Productive Discomfort

My friend Amanda, whose family has run and owned a NH auto dealership and service organization for four generations, recently introduced me to this potent business concept, Productive Discomfort. They’re using it to speak about a business stage they’re navigating, as they move toward an important and unusual new way of workplace culture. I’ve noticed that it gets at one of the critical elements of meditation as well. Anyone who has signed up to keep learning and growing will recognize this stage. When you first start a new activity, parts of it can feel unnatural. As adults, we forget this feeling because we’ve mastered so many of the basics. We’re usually traveling around, masters of speaking, walking, e-mailing, driving, etc. So with taking up a new skill, the experience of stumbling, reflecting, trying again and integrating learnings can feel predominantly like failing. Nobody likes to fail.

In practicing meditation, one of the first things to get comfortable and even skillful with is a BOATLOAD of “failing” practice. Because what you’re teeing up to do is to direct attention, moment-by-moment, on a chosen element of focus, and because your attention is relatively untrained, it’s highly likely that you’ll experience a high rate of mind-wandering, especially when you first start. Your reaction to all of this mind-wandering may be to feel like a failure, with all its attendant discomfort. Well and good. This is the place to launch from.

The act of meditation is a holistic act. The intention is always to learn to receive perceptions into the field of awareness, and to learn to do this more and more universally. So, the very discomfort of feeling like a failure can be perceived. Perceiving this is precisely within the scope of the practice. Therefore, there is no moment of failure. The more you can see what arises, whether that be your attention resting on the chosen object for a given session of meditating, or becoming aware of attention sliding away, or becoming aware of having been lost and drifting in a mind fantasy having nothing to do with the here and now, the more productive your meditation practice becomes. Being curious to the physical sensations and emotional moments of failure, while holding a sense of never really failing, is the great sleight-of-hand you learn, by allowing yourself to “fail” and “fail” and “fail.”

Some meditation traditions actually make a big deal out of setting up discomfort, in order to get at this lesson quite energetically. I’ve found that there’s plenty of discomfort just in walking around; I never needed to set myself up for much extra. It’s hard enough to sit on my cushion and stay still through urges to squirm, itch and get up to shoot the breeze with someone.

Staying steady through discomfort gives you the chance to choose a response rather than the usual straight shot to the reactive itch or squirm. If your typical way to handle failure is to back away or storm off somewhere, what would happen if you started sticking it out sometimes, as an act of productive discomfort?  It might have profound implications over the long haul. It might give you a brand new range of moment-by-moment choices that are a lot more comfortable and effective. That’s the kind of outcome I find vastly productive.


Thanks to Grappone Automotive for the title for today’s post. I recommend you learn about their forward-thinking business culture, and even better, stop by and see it in action.



How do you know?

As happens from time to time, here in New Hampshire we’re in the midst of watching a political scandal unfold. It appears our young majority leader in the state House of Representatives falsified a document, quite elaborately, in order to complete his graduation requirements for law school. Reports tell us of his asking a fellow party member for an internship in his law office, then failing to actually show for the hours and assignments promised. Despite this failure, he documented the clients and cases he “worked on,” and submitted the report to the school. When the hiring attorney discovered that this young man had participated in the graduation ceremony, he started digging, called him out on the internship no-show, and ultimately demanded his resignation. With the facts thus presented and no where to turn, still the majority leader took one more opportunity to blow it, offering a covered over announcement of his decision to step away after one term of service. At this point, with the truth more or less revealed, the sad fellow has resigned his seat immediately and apologized for his conduct, disputing none of the details.

Here’s what I’m curious about: What carries a person through such a lengthy series of ethical lapses? From my count, he had at least 4 obvious chances to step off the liar’s track and get lined up with the truth. He could have called the hiring attorney as soon as he realized he was not going to be able to fulfill the internship. He could have contacted the law school to inform them that he would be shy the necessary credits this internship would have provided. He could have spoken to fellow students and told them he would need another year to complete school. He could have taken the quietly worked out, face-saving resignation offered him right at the end when the facts came clear to the various authorities. What keeps a person clinging to an ideal of himself that doesn’t line up with easily discovered facts? It’s an interesting question, but it brings me to the question I believe is more useful as a Microwave Meditation: how do you know in the moment when you slide off the ethical track?

I consider this from my own history of ethical imperfection. In my work life, I can think of the times when it took me hours, or on a couple of occasions days, to swallow hard, walk into the boss’ office and spit out the truth about my own failure to deliver. Those days were hell, literally. There is a physical and mental distress involved that makes a simple medical ailment pale by comparison. And yet, I clung. In hindsight, I have to call myself lucky. Soon enough I would realize it was time to fess up. I position myself somewhere in the middle of the bell curve on work ethics back then. I had enough decent upbringing and self-interest to keep myself out of serious trouble. These would somehow kick in and rescue me from the worst.

Nowadays, I’m in a lot better shape. I credit a careful meditation practice that has given me much quicker access to my own body and thought data. I know the signals of distress, generally in the moment of temptation to veer off into obfuscation or deflection. Nausea, chest muscle tension, jitters, plus a particular quality and pace of mind activity, scrabbling and anxiously searching for an escape… these are my cues for waking up to an instance of dancing around the truth. Being able to pay attention to these gives me the early chance to stop, get my story straight for myself, and proceed from there. What a gift.

When you are at an ethical fork in the road, how do you know?


Have a great meeting!

I caught myself the other day saying “Have a great meeting!” to a colleague, as we parted ways. This was a sincere gesture on my part, a well-wishing for the work day. She looked at me like I had gone absolutely battty. Friends! Is this what we’ve come to? Is it true, with this particular form of engagement at work we call “meeting,” that it’s inconceivable to have a good time? I’m asking you to look into this.

Are we having fun yet? (and, thanks for Flickr Creative Commons for the image)

I’m not interested in having you force a particular experience.  Nor is this a suggestion that any given meeting has only one quality to it.  I simply invite you, throughout this week as you partake of any meetings you happen to have, to ask yourself the following: What kind of time am I having?

Let this be a quick kind of check-in. No need to make anything more of it, just simply note a one- or two-word answer that captures the essence of a given “meeting moment.” If you can, come back after a day or two and give us your results. What do you discover, with this experiment? Does the “great meeting” exist?


There’s No Place Like Home

Who else to go to but Bob Vila for the quintessential home?

Do you know that sense you get, when you’re away from the familiar, and you feel off, even uncomfortable? What would it be like, to have something so close by and familiar that you could always feel at home?

Here’s an essential meditation technique to try. Let’s call it “at home in my body.” You can try this right now, with just a minute or two.

Begin by taking a breath and re-arranging yourself a bit, to be the most comfortable you can. If you’re standing, re-balance your weight equally on both feet. If you’re sitting, adjust yourself so that you have both feet on the floor, and your shoulders balanced over your hips. Do whatever is needed to balance yourself in an easy, upright way.

Now start bringing attention to whatever sensations in your body you can feel. To learn how to do this, it can help to close your eyes the first few times you try. Just sense, from the inside, what you can feel going on in your physical body. You might find pressures where you are contacting the chair or floor. You may notice movements due to shifting, breathing or even your heart beating. You may feel the texture or tightness of clothing on your skin, or varying air temperatures.

It’s not important what you find. You may notice very little at first. You may find more physical discomfort than you expected. Just stay curious and notice what you can sense. This isn’t thinking about body sensation. It’s more direct than that; it’s simply awareness of body sensation.

After a minute or so, let the practice go, and notice what’s happening for you now. Capture the effect for yourself, of being at home in your own body. What do you notice?


A Very Social Mirror

Family members we can’t pick, but friends, we can.  And if we choose them, they must reflect something about us.  So ask yourself this:  What quality do all my good friends have in common?

Thanks to Paul Keller, via Flickr Creative commons .

See what this says about you, and friendship.

~ Jon

Inner Commentator Re-Heat

“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thanks to Arther Partridge at his AyPeeCO blog,, for this great quote. I find that’s one of the fortunate things about practicing mindfulness: discovering that you don’t have to be imprisoned by the thinking mind. It’s a simple matter of recognizing the mind for what it is, moment-by moment, and seeing its’ place in the overall picture.

So, what’s it like to have an off-screen color commentator whispering in your ear all the time?  Do you curse that voice, struggling mightily to find the longed-for mute button? Or believe every word that’s said? What happens when you make friends with the inner commentator?



Re-start. It’s the first thing the Help Desk tells you to do. Why do I ALWAYS forget that advice? I continue to get a deeply humbling chuckle, every time I pick up the phone, make the tech call about my unsolveably sticky computer problem, and am asked if I’ve tried restarting my computer. 90% of the time, rebooting is all it takes.

What happens when you re-boot yourself?

Can you consider whether this technique might work in a broader sense? One of my meditation teachers calls this “Go to neutral.” The way to do this is very simple. When you notice yourself getting worked up about something, as soon as this becomes obvious to you, lean back in some way, put the whole thing down. Don’t worry, it will be waiting for you in a minute when you’re ready to pick it back up! Just set it all down for now. You can  take a walk or get a drink, if you need to move in order to set the drama aside. Or, just look away, take a longer view for a few moments, out a window or across the workspace. Give yourself that same 20 seconds you give your computer, to untangle itself.

You’re ready to pick your life back up. How does it look now?