Questions and Answers by Thich Nhat Hanh

Stress and Work

Q:How do you maintain mindfulness in a busy work environment? At times it seems there is not even enough time to breathe mindfully.

A: This is not a personal problem only; this is a problem of the whole civilization. That is why we have to practice not only as individuals;we have to practice as a society. We have to make a revolution in the way we organize our society and our daily life, so we will be able to enjoy the work we do every day.

Meanwhile, we can incorporate a number of things that we have learned in this retreat in order to lessen our stress. When you drive around the city and come to a red light or a stop sign, you can just sit back and make use of these twenty or thirty seconds to relax-to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy arriving in the present moment. There are many things like that we can do. Years ago I was in Montreal on the way to a retreat, and I noticed that the license plates said Je me souviens-"I remember." I did not know what they wanted to remember, but to me it means that I remember to breathe and to smile (laughter). So I told a friend who was driving the car that I had a gift for the sangha in Montreal: every time you see Je me souviens, you remember to breathe and smile and go back to the present moment. Many of our friends in the Montreal sangha have been practicing that for more than ten years.

I think we can enjoy the red light; we can also enjoy the stop sign. Every time we see it we profit: instead of being angry at the red light, of being burned by impatience, we just practice breathing in, breathing out, smiling.That helps a lot. And when you hear the telephone ringing you can consider it to be the sound of the mindfulness bell. You practice telephone meditation. Every time you hear the telephone ringing you stay exactly where you are (laughter). You breathe in and breathe out and enjoy your breathing. Listen, listen-this wonderful sound brings you back to your true home. Then when you hear the second ring you stand up and you go to the telephone with dignity (laughter). That means in the style of walking meditation (laughter). You know that you can afford to do that, because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. That is what we call telephone meditation. We use the sound as the bell of mindfulness.

And waiting at the bus stop you might like to try mindful breathing, and waiting in line to go into a bank, you can always practice mindful breathing. Walking from one building to another building, why don't you use walking meditation, because that improves the quality of our life. That brings more peace and serenity, and the quality of the work we do will be improved just by that kind of practice. So it is possible to integrate the practice into our daily life. We just need a little bit of creative imagination to do so.