Those of us of a certain age grew up with the short story of Walter Mitty as eighth grade required reading. Do you remember? He was that hapless dreamer in James Thurber’s short story who spent most of his time escaping into fantasies of glory and adventure. Every now and then, something would snap him out of his mental travels, bringing him back to the there-and-then of his 1930s life. For those of you who never watched Father Knows Best as a prime-time show, you can still meet Mitty in the 2013 Ben Stiller movie.
The thing with Mitty was that he navigated his life in the same cloudy way you might catch yourself driving to Boston. Get on Interstate 93, put the car on cruise control and . . . suddenly you’re 15 miles down the road and you have no idea what might have been happening during those last few miles. You were somewhere else, far away in time and space, like Walter Mitty. Life was happening, and you weren’t there for it.
If this tale is starting to sound familiar to you, chances are you’re just as likely to go into highway hypnosis at work. At least you’re not alone. A recent smartphone-based study conducted by Matt Killingsworth (check out trackyourhappiness.org) found that a staggering 47 percent of the time, people are thinking about something other than what’s happening right in front of their noses. Even more interestingly, Killingsworth found that people’s happiness was most strongly tied with their being in the here-and-now, regardless of what activity they happened to be involved with.
Which brings us back to you and Walter Mitty. Was Walter happy? Not so much. What about you? Are you feeling connected and satisfied, aware of the meaning in your work, enjoying confidence, maybe even aware of your contribution to something greater than yourself? People who have taken up the cause of really showing up know something about this. By purposefully bringing their attention with them to work, these folks report confidence, calm and a sense of engagement as a result. How did they accomplish this? By going radical: learning how to pay attention at work, as something so important it’s worth developing as an end unto itself. They’re meditating . . . at work! Meditation and mindfulness practice in the workplace is big news these days, precisely because people want to feel connected with and satisfied by their lives. They want to interact with their colleagues and customers on a human level. They want to be awake for the moments of their lives. The Walter Mitty approach just wasn’t working out for them.
Here in Concord, we have a unique opportunity coming up at the Concord Hospital Center for Health Promotion. Sept. 9 brings the second annual Mindfulness in Business Conference. This year, one of the big names in the neuroscience of meditation, Dr. Sara Lazar, is coming from Harvard Medical School to present on her work. The conference also features honest-to-goodness N.H. businesses that have direct experience with the power of meditation at work. The conference is co-sponsored by 8 Limbs Holistic Health, Full Spectrum Wellness and the Center for Health Promotion. Show up for the conference if you want to learn more. Most importantly, don’t forget to show up, wherever you are, in this moment. ( And also in this moment, and . . .)
The Capital Area Wellness Coalition meets in the Smile Building on the second Wednesday of each month at 8 a.m. For more information, call 867-8194 or visit capwellness.org.