Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Buddhist at Work

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This is a recent offering from About.com on Buddhism and work:

Craving
The second noble truth tell us that the suffering and dissatisfaction we experience in life comes from craving, an unwholesome desire for more and more. How does this relate to the world of work?

There are some who become so attached to work that they become workaholics. Work becomes obsessive and their addiction to it affects their personal relationships. The Buddha taught the Middle Way - the avoidance of extremes. In the world of work, therefore, it is good to maintain a good work-life balance, fulfilling one's commitments to one's employer, one's family and also to oneself. Proper relaxation and rest from one's work are essential.

Burn-Out?
There are no doubt examples throughout history where an almost obsessive devotion to work has resulted in great discoveries and achievements but these are perhaps the exceptions that prove the rule. Very often, for those who become obsessive about the work that they do, there is a burn-out factor. In the long term, this means that they cannot function at all because they have not been able to recharge themselves as they go along.

Another aspect of work that has to do with craving is ambition. In the context of work, there is nothing wrong with the concept of ambition per se, but when ambition causes to act in unwholesome ways then there is a problem. Such unwholesome activities may include backbiting, aggression, and lack of consideration for others. In Buddhism, intention is everything. To seek to do well in work for the good of others and oneself is fine. Where it becomes destructive is where one seeks to get on at the expense of others.

Karma
So how do we work without craving? Simply, if we work conscientiously and diligently, that is enough. Whatever advantages that come form this will arise naturally - our craving for them to happen will not make any difference. The Buddha's teaching on karma indicates that good deeds we do have beneficial consequences. Working conscientiously usually has visible and obvious benefits. One gains the respect of employers and colleagues, it can result in promotion, higher pay, job security and harmonious relationships with those we work with.

Work can be a source of great fulfillment or great frustration; often it can be both. What is important is to keep it in perspective and to recognize its value without losing sight of where it stands in the context or our lives as a whole.

Suggested Reading:
The Second Noble Truth
As someone who sometimes struggles to maintain balance in my life around the issue of work, this is good advice. Burn-out is my biggest issue. I don't get enough sleep, so I am always in a state of sleep deprivation, which makes me tired, irritable, and craving isolation.

Since I am essentially self-employed (not really, but it works out that way), my workload is purely a reflection of my desire for income and my inability to say no. The saying no part is a result of my subpersonality who hates to let anyone down, and the working too much comes from an inner critic that says I am lazy if I am not working as much as possible.

When that inner critic teams up with the pleaser, and if the part of me that lives in poverty mentality joins the party, I end up working 45-50 hours a week, like I was in the first part of the year. For a trainer, that's a fast lane to burnout.

I've learned to set some boundaries on hours I will not work, and to say no if I can't fit someone into an opening in my existing schedule, but it's hard each time I have to make those decisions.

Taking the Middle Path is about more than just deciding to do it -- we must also work with the parts of ourselves that lock us into unhealthy patterns. That's the only way we can heal those wounds and be more whole. Unless I can remaon mindful of those subpersonalities who feel compelled to say yes when I need to say no, who tell me I am lazy if I am not always working, or who make me feel like I will not be able to meet my needs unless I work more and more and more, I won't be able to maintain that Middle Path that is so healthy.

Little by little, by paying them attention, they have less influence over my life.


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