November 17, 2016

The Power of Keeping Work Contained: Small Rituals to start & end your Work Day.

smudge sage burn ritual cleanse smoke

I really wanted to do well in my first corporate job.

I was young, fresh out of graduate school, and incredibly promotion-hungry. After I moved to a new city, work became a major part of how I made sense of my life in an unfamiliar context.

Like many organizations, the company I worked for equated ambition with working all the time. It was clear that employees who were constantly available and putting in 10-12 hour days were rewarded by management.

Wanting to be rewarded myself, I took notice and followed suit. I checked my email as soon as I woke up. I put in long hours and ate lunch at my desk. I checked email before bed and I didn’t shut off communication over the weekends.

Work seeped into almost every hour of my life.

Without being completely aware of why it was happening, I found myself constantly on edge, exhausted, and an emotional wreck every Sunday afternoon, like clockwork.

It wasn’t until I left that job and started working for myself that I could look back and see why I was so depleted all the time.

It’s because I had no container around my work. I allowed the work to run amok, and it was causing me unnecessary suffering.

Creating a container would have been immensely helpful, especially because there were other unhealthy dynamics at play like workplace politics, a job that was in misalignment with my strengths, and a spiritual emptiness that I was trying to ignore.

We can’t help but be impacted when we’re working in an environment that’s set up for competition and infighting or one that worships the ego. Even if we’re not able to get out of that environment right away, there are things we can do to cope and keep ourselves healthy, and one of them is to create rituals or practices that contain the work so that we have time and space to renew.

The most obvious way to do this is to simply not engage with work when we’re not meant to be working. I really admire people in this day and age who are able to truly “shut off” during their downtime, but I’m someone who struggles to do that consistently.

I love what I do for work—I get to support people who are creating a worklife that they love—but I notice that even now, if I’m not careful, the work can start to feel draining when it’s not contained.

One of my favorite ways to contain the work is through ritual. Small practices that involve our bodies help our brains transition between settings such as work and home life. They help us set aside anything that came up in the previous setting so that we can be more present wherever we are, whether it’s at work, with friends, or on a walk outside.

Here are some ideas to help us start and end our workdays:

> Spray some aromatherapy around you in the car before walking into the office.

> Light a candle on your desk before starting work.

> Read a mantra or quote aloud before beginning work.

> Set and/or write down an intention for your day.

> Literally “shake it off” before you get in your car, on your bike, or arrive home.

> Pretend to kick dust off your shoes before walking into your house.

> Light a candle once you’re home.

You can do any sort of ritual or practice to contain your work as long as it feels authentic and accessible to you.

In today’s culture and in many of our organizations, there’s an immense amount of pressure to always be “on” and available to others, even if we’re exhausted or emotionally drained.

Fortunately, we can choose to engage with that pressure in a new way.

We can always choose—even when it feels like we can’t—to do what we need to in order to thrive at work.

When we choose to contain the work, to give it boundaries, we ensure that we’ll have the energy and creativity to do work that we’re proud of and that benefits others around us.

There’s immense power in the ability to show up fully present, awake and rejuvenated, and each of us has access to that power no matter what we do for work each day.


Relephant (This is how we start and end our work days and all meetings at elephant journal):


Author: Megan Leatherman

Image: wilB/Flickr

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren


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