Just two years after people at online travel company Expedia started a meditation group for workers, the activity is growing with more opportunities for practice
Recently the group expanded practice times to three days weekly at noon – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – attracting up to six people for each session.
We recently finished an eight- week class structured around Mark Williams’ book “Mindfulness – An eight week plan for finding peace in a frantic world.”
And last October we gained permission from the company’s human resources department to establish ourselves as a formal affinity group open to anyone. We named the group Mindful Expedia.
What’s behind this interest in meditation, at one of the world’s leading technology companies?
At Expedia, where I work as a software engineer, we experience a fast-paced work life. We need to give constant attention to maintaining the company’s website for hotel and flight booking other travel-related products. We’re also under constant pressure improve the business.
In many ways working at Expedia is a positive experience. Our company culture is geographically diverse and we get opportunities to travel. The company supports diversity, demonstrating a striking commitment to placing women in hard-core technical roles, and supporting workers of color and from the LGBT community.
People can collaborate in affinity groups over issues such as environmental awareness and volunteering, which also increase the richness of our work life.
The “Expedia Events and Announcements” companywide email distribution list is wild, wooly and fun to monitor. For example, every week it’s Haiku Friday, and haikus rain down on every subject, silly and serious.
It’s a fun place to work, so what’s the issue? The flip side of a go-go lifestyle is that it feels there is hardly a moment to breathe or reflect on your life. Stress accumulates when you don’t consciously release it.
Our company-wide meditation group started when Sufi David Matthews, an Internet security engineer who has since retired, emailed the employee list inquiring if there were people who wanted to sit in meditation together. I was the first to respond.
Matthews and I quickly discovered that we wanted to introduce elements from our and others’ wisdom traditions, to help people slow down and find perspective in their lives.
We started with a weekly meditation group, based on a format that Matthews devised, which we still use today:
- Check in and questions.
- If there are new people sitting for the first time, we go around the group and each person introduces themselves and shares their meditation experience.
- We offer 10 to 15 minutes of guided meditation, usually recordings of renowned mediation teachers. Sometimes members offer these guided meditations.
- People discuss or ask questions about the guided meditation for five to 10 minutes.
- During 35 minutes of silent meditation, we sometimes play soft meditation music, if the ambient noise level is high.
- People can quietly enter and leave at any time that they need
We partner with other affinity groups at Expedia to bring in visitors who can discuss mindfulness topics at the lunch hour. For instance, teachers Joel and Michelle Levey have given an introductory talk on mindfulness; and Zen Priest Anita Feng led and taught meditation.
We also hosted a presentation from the Center for Mindful Parenting, in partnership with Expedia Parents.
Since the company formally recognized Mindful Expedia in October, we have been able to further develop our offerings.
For instance, we have introduced monthly themes for our guided meditations: the breath, compassion, and mindful movement, to name a few.
On the first Thursday of each month, we now offer a “Beginner’s Mind” session inspired by Zen teacher Shunryu Suziki’s famous book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, he said, but in the expert’s there are few.
We have put together a printed PowerPoint presentation that introduces folks to different styles of meditation. We lead them through nine short meditations of three styles: mindfulness, calm abiding and insight meditation, giving them tastes of various types. We stop after each one for questions and observations.
The eight-week class on “Mindfulness – An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World,” was especially appropriate.
Williams’ research focuses on applying mindfulness to issues of depression and suicidal behavior, and he and his colleagues were very generous in sharing their course material. He is a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University in Great Britain.
Reaction to the programs has been gratifying. A software engineer told me she didn’t really understand all that was going on, but appreciated the time she was able to take for herself. An HR person said she got further in understanding meditation while attending our sessions, than she had before.
Many people have offered appreciation of the varied and unique guided meditations that we offer, from many different wisdom traditions.
Our aspiration is that language of mindfulness be absorbed into Expedia’s company culture. It would be wonderful, for instance, if meetings started with three minutes of quiet time, giving people a chance to let go of previous events, engage with the present, and just breathe.
The body and psyche have remarkable healing capabilities, if we can just step out of the way.