Ahhh, summer. A perfect time to relax on the beach, take a hike with the family, curl up in a hammock with a good book. But you’re not doing any of those things. Summer is over. You’re at work.
But not to worry! You can still enjoy a little getaway, right there at your desk.
Several years ago, we hosted a “lunchtime meditation retreat” at the publishing company where I worked. One of our authors, Tibetan lama and meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, was coming into the office.
It was a sultry summer day, and we expected a dozen people or so to show up for the event. Over 200 employees crammed into the cafeteria, eagerly awaiting Rinpoche’s teachings. Most of them had never tried meditation before.
Rinpoche talked for a bit, made us all laugh a lot, and then he began his lesson.
“This is a very advanced meditation technique,” he told us, his usually bright and sunny face suddenly dark and serious. “I studied for many years in the mountains of Nepal before my teacher would share this with me.”
We all waited silently, eager and a little nervous. What was he going to ask us to do?
“Okay…” Rinpoche took a deep breath, rested his hands in his lap and stared out over our heads, gazing into the distance. “Here’s what you do: listen to the air-conditioning.”
Huh? Most of us turned to look at the person sitting next to us. Did we hear him right? Listen to the air-conditioning?
Yes, the air-conditioning. Rinpoche taught us how to meditate by resting our attention on the slow hushed sound of the air-conditioning.
First, we had to get really quiet. Then we listened. Our minds raced with the to-do list that awaited us when we returned to our desks. We listened. Our knees, unused to sitting cross-legged, yelled at us. We listened. Thoughts came and went (“is this really what meditation is all about?!”). We listened.
Fifteen minutes went by. The sound of the air-conditioning, at first so quiet it was hard to hear, was now a soothing steady presence in our ears. Whenever our mind shifted its attention away from the sound, we gently returned it back. Our breath slowed.
Our thoughts slowed. We were fully present, at least for a few seconds at a time. We were meditating.
You can have this experience, too. A lunchtime retreat at your desk. Here’s how:
Block 15 minutes off your calendar. If you have a door, close it.
Sit comfortably, with your sitting bones rooted firmly in your chair and your back nice and straight.
Take five deep breaths. Breathe all the way in to your belly, pause for a few seconds, exhale as slowly as you can.
If you can close your eyes, do. If that’s tough to do where you work, simply rest your gaze on your computer monitor or on your desk.
Listen. If you can find the sound of air-conditioning, great! If not, find another sound around you. Let your attention rest there.
Keep listening. Your mind will wander, that’s okay. That’s what the sound is for, to give your mind something to pay attention to. Bring yourself back to the sound.
Let your thoughts come and go. Breathe.
Guess what? You’re meditating!
At the end of 15 minutes, take one more deep breath in and exhale fully. If your eyes are closed, open them slowly. If your eyes are open, close them for a moment.
How do you feel? A little more rooted in your chair? A little calmer? A little more okay?
Here’s the great thing: You don’t need to take time off work or drive for hours to get to this place. You can return here any time you want. It’s always there for you — your own private retreat.
More meditation tips & tricks: Daily Meditation for Busy People.
We’d love to hear from you! How do you relax during a stressful work day?