292: Enhancing Work and Life through Mindfulness with Oren Jay Sofer

By April 27, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Meditation teacher Oren Jay Sofer discusses the vastly positive impact of adopting a meditation practice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top three evidence-based benefits of mindfulness practice
  2. How a one-minute pause can make a huge difference
  3. How to train your brain for greater attention

About Oren

Oren Jay Sofer is Senior Program Developer at Mindful Schools and Founder of Next Step Dharma, offering online courses on meditation in daily life. He is a member of the Spirit Rock Teacher’s Council, a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication, and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner for healing trauma.  His work has been featured on apps such as 10% Happier and Simple Habit. Oren holds a degree in Comparative Religion from Columbia University, and is author of Say What you Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Oren Jay Sofer Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Oren, welcome to the show!

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks so much, Pete.  Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a ton of fun here.  First I’d like to get oriented to your history and backstory as a child actor.

Oren Jay Sofer
Alight, yeah.  It’s interesting – I was thinking about this before getting on the call.  And my motivation for being a child actor is actually the same reason why I do what I do now.  So, when I was about eight or nine years old I got really inspired by a movie I saw and I realized that millions of people have seen this movie.  And here I am having this cool thought and thinking about something that’s pretty amazing.  Imagine if I could reach large numbers of people and get them to think about their life in a different way.
And so I decided I wanted to become an actor.  And so until the age of 20 I was going into New York, going to auditions, I did some TV commercials, a few shows, some student films, some off-Broadway theater.  And then I found meditation, and it radically changed my life.  And here I am 20 years later and realizing that in some very interesting roundabout way I’m doing the same thing, in a different way – trying to reach people and help them to think about their lives in a different way.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so cool.  And I want to hear, what was the movie that got this seed planted?

Oren Jay Sofer
[laugh] It’s slightly embarrassing because it’s not a very profound movie.  But I think it was Back to the Future part 2 or part 3 or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s pretty profound.  That gets you thinking.

Oren Jay Sofer
It was.  It was in the ‘80s and I got thinking about time and one’s life.  And yeah, it really made me ponder things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, I dig it.  And I’ve had those moments as well, from movies that might be silly or comedies or not as powerful apparently in the eyes of the critics, in terms of assessing it as a movie great.  But that’s cool.

Oren Jay Sofer
And I was eight or nine years old.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so kudos there.  And so, with your child acting, are there any commercials we might have seen or recognized?

Oren Jay Sofer
I giggled in a Life Savers commercial. [laugh] And I did an Applebee’s commercial, that restaurant is still around.  The thing that you might see actually that’s still out there if you’re having trouble sleeping late one night and flipping through cable television, is an episode of Law & Order that’s still running, where I actually was the murderer.

Pete Mockaitis
A kid murderer?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yes, a kid murderer.  A Crime of Passion was the title, or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so funny, because you’re all about the non-violence.

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And here we have that role.  Well, cool.  So, I’ve heard your voice many times through the Simple Habit meditation app, and I just connected with it in a great way.  You’re just so encouraging, so thank you for that.

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you say meditation changed your life.  Could you maybe walk us through a little bit of what’s the story or the narrative of how this unfolds?

Oren Jay Sofer
Sure.  So I was in college and acting in New York City, and worn pretty thin.  Just kind of rolling hard and heavy.  I won’t go into details, but you can imagine.  And parents got divorced.  So just a lot of stress, a lot of pressure.  I had a big falling out with my friends.  And just in kind of that way that can happen at that particular age – I was about 18 or 19 – it felt like my life was coming apart at the seams, and I wanted to start over.
And I ended up hearing about a study abroad program in India actually, where I could go to a monastery, and no drugs, no sex, no alcohol, up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning, meditating twice a day.  And I said, “Sign me up.”  I kind of wanted to clear the decks and just start fresh.  And some of the teachers that I met over there had a really profound impact on me and kind of opened my eyes to what was possible in a human life, and taught me how to understand my own mind.  And it started a whole process of me reevaluating my life, reorienting to deeper values inside, and starting to deal with some of the struggles and emotions that I had been kind of pushing away inside for many years.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating.  And so when you say you meditated twice a day, what kind of length of time are we talking about here?

Oren Jay Sofer
We would meditate for 30 or 45 minutes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, intriguing.  And so was there teaching on top of that?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, it was a whole program.  So we were studying Buddhism and learning about meditation.  I was in the process of doing a degree in Comparative Religion, so that kind of became part of my studies.  But I had I guess you could say the good fortune, but the unique opportunity to kind of dive in head first.  And I’m guessing most of your listeners aren’t going to give up their career and go to India for six months the way I did.  But what’s wonderful is the kind of opportunities that are available today, like Simple Habit or 10% Happier or other apps – those weren’t around 20 years ago.  So people today can actually access these practices right from their own home, and there’s a lot of really wonderful teaching and guidance available.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool.  Well, could you maybe share in your own experience, in terms of back here States side, thinking about the… Well, you tell me first of all – do you find that you go into and out of a regular habitual meditative practice, or is it like stone cold, 100% solid?

Oren Jay Sofer
So, it’s pretty much a regular part of my life at this point.  That doesn’t mean that I sit for 45 minutes every day without fail.  Things get busy sometimes, I’ve got an early morning appointment.  I try to sit quietly for at least a minute or two, no matter what’s happening, just to kind of touch into that space.  But what is the case is that the level of clarity and awareness that’s present in my mind is much greater because of the many years of mindfulness practice.  And so even when I’m not meditating formally, there is a connection with mindfulness that’s happening.  And that’s the result of practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’d love for you to expand upon that clarity and awareness, sort of the result or the product, if you will, the outcome from having done it, either in a day, like right afterwards, or over years.  Could you just make that a real clear contrast or distinction, in terms of non-meditating – “My brain is kind of like this”, versus meditating – “I experience this other opposite thing instead.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Sure, yeah.  So, we can characterize the benefits of meditation in two or three key ways.  And this comes straight out of a lot of the research that’s been done.  So, one is emotional regulation.  So for example if one’s not meditating, we might find that things get us going a lot more easily, we get reactive, we pop off at someone, we’re short, we’re testy.  Things get to us easily.
Meditation, mindfulness meditation helps to decrease emotional reactivity, so that we are more aware of the emotions that we experience and have more space inside to tolerate any discomfort and choose how we respond, rather than reacting impulsively based on how we feel in the moment.
And as all of us know, that’s a really useful skill in life in all situations, whether we’re talking about our primary relationship, our family, or our work.  Being able to be in a stressful or demanding situation, where something comes up that triggers us or makes us angry or makes us upset or fearful, or a lot of anxiety or anticipation – to have the capacity to still think clearly and not be pushed around by those emotions – that’s huge.  So that’s one major benefit.

Pete Mockaitis
That is huge.  Just that phrase there, nice – “The space to tolerate discomfort”.  We’ve got a bunch of people who like learning, listening to the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast, and we’ve heard it said many, many times associated with, growth occurs in discomfort.  When you’re learning something new you’re kind of clueless and feel dumb.  Stephen Covey talking about the comfort zone versus the growth zone, which is intrinsically uncomfortable.  So that just sounds so huge right there, is if we can tolerate greater discomfort, then our whole ability to learn, grow, develop just… We might, I don’t know, I’m going to throw a number out, see how it feels – you might double or triple your capacity to grow if you double or triple your capacity to tolerate discomfort.

Oren Jay Sofer
Absolutely, yeah.  And the phrase that I like to use comes from a colleague of mine.  We talk about “the zone of strategic discomfort”.  So, if we’re too comfortable we don’t learn, we don’t grow, because we’re just going along and everything’s fine.  However, if we’re too uncomfortable we also don’t learn, because it’s overwhelming.  So there’s this zone in the middle, of strategic discomfort, where it’s uncomfortable enough that we’re forced to actually look at things and question them and pay more attention.
And so, that’s what the training of mindfulness does, is it creates a space in which we can study our own mind, our own habits, our own reactions, and really start to come into contact with those places that we get uncomfortable and learn, “How do I respond here?  What’s my go-to strategy?  How do I develop more patience, more resilience, more stability inside, so that I have more choice?”  And this is one of the central principles behind mindfulness practice, Pete, which is the more aware we are, the more choice we have.
So, mindfulness practice increases awareness.  It increases awareness of our emotions, it increases awareness of our thoughts, it increases self-awareness, our attention is sharper in terms of being able to observe around us and pick up more information from others and our environment.  And when we have that awareness and information, that allows us to make better choices.  And all of those things translate directly into our ability to be awesome at our job, as your podcast likes to say, because we have more access to our own intelligence and resources inside.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, that’s good.  Alright, so you said three.

Oren Jay Sofer
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to make sure I’m segmenting or following your train.  Did we cover one or did we cover two?  Or did we cover three?

Oren Jay Sofer
We covered one.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, you have more.

Oren Jay Sofer
We covered emotional regulation.  So the second one is something called “attentional stability”, which is a fancy way of saying focus, or ability to pay attention, or concentration.  So, one of the skills that’s developed through mindfulness practice is the ability to stay aware of a chosen activity or object.  So, you talked about your mind before and after meditation.
So I remember when I was in college, before I started meditating, reading the same paragraph over and over again, sometimes five or six times, because my mind would keep wondering.  And it would take a lot longer to get a certain task done because I wasn’t able to stay on task, to stay on track.
So mindfulness develops that capacity to be focused, to choose where we put our attention, and keep it there.  And again, that translates into all areas of our life, whether it’s personal or professional, whether we’re wanting to read or study or write, or even listen in a meeting and be able to keep track of the information that’s coming, without losing focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s certainly helpful in lots of things.  I dig it.  And what’s the third?

Oren Jay Sofer
So, the third is self-awareness.  The third is being able to understand and be aware of our own experience, our own mind.  So one of the other common ways of talking about mindfulness practice is that this quality of mindfulness, which we haven’t defined, so maybe let me take a moment to just do that now.  Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of what’s happening in the moment in a clear, balanced and non-reactive way.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Oren Jay Sofer
So it’s not just knowing what’s happening, but it’s knowing what’s happening in this particular way where there is clarity and there is a kind of balance inside.  We’re not getting pulled around or reactive just because of something that’s happening in our environment, internally or externally.  So, one of the main things mindfulness does is it helps us to tell the difference between what’s actually happening and the stories that we’re telling ourselves about what’s happening.
And so this is where the self-awareness comes in.  We start to see how our thoughts, our moods, our emotions, our interpretations begin to influence and color our experience.  This is really important.  It’s like our mind is a set of glasses through which everything is being filtered.  So there is nothing that we experience in life, there’s nothing that we hear, see, taste, smell or touch that doesn’t involve our mind.  And so, if our mind is adding interpretations and opinions and biases to those experiences and we’re not aware of it, that’s going to affect how well we live, how well we do our job, the quality of our relationships, the quality of happiness and well-being we experience in our life.
So, for example, how many of us have had the experience of working someplace and somebody walks in and they don’t say “Good morning”?  Or you catch a weird look on their face and all of a sudden we’re like, “Oh my God, they don’t like me.  They’re out to get me.  I know, it’s that project we did last week – they’re not happy with it.”  And we start spinning.  We make this whole story and we don’t even realize what just happened – that all that happened was actually we walked in and we didn’t hear them say “Hello”, or we didn’t make eye contact, and that everything else is extra. It’s all thoughts and fears and interpretation.
And so that’s happening a lot of our lives, that we’re living in the reality of our stories and our beliefs and our interpretations.  And the more we develop mindfulness, the more we see those for what they are, and then we can actually evaluate, “Okay, which ones are helpful?  Which ones are maybe likely to be true?  And which ones are just getting in my way or tripping me up?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.  That’s potent.  So I think you really painted a nice picture there, associated with what good looks like, when you’re sort of “with it”, and then what the not-so-great default can look like.  So I’d love it… You mentioned studies a couple of times.  Could you share, are there maybe one or two or three studies that have an impressive, quantified result that you’d like to drop?

Oren Jay Sofer
I’m happy to answer the question.  I want to say one more thing on your last question before we go there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Oren Jay Sofer
You said something like, the difference between what’s…

Pete Mockaitis
Like when you’re on the meditation train versus off of the meditation train.

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly, exactly.  And the one thing that I want to add to that that’s really important is that being on the meditation train doesn’t mean that we don’t still have negative thoughts or interpretations or anxiety come up.  It means that we’re able to be aware of those and have some choice about how much space they take up inside, so that they’re not running the show.  And that’s a really key distinction, because if we have an expectation that, “All this stuff is going to go away and I’ll never have to feel anxious or insecure again” – that might not be realistic.  But what is very attainable is being able to put those things in context and not be so oppressed by them.  And how much of the time are we our own worst enemy, in terms of being able to really fulfill our potential?  So, I just wanted to make that really clear before we move on to the research question.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah.  So, I’ll share a little bit of what I know about studies with the caveat that I’m not a scientist and I’m not a researcher.  So, just to give you an analogy – I’m a meditation teacher, and so I teach people how to practice mindfulness and I teach people how to practice communication, how to bring those two together in their relationships.  How to use mindfulness not just for one’s own mind but also in your relationships and life.  And it’s a little bit like the difference between being a musician, who plays music, and being a sound engineer, who records the music and knows how to get the right frequencies and levels set.  So, I don’t deal with the sound engineering; I just play the music.
So, having said that, one of the interesting things that’s happening these days is, they’re doing what are called “meta-analyses”.  So the individual research studies that are done have a specific sample size, and those carry some weight.  But a meta-analysis aggregates the data over 20, 30, 40, 50 or more individual research studies and then looks at trends.  And so within scientific research, a meta-analysis can often carry more weight because it’s drawing on a much larger sample size.
And the meta-analyses are showing really strong consistent evidence for benefits in decreasing cognitive and emotional reactivity, for decreases in mind-wandering and rumination, so like getting lost in thoughts and sort of spinning inside with worry and anxiety; and self-compassion and kindness.  So those are some of the qualities that are coming out.
But a couple of my favorite, favorite studies – so, one has to do with the effect of mindfulness training on kindness and altruism.  So they gave people three weeks of mindfulness training – not a long time.  And then they said they were going to participate in a research study.  So they get to the waiting room.  One person comes in from the study, a participant, and they’re waiting to go in to do the research study.  But what they don’t know is that the waiting room is actually where the research study is happening.
So they come in and there are three chairs.  Two of them are occupied with people who work for the research team, but they don’t know this.  They sit down in the third chair, now they’re waiting to go in.  A few moments later somebody comes in on crutches, with a boot on one of their feet – also an actor in the study.  And they visibly kind of sigh, noticing that there’s no place to sit down.
So they do this with everyone who participated in the study, and with a control group who received three weeks of cognitive training with no mindfulness.  And what they found was that people who received mindfulness training gave up their seat at a rate two times as often as others.  And that was verified by another study.  So it points to, very clearly, when we’re more aware of our own thoughts and feelings and body, it increases empathy.  We become more aware of other people and how it is for them, and say, “Here, sit down, please.  Take my seat.”

Pete Mockaitis
Now I’m so curious to know what the baseline rate is of non-meditators.  It had to be less than 51%, if it was doubled by the meditators.  So that’s no so encouraging for humanity.

Oren Jay Sofer
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But there is a pathway, so there is the bright spot there.  That’s a fun one, thanks.  And you said there’s another.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah.  The other is less of a story there.  But six weeks of mindfulness training has been shown to decrease implicit bias against minorities.  So that’s pretty powerful to think about the effect on one’s mind there.  They also do a lot of studies on something called “loving-kindness practice”, which is another form of mental training that’s related to mindfulness, but different.  It’s cultivating an intentional state of goodwill and kindness.  And just 10 minutes of this kind of meditation has been shown to have a relaxing effect on one’s ability to shift gears into a more relaxed, para-sympathetic state.
Another study’s showing that a number of weeks of loving-kindness meditation, participants reported significant increases in well-being, like contentment and joy and gratitude in their lives.  Oh, and then here’s another one, you’ll like this.  I was just reading last night.  A lot of the research that’s happening, or a certain amount of it that’s really fascinating is where scientists, neuroscientists are taking meditation masters.  So people who are considered like Olympics-levels of meditation – more than 10,000 hours, and doing FMRIs – functional imaging scans of their brain and measuring different things.
And so one Tibetan teacher, they’ve done some different scans of his brain over the course of the last 8 to 10 years, and what they’re finding is that his brain is aging more slowly than like 99% of people in his age group.  He’s in the like 100th percentile of the rate of aging in brain cells.  And so, that’s really fascinating to me to see that the potential for training our minds with meditation and mindfulness can even have an effect on the long-term vitality of our mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s compelling.  It makes me what to kick it up right now, to reap those benefits 50 years from now.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you mentioned loving-kindness and its impact on relationships.  Can you share a little bit of how that can pop up in the workplace?

Oren Jay Sofer
Sure.  Well, I think that our culture and our society tends to be very competitive, and I think in many workplaces my sense is that that carries over, and that there is a sense of competition and we are against one another.  Not exclusively, but that can infiltrate, it can get into the workplace.  And what I’ve seen in my own life and from the things that I’ve read and the stories that I know, two things are true.  One, we can accomplish more when we work together as human beings.  We can do great things when we are supporting one another and celebrating one another, rather than competing or fighting with one another.
So, if you’re looking at any kind of a company or a team within a company that has a certain goal or charge, when there’s goodwill present, when there’s a quality of respect, mutual respect and trust and empathy, you can draw on the strengths and the ingenuity and creativity of each person in that team a lot more.  So that’s one aspect. The other aspect is… Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  It’s like you catch more flies with honey than with. What’s the saying?

Pete Mockaitis
Vinegar, was it?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that’s it.  Vinegar.  So, in our own relationships when we’re kind, other people tend to be kind back to us.  When we approach a situation with goodwill and an open mind, that energy tends to come back around to us.  And even when it doesn’t, it feels better in ourselves, and so we’re enhancing the quality of our own life and we’re increasing our own well-being directly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good.  Well, it sounds like to get in the depth of that, we might just have to do this again, maybe when your book comes out, December-ish.  Because I really want to dig into a little bit of, if someone’s never meditated before, what do you do?

Oren Jay Sofer
Right.  Sure, sure.  Yeah, so there are a few simple pointers or suggestions.  I think the first is just understanding the main principle behind the practice of meditation.  And the main principle is that our minds are designed to learn.  And whatever we do with them, they will learn.  So, if we spend our time thinking about things that are stressful, if we spend our time feeling aggravated and rushed, we’re doubting ourselves, we are actively shaping and training our mind to feel stressed and aggravated and rushed.  Those are just a few examples.
If you look back to the origins of mindfulness meditation in the Buddhist tradition, there’s a quote from the early text that captures this really well.  And it says, “Whatever the mind frequently thinks about and ponders, that will become its habit, that will become its inclination.”  And so, the modern day version of this is neuroplasticity – neurons that fire to get a wire together.  So our brains can change in their shape and function based on how we use them.
So, this kind of fundamental plasticity or malleability of our brain means that we can use the mental training techniques of mindfulness practice to shape and train our brain in a different way.  So, the exercises of mindfulness meditation are about training our mind to be aware of what’s happening in the moment in a clear and balanced way.  So, that’s the underlying principle.
The practice itself involves sitting or standing in a comfortable position at first.  You can also do it while walking.  It’s helpful to start when you’re still, turning your attention inwards.  Sometimes that might mean closing your eyes, other times that might just mean withdrawing your attention from what’s going on around you – the sights and the sounds and so forth, and just turning your attention inwards, and seeing if you can feel your breathing.  So when we breathe in, can we be aware of that?  When we breathe out, can we be aware of that?
That’s the most basic mindfulness meditation exercise, is feeling the breath.  And it’s important to let your breath be natural.  We’re not trying to control our breath in any way, or breathe in a special way.  But what we’re doing is we’re using the breath as a foil, as a tool to sharpen our awareness, to learn how to stay connected to what’s happening in the present moment.  And as you know, and as anyone who tries this will very quickly see, we’re not really good at that.  Our mind tends to wander off really quickly.  And that’s okay, that’s part of it.  That’s why it’s a practice.
So, every time we notice that our mind has wondered, that moment of noticing is really powerful.  That’s actually the key moment of mindfulness practice, because that’s the moment where awareness is actually growing.  We just woke up, we just realized that we were off task.  So, in that moment it’s a cause to actually appreciate, “Oh, great.  This is working.  I’m becoming more aware.”  And then we just gently come back to feeling the breath.  That’s the most basic practice.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m glad you said that.  I was going to prompt you to do it if you didn’t, because that point that you made in the Simple Habit app when I heard you, it was so powerful for me because it’s I guess a little bit of what I was doing before, in my noviceness, was I’m like, “Oh, darn it!  Argh, I thought of something.  I’m screwing up.”  And you just completely turn that on its head, reframing it to, “The sheer fact that you did notice that means you’re growing in awareness, not that you’ve screwed up.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so funny, the first time you said that I was like, “No, that’s not what that means.  Ohhh.”

Oren Jay Sofer
It’s a win.

Pete Mockaitis
So it was a big eye-opening sense for me, so thank you for that.

Oren Jay Sofer
You’re welcome.  Yeah, it’s a win.  Every time we remember, our awareness is growing.  The other important thing I’ll mention for your listeners out there, in terms of if you’re experimenting with mindfulness practice, or even if you have a mindfulness practice already.  The other thing that’s important to remember is that because our minds are so fluid and can be shaped, the way that we do these techniques is really important.
So, in other words, if we take on this practice and we get excited or we’re going to try it, and we’re doing it with a lot of self-judgment and tightness, and we’re pushing and we’re trying really hard, not only are we going to exhaust ourselves really quickly and probably give it up, but we’re reinforcing those habits in our mind.  So, how we practice mindfulness is as important as that we practice mindfulness, the technique itself.  It’s like any other tool that you use – how you hold the tool is really important, and if you’re not holding the tool properly, you’re not going to be able to use it well, you might even do some damage with it.
So, as the saying goes, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.”  So, it’s important to see, how am I approaching this?  Am I approaching this with a sense of curiosity, lightheartedness, patience, rather than, “Okay, now I’m going to really do this and I’m going to be great at it and push myself.”  And that’s where the transformation happens, is that we learn how to be patient, relaxed, kind, steady, balanced, by noticing, “Oh my God, I’m totally driving myself nuts here, just trying to feel my breath.  Why is this so hard?  Oh, I can relax.  I don’t have to try so hard.”  And so begins the learning that unfolds through the practice.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like when you say in the app in terms of the stances of, nowhere to go, nothing to do, being friendly and curious.  And as we’re talking about neuroplasticity and the mental inclination, it’s like, those are things I want to experience in my brain frequently, and maybe experience less frequently than I’d like to.  So, I think that’s really cool how that ties together and is just very pleasant.  So, do you have any pro tips on how to step into that stance effectively?

Oren Jay Sofer
Sure.  Yeah, I’ll offer one of those and then link it to our work in the workplace, the relevance in the workplace.  So, I make a huge emphasis in my teaching and in my own personal meditation practice to start from a good place.  And I actually have a free guided meditation on my website called “Finding Ease” that shares this, it shares some instructions on this.  It’s a free download if people sign up for my email, is they get this meditation.  And it’s basically when you sit down to meditate, see if you can set an intention inside to just say, “Okay, this time is for me.  I don’t have to do anything now.  All of the projects, all of the plans, all the issues – I can just set those aside.  And can I find a place of just being able to feel relaxed or at ease right now, in this moment?”
Not forever, just for right now.  Just to take whether it’s 5 minutes or 10 minutes, however long you’re going to practice for, just to take this time off from other things.  That doesn’t mean that stuff’s not going to come up, but it just means that we’re starting from a place of letting go and just arriving in a place of, “Ahhh, I can just chill out here.”  And so, it can take time to find that.  It’s like finding that note.  How do I hit that note inside?  But we all know that place; we’d go nuts if we didn’t.
It’s that feeling when you’re with a good friend that you haven’t seen for a while and you’re just sitting out on the porch or taking a walk.  Or it’s the feeling on Saturday afternoon on the weekend, when you’re with your family or you’re out by yourself just enjoying a sunset.  And everything just kind of slows down for a little bit and gets quiet.  It’s remembering that feeling and that sense that that’s always available to us in the moment, if we can just step back from things.  And so, starting from that place.
And that takes practice.  It takes practice, but it’s totally doable.  Now, how does this relate to having a job and going into the office every day?  So, I think that what I’ve seen in myself and other people at work is that the number of demands on our time and energy are greater than the number of hours in a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Oren Jay Sofer
And that gets stressful over time, because there’s always a list that’s growing faster than we can accomplish the items.  So this is where mindfulness comes in really valuable, because what mindfulness does is it allows us to be more present… I was going to say “fully present”, but that’s what we’re aiming for.  But at least to be more present with what we’re doing in the moment.  So rather than worrying about the 10 things that we’re not doing right now – that we actually can’t do right now, because we’re not doing them, we’re doing something else – instead of worrying about those or rushing to try to get to them, we can be fully present, or as present as possible with the task at hand.
And that has a few really positive effects.  Number one – it allows us to do that task more efficiently and more skillfully.  We have access to more of our intelligence and creativity because we’re 100% there, or as close to 100% as we can.  Number two – it helps us keep from burning out.  One of the reasons we burn out is that we’re always trying to be two or three steps ahead of ourselves, and that’s just not possible.  So when we’re able to just do one thing at a time completely, we’re conserving our energy because we’re not pushing ourselves to be someplace where we’re not.
And so to sum this up, what’s the essence of this?  In the Zen tradition they say, “When you’re sweeping the garden, just sweep the garden.”  So there’s that sense of like anything… And this is where mindfulness is more a way of life than something we do for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes in the morning.  It’s about being wholehearted in whatever we do.
Our whole life is having an effect on our mind.  Everything that we do – how we are when we’re driving and sitting in traffic.  If we’re gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles – well, we’re actually strengthening impatience and anxiety in our nervous system.  We’re enhancing those qualities.  So, if we can take any activity, whether it’s walking to the car, chopping vegetables, answering an email, washing our dishes, and use that to strengthen qualities of clarity, focus, calm, presence, resilience, by how we perform that activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, could you expand upon answering an email… The white knuckle driving steering wheel example is a nice visual.  So can we get the contrast between a not-so-happy to the nervous system way of replying to an email, versus a delightful way to reply to an email?

Oren Jay Sofer
Absolutely, I see it in myself all the time.  I get a lot of emails, and sometimes I see myself firing off responses, and because of my practice I notice the tension in my body.  So I’ll notice my shoulders are hunched up, as I’m typing my fingers are pounding on the keys, and maybe my breath is tight or shallow.  And there’s this energy, a little like impulse or push inside to be going more quickly getting on to the next one, on to the next one, on to the next one.
And what I find is if I just take literally half a moment, just enough space to breathe in and breathe out once, my shoulders relax, I can feel my body sitting on the chair, instead of being like up out of my body through my eyes in the computer screen.  And then I can respond to the email with ease, and that’s less exhausting.

Pete Mockaitis
“Ease” is a great word.

Oren Jay Sofer
It is, yeah.  And so, I know that you’ve shared with me that you guys are really big on, “How do I use this?  How do I take this into my life?”  I am a huge proponent of a very simple practice called “pausing”.  And as I just said a pause can be as brief as one breath.  It could be longer, it could be a minute or two.  But the more we can make a habit of taking just really brief pauses throughout our day – as I said, it can really just be one breath, like you sit down at your desk and before you turn on your computer just to take one breath, or before your lunch break, or before a big meeting.  Those kinds of pauses can help us be more efficient with our energy during the day, it can enhance our quality of life, it can allow us to enjoy our work more, instead of always being on the treadmill, trying to get ahead.  Yeah, and like you said, just feel more at ease inside.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, thank you.  And nice to have inspiration there.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, Oren – anything else you really want to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Oren Jay Sofer
No, I’m good.  Let’s move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.  Could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Oren Jay Sofer
Sure.  One of my favorite quotes is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote The Little Prince.  This is from another one of his books, called Wind, Sand and Stars.  And he wrote, “It is idle having planted an acorn in the morning to expect to sit beneath the shade of an oak in the afternoon.”  And so for me it just really points to the virtue of patience in our lives, and how anything worthwhile doing takes time and takes patience.  And that goes for mindfulness practice, and it goes for any kind of creative project or other pursuit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, thank you.  And how about a favorite book?

Oren Jay Sofer Gary Snyder has a book called The Practice of the Wild.  It’s a collection of essays that are really wonderful reflections on what it is to be human and how our culture and society can interfere with realizing our potential, not only as individuals but also as a community and as a species.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Oren Jay Sofer
I’ll share two.  So one – I use an app called Things that helps me track my to-do lists.  I find that very helpful.  And well, the subject of our podcast is the other tool, so mindfulness.  In terms of pausing, there are many apps that you can get for computers – desktop, laptop computer – that give you a reminder periodically to pause.  The one that I use is called Time Out for Macs, but there’s a whole host of those.  And it’s hard to remember to pause.  Work day’s often so busy, so I rely on that sometimes to just help me to take a break periodically.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to really connect and resonate with your students?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, I come back to patience.  The key to success is patient, kind persistence.  Just keep showing up, being patient and having that spirit of kindness towards oneself and others.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.  And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, my website is the best place – OrenJaySofer.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook – same thing, Oren Jay Sofer.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Oren Jay Sofer
Sure.  Sure thing.  Think about what’s most important to you, why you’re doing what you’re doing.  And then every morning when you wake up, set a clear intention about how you want to show up at your job.  What qualities do you want to bring to the work that you do and the people that you work with every day?
Set that intention every morning.  If you can remember it halfway during the day, at lunch come back to it.  And then at the end of the day when you come back home, before you go to bed just reflect back on the day and think, “Okay, when did I actually remember this?  When was I able to come from this place inside?”  And if you do that every day, even for a few weeks, you’ll start to notice changes in your work and in your quality of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.  Oren, thank you so much for sharing this.  It sounds like there’s a wealth of stuff to talk about, in terms of the relationships and interconnectedness from this stuff.  So, I hope we can chat again about some of this.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that would be great.  We can talk about how mindfulness applies to communication, which is what my book’s on that’s coming out in December, called See What You Mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.  Well, this has been a real treat.  Thanks for all you do.  I’ll continue listening to your voice in the app, and keep on rocking!

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks so much, Pete.  You too!

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The Gold Nugget

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