in each and every moment.
We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. — Thích Nhất Hạnh
I am sitting in Boulder, Colorado at the end of July. The hum of Summer is everywhere. Nature is asserting her way effortlessly with exponential ease. The encroaching abundance is tapping at the window panes. Self-seeded sunflowers are following the sun and rocking in the breeze. Somewhere a radio plays uplifting tunes and Winter feels like an almost forgotten era, an ice-age ago.
And yet, as a first-time visitor to Colorado, I am curious about the long Winters. How everything will recede into what T.S. Eliot called the deadlands: that dormant peaceful sleep. I can’t help but stare at the enthusiastic, leaping-green foliage and tune in to its amnesia of Winter where I too am seduced and can hear my own being whispering how Winter, this year, will never arrive. How can it? In this very moment, there is no place for Winter… it is impossible. Everything is awake, even in the deep of night. Everything is alive and communing with each other.
The hum of Summer is everywhere.
Sipping ice tea, I close my eyes and imagine the white forgotten wonderland; everything snow-capped and snow deep. Some of this green will hibernate and find its new breath somewhere between April and May. But a lot of this verdant splendour will simply die. And I’m filled with a simultaneous sense of Trust and Acceptance. There is no place for grief in this present moment; no place for conversations about the impermanence of life. Right here nothing is born or dying–it is exquisitely changing molecular shape and endlessly manifesting into countless organic configurations.
My thoughts turn to those I love who have slipped into the deadlands; who have given up the ghost. And I now feel my grief smiling as I think of their old body-vessels molecularly coursing through the icy rivulets into Gold Lake; becoming the indigo of the petals of the blue mist penstemon; the shout of the gold stonecrop moss; the irrepressibly subtle lichen determined to spruce up every rock; the intelligence shaping the deciduous bushes or the ever-green resilient pines; the soft fur of a chipmunk’s tail; or the generous Summer rains and all the wildflowers sign-posting my way HOME as I walk around the lake.
I am grateful that my direct experience with death and grief has evolved into a loving acceptance and a peaceful trust in this alchemy–mystery that we call Life. And I have known all too well the grip of grief who, like a relentless hurricane, told me over and over and over that inner-peace will never, ever return.
But it does. And it will, And it is.
My loved ones are everywhere on this material plane. They have never been anywhere else. Their life-force, their essence, their spirit is having yet more dance lessons with the Divine.
The metamorphasis fills me with trust and acceptance.
I cannot think about the infinite metamorphosis of Existence without calling upon Hafiz…
Deepening The Wonder by Hafiz
Death is a favour to us,
But our scales have lost their balance.
The impermanence of the body
Should give us great clarity,
Deepening the wonder in our senses and eyes
Of this mysterious existence we share
And are surely just traveling through.
If I were in the Tavern tonight,
Hafiz would call for drinks
And as the Master poured, I would be reminded
That all I know of life and myself is that
We are just a mid-air flight of golden wine
Between His Pitcher and His Cup.
If I were in the Tavern tonight,
I would buy freely for everyone in this world
Because our marriage with the Cruel Beauty
Of time and space cannot endure very long.
Death is a favour to us,
But our minds have lost their balance.
The miraculous existence and impermanence of Form
Always makes the illuminated ones
Laugh and Sing.