Awake at Work

Work can often be frustrating. On the job we frequently face conflicts, difficult personalities, disappointing results—a variety of challenges and obstacles. In this unique book Michael Carroll, a Buddhist meditation teacher and a corporate executive, shares Buddhist wisdom on how to transform the common hassles and anxieties of life in the workplace into valuable opportunities for personal growth, heightened wisdom, and enhanced effectiveness. Carroll shows us how life on the job—no matter what kind of work we do—can become one of the most engaging and fulfilling areas of our lives.

At its heart, Awake at Work offers thirty-five principles for developing a new way of relating to work that is characterized by honesty, openness, courage, maturity, and endless learning. By contemplating these principles on a regular basis in the context of our daily work lives, we can begin to explore and overturn the misconceptions and mental habits that keep many of us in a state of constant frustration and dissatisfaction on the job.

Carroll invites readers to contemplate these slogans and to use them on-the-spot, in the midst of work's chaos, to develop clarity, wisdom, and inspiration. Along the way, Carroll presents a variety of techniques and insights to help us "acknowledge work, with all its complications, as a valuable invitation to fully live our lives." In an engaging, accessible, and often humorous style, Awake at Work offers readers a path to rediscovering a natural sense of intelligence, confidence, and delight on the job.


In brief, accessible chapters, Carroll expounds some 35 slogans designed to be both fodder for meditation and mnemonic devices for when that particular message can help the most, during an opportune moment at work. Many of the slogans are catchy, and their teachings are pointed and easy to recall: "Welcome the tyrant" helps one to disarm a cranky boss; "Avoid idiot compassion" reminds one to eschew giving merely superficial help. " - Publishers Weekly - August 2004

“A revelatory book that brilliantly applies Buddhist principles to the life of work and vice versa.” - Warren Bennis, University Professor, University of Southern California, and author of On Becoming a Leader

“Michael Carroll does not just write about being awake at work; he has lived that awakening, thoroughly and inventively. His adaptation of Buddhist mindfulness to the complexities of modern employment is a singular and valuable accomplishment, giving us pithy exhortations and detailed instructions for being awake and aware in every workplace situation.” - Lewis Richmond, author of Work as a Spiritual Practice

“An invaluable guide to surviving—and thriving—in today’s demanding business environments. I’ve drawn on Michael’s brilliant and wise advice for years. Now everyone can benefit from his wealth of insight and experience.” - Deborah Dugan, president, Disney Publishing Worldwide

“A truly unique book. The wisdom that has been developed in two very different realms—that of business and spiritual practice—join together to create much richer insight and wisdom. Given the struggles of these times, these teachings are extremely important.” - Margaret J. Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science

“Finally we have a teacher who can meet us where we live: on the job, trying to make a living and find meaning in our lives at the same time. If you’ve ever wondered how to live a life that meets your practical and spiritual needs, buy this book.” - Susan Piver, author of The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life

Table of Contents: 


Acknowledgments xi
Getting Started: Work’s Invitation to Wake Up 1
Cultivating Mindfulness at Work 10
Contemplating the Awake at Work Slogans 17

The Five Primary Slogans
1. Face the fierce facts of life 17
2. No delight; no courage 22
3. Recognize fear 26
4. Discover the jewel of fearless abundances 31
5. Command gracefully 36

Exploring the Ironies of Cowardice
6. Stop the “bubble wrap” 45
7. Mind the gap 49
8. Break the false promise 54
9. Reconnect 59
10. Don’t count on it 63
11. Ask, “Who’s kidding whom?”67
12. Let it break 73
13. Nothing sticks 78
14. Lean in 83

Taming the Mind
15. Keep your feet on the ground 91
16. Stabilize attention 96
17. Synchronize with the present moment100
18.See clearly 104
19. Don’t shortchange yourself 109
20. Be vividly present 115

Acting Precisely
21. Dare to awaken ziji 121
22. Be, see, do 127
23. Gently lay down the burden 134
24. Where’s the edge? 139
25. Take a straight dose 145
26. Be a spiritual fool 150
27. Hold sadness and joy 154
28. Be alone 158
29. Gather the fearless view 165

Living a Skillful Life
30. Gently bow 173
31. In a word 180
32. Join heaven and earth 186
33. Be a flagpole 195
34. Don’t kick the dog 205
35. Unseen precise hand 211
36. Just slow down 216
37. Take the vajra view of aggression 222
38. Resonate 228

Acknowledgments 237
A: Cultivating Fearlessness through Shiné-Lhagtong Meditation 239
B: Instructions for Mindfulness-Awareness Meditation 247
C: How Mindfulness-Awareness Cultivates Social Intelligence 253
D: Four Fearless Traditions 263
E: Instructions for Contemplating the Fearless at Work Slogans 267
F: Suggested Locations for Meditation Retreats 271
Notes 273
About the Author 283