by Marah Warhaftig
“Ding…” the sound of the singing bowl reverberates throughout the room signaling the end of a group meditation. Sliding my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose, the shapes surrounding me come into focus to reveal the smiling faces of my co-workers. After sharing one more breath together, we discuss the first item on our agenda, “joys, concerns, and questions.” Whether our “joys, concerns, and questions” pertain to our workload, a review of the awkward moments of a recent vacation, or prayer requests for a sick family member, this agenda item is never constrained by its relevance to the rest of the meeting. We relinquish the pulls of the past and future so that we can be more fully engaged with the task at hand. In doing so, there is a heightened sense of connectedness in the group and our individual passion for a common cause fuels creative energy. This ritualistic opening to our status meetings is just one of many ways that Copper Beech utilizes mindfulness in the workplace.
When I first began working at Copper Beech, one of the first tasks I mastered was answering the phone. While this task seemed trivial for an individual who is qualified to do some rather sophisticated jobs (yes, I am talking about myself), I soon learned why it was awarded to the intern. During the height of retreat season the phone rings constantly and every call that goes to voicemail represents another item on the Retreat Administrator’s already long to-do list. As such, I got down my opening of “Good (insert time of day), Copper Beech Institute, this is Marah speaking” and was off and running.
After my first week, I began to anticipate that a large portion of my calls would have a similar theme: “I heard about you guys and I’m wondering, what is this thing called mindfulness?” After some trial and error, I refined a concise response to this question: “Essentially, mindfulness is the idea of being aware of the present moment, so instead of thinking about what happened in the past or planning for the future you can focus on what you are doing right now.” This reply worked pretty effectively because most people want more of this thing in their lives and to come to a place where they can get it! However, the question of just how to “do it” is a bit more complicated.
As a long time practitioner of meditation and the mindfulness teachings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh I applied for an internship at Copper Beech because I was seeking answers to a similar question: how could I do more to incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, and more specifically, into my impending entry into the world of work as a counselor?
One of the great ironies of the work we do at Copper Beech (and many American workplaces) is engagement in an ongoing process of reviewing past results and planning for the future. Discussions revolve around how a retreat went, plans to promote upcoming retreats, and the constant pressure to fundraise and budget. Then, when a retreat is underway, a team of people forms what I like to call the “Great Copper Beech Machine.” I imagine that this machine looks like Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, balancing a cup and a cake on the top of a hat, a fish bowl, a toy ship, some milk on a dish while hopping up and down on a ball (but that is not all!). While one volunteer is passing around the microphone in the Public Chapel, another volunteer is cleaning up the yoga mats in the Third Floor Classroom, the Retreat Administrator is preparing for a day retreat that is happening that same weekend, and the logistics go on…
In the midst of this hustle and bustle, it would be easy for faculty members and volunteers to leave the mindfulness learning to the retreat attendees and abandon the practice during work hours altogether. Fortunately, my time at Copper Beech has taught me that to do this would be not only terribly hypocritical, but it would actually decrease productivity. The simple practice of starting meetings with meditation and sharing exemplifies how Copper Beech utilizes mindfulness as a tool to shape the working environment. Reflecting back on my internship I know that my time at Copper Beech is meant to serve a larger purpose in my life and the life of others. As I enter a new workplace I will carry my mindfulness practice with me and use it at moments throughout the day to give myself a chance to breathe and reflect. I also hope to offer my co-workers and clients the same opportunity I was given as a member of the Copper Beech community – the space to be my most authentic self, experiencing my feelings, connections, and surroundings in the present moment.
Marah Warhaftig is a 25 year-old graduate student who will be finishing her Master of Science degree in Professional Counseling at Central Connecticut State University this spring. She is very grateful for her six-month internship experience with Copper Beech Institute.