Susan Wilk

Being cool under pressure is never a bad thing, but job seekers have extra reason to value the ability to keep calm: no one wants to bungle a job interview due to nerves. That’s why meditation expert Susan Wilk is hosting a workshop on how to “cultivate calm” during periods of job transition.

Wilk, who runs Focused Mind Dynamics and No Place Like Aum, LLC, says that relaxation in general is healthy, and meditation is just one way to achieve that goal. “There are things we can do to relax lifestyle-wise by getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and eating the right foods,” she says. “But meditation is the most important component because it reaches us both physically and mentally.”

Wilk will teach several meditation techniques at her free workshops, which will be held Friday, August 23, at 9:45 a.m. at the Professional Service Group of Mercer County meeting at the Princeton Public Library. For more information, visit www.psgofmercercounty.org.

Meditation has a spiritual side, and Wilk teaches a form of meditation that derives from the Indian Yogic tradition. However, she says, her workshop is aimed at anyone regardless of their spirituality or lack thereof. “I put it all out there and let people take what works for them,” she says. “If people aren’t spiritual, I don’t want people to think meditation won’t work for them. They’ll still reap the benefits from it.”

Wilk finds that different people may benefit from different forms of meditation, so she teaches four varieties of the practice at her workshop. “I’ve found it’s not just different strokes for different folks, but for any person in different places or in different moods, they need to have a toolbox of meditation techniques,” she says. “You can do walking meditation or a guided meditation if you don’t feel like sitting quietly.”

De-stressing is especially important for people trying to find a new job, she says. “When we’re stressed, it puts a break in our creativity. It also makes us focus on things that went wrong in our lives versus looking forward with optimism or remembering accomplishments. We tend to make a lot of mistakes when we’re stressed.”

Meditation is one way to relax and de-stress, which can have physical benefits on the brain and body such as repressing the activity of the brain’s “fight or flight” response and lowering blood pressure. Thanks to evolution, the body’s automatic response to stress is to elevate respiration and vigilance and provide a short-term boost of power in the form of adrenaline — helpful when stress comes in the form of a prowling saber-tooth tiger, not so much when it’s a rejection letter in the mail.

Few modern situations are more fight-or-flight reflex-inducing to many people than a high-stakes job interview, where being edgy is not usually an advantage. “It’s absolutely helpful to relax before a job interview,” she says.

Wilk’s workshop covers several techniques:

Walking meditation, as the name implies, involves walking while focusing attention on each step. “You take one step and then another and by focusing on your steps, you calm your mind down because your attention is focused on more of an inward thing,” she says. “It’s not like running. People sometimes think of running as meditation. It’s very healthy for you, but this is different. This is inward-directed.” Wilk says labyrinths, like Fellowship in Prayer’s at 291 Witherspoon Street in Princeton, provide good places for walking meditation. However, failing that, the yard or even inside a home is just fine as long as it’s free of obstacles. “Really focusing attention on one step at a time is a wonderful way of calming down physically as well as mentally,” she says.

Guided meditation is available through numerous websites and phone apps. “It’s when someone talks you through a meditation, visualizing something very peaceful that takes your attention away from external worries and turning it inward. When you’re done with that you sit in silence for a few minutes and just kind of feel the peace,” she says. “The goal is to bring you to a place of inner peace through visualization, then sit there and absorb that and take it in.” Guided meditations can be as short as two or three minutes, but can also be much longer.

Mantra meditation consists of taking a word or a phrase and repeating it, concentrating on it. Wilk advises focusing on a point between the eyebrows (without crossing your eyes) to prevent your eyes from moving around even when they are closed. The phrase can be anything. “What matters most is that it resonates with the person doing it,” she says. Traditionally, the word “Aum” or “Om,” a word derived from various Indian spiritual traditions, is used.

Wilk will also teach several breathing exercises.

Wilk says she mediates every day herself. On the morning of being interviewed by U.S. 1, she said she mediated while listening to a chant. All of these techniques are meant to help people focus their minds on something other than their worries. “The Indians have this great saying — that the mind is like a drunken monkey, chattering away,” she says. Listening to music can help calm the monkey.

Wilk grew up in Scotch Plains, where her mother was a homemaker and her father ran a computer service and sales business. She became interested in meditation when her mother died unexpectedly, and her father pointed her to a meditation class. A former corporate lawyer, Wilk has been teaching meditation since 2000, often to business clients.

“Job transition can be a traumatic time for us because so much of our identity is tied to what we do in our jobs,” she says. “There is a whole lot of uncertainty … We tend to focus on things that went wrong, but meditation helps us during this time of going to a structured life while working to having an unstructured life. The whole thing is about taking care of ourselves physically and in terms of our thought processes shifting away from negative thoughts.”

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