How Mindfulness Turned My Day Job Into A Retreat

Years ago, I had a job working as a personal assistant. In the grand scheme of things, it was a great job because I was treated respectfully and my boss always tried to make the best use of my skills and talents. But I struggled with it. I had tasted success in the past and wanted to concentrate full time on making music. I was the very definition of a frustrated artist.

Feeling torn, I tried to be grateful for what I had, understanding how fortunate I truly was. But I also wanted to achieve my fullest potential, professionally and creatively, and my circumstances seemed unfair to me.

Finally one day, I got tired of being in that position. I said to myself “You’re here now. You won’t always be at this job. How can you make peace with where you are?” In that moment, I decided to radically embrace the situation. I chose to believe that being at my job was serving a deeper purpose.

But I realized it wasn’t enough to hold that belief. How long would I be able to ride on my determination before slipping back into my habitual state of mind? So I decided to treat my job environment like a meditation retreat. I would find strategic ways to appreciate, meditatively, as much of my day as possible, applying mindfulness techniques wherever I could.

Suddenly, my day job took on a whole new life. When I met with my boss that morning to get instructions for the day, I thought to myself, “Maybe there’s a deeper reason we’re here together in this moment. Here we are, two people in this world. We’ve both known suffering.” And for the first time, I really looked at her. I had been so stuck in my role as assistant that I had forgotten to see my boss as a human being. Now I felt compassion well up, for both of us. I felt a connection to her I hadn’t known until that moment. I felt like I was contributing to her life in a positive way, just by seeing her more completely.

The days unfolded and my job became a creative work space, as I identified more opportunities to practice mindfulness and implement my strategies. When I was at the computer, I concentrated on my posture. Walking down the hallway, I would notice each step. Stuffing envelopes, I concentrated on each phase of the activity, from opening the envelope to picking up the invitation, putting it in the envelope, sealing the envelope, placing it in the pile. Routines like this, ones that don’t require much thinking, are a great opportunity to practice your skills. I even discovered that a metal garbage can in the bathroom sounded a bit like a meditation bell when I gave it a little tap. So, whenever I left the bathroom, I would gently strike the bell as a reminder of my true job.

Over time, my life began to shift. I stopped needing things to be any other way. I became genuinely content on my path. Within months, my job came to an end because I was invited on the road to open for Don Henley. My wish had come true.

I honestly don’t know what impact, if any, my practice had on that outcome. I only know for certain that mindfulness gave me my life back during that time, moment by moment. Mindfulness shifted me from a preoccupied, torn place, to one of self-empowerment.

And in the end, how valuable is achieving material success if you can’t find fulfillment in all the many moments leading up to it? And how much can you enjoy that success, if you view your fulfillment as hinging on it? Mindfulness has shown me how essential it is to value this moment, right now. Because time and time again, I’ve seen how the care I’m able to bring to this moment reverberates through all the other moments of my life, releasing the past and shaping the future. When I’m able to give myself fully to any moment, whether my dreams come true or not, life becomes an incomparably rich journey.

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