I overheard a women waiting for the bus today. She was chatting with another woman that was waiting. They were talking about their jobs. The one woman said to the other, “Well, at least I have a job! At least for today!”
So is what it is like to be employed in today’s corporate world. Gone are the days where you’d have a job and you’d have security. In today’s changing economic climate, stability in the workplace is a thing of the past. Many employees go to work knowing that they could be laid off at any time and that creates an enormous amount of stress. Employees that live through one, or in many instances, more than one layoff, do so with relief but being part of the team that is retained creates stress of its own kind. “Survivor stress” can lead to just as many physical health problems as the stress of losing a job.
Today’s corporate environment also prevents people from focusing on their dreams and developing a hobby or feeding their passion. With the pressure to stay at work and be as visible as you can, employees have less time to themselves. In the past, this time would be used to fuel their passions and creativity, be it through writing, teaching, exercising. In today’s world, the majority of workers spend their off-work hours completely exhausted and energetically tapped out. Some may use their limited time off to try to network so they can be prepared should they be laid off. Some use the time to try to create part-time opportunities that might lend themselves to more full-time work, should their position be eliminated. Some do financial planning and shed as much of their costly material things as they can, while they re-finance, pay off debt, sell their car or anything they can live without, in an effort to bring their monthly expenses to the lowest possible level.
So, I don’t want to start talking about Buddhism and lose you. I know you thought that this was going to be a column with real-life tips you can use. Well, guess what? There is nothing more functional and real-life than Buddhism. Really what we’re talking about in (at least my interpretation of) Buddhist thought is the idea of being happy when things aren’t perfect. Because honestly, the thing that seems to trip us up as humans is that we want things to be perfect, all the time. And when things aren’t, we suffer. Ok, so maybe “suffer” is too strong a word. Maybe it’s not. But the idea is we fight what’s happening right now and that causes us pain or discontentment or anger. So, how do we apply this to in a way that will help us alleviate stress in our lives when things aren’t perfect? Well, the first thing is to realize is this: fighting what is happening right now is one sure way to get stressed. There is nothing that will zap your energy more than fighting “what is.” And, for many, working in an ever-changing workplace can feel like something we want to fight. We want things to be the same. We want to control what’s happening. We want to keep things the way they are. Or, perhaps we want to change things but we feel powerless to do so. So, here is the challenge. These things happen. We react. We want them to be different. There is your task: to be in acceptance and not fight. Deepak Chopra, in his wonderful book “The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success” writes about a phrase you can say each morning to create calm and to set a tone of acceptance: “Today I will accept everything as it is.” This is a great thing to write on a post-it note and stick on your bathroom mirror. What do you have to lose? Nothing. Maybe the first few days, it does nothing. But, maybe after a few days of seeing it, it starts to sink in. Maybe you start to notice yourself in a stressful situation and instead of fighting what’s happening, you start to relax into it. Think of how much energy you can save! All of that energy that went into fighting reality and now you can use it for something else… something positive, maybe? Now, that’s Buddhism in action!
Ok, so we’ve started to accept things as they are. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t take steps to change our situation. The Buddha left his home to go on a spiritual journey to try to understand suffering and to try to create ways to create joy in the middle of imperfection. He made a huge change to try to shift things in his life. So should you. How do you do this? Only you will know. If you want to change your work situation, look for a new job or try to improve the one you have. If you want to find time for a hobby, make the time by signing up for a series of classes that focus on whatever it is that gives you joy. If you want to change your finances, find a friend that’s great with money management and offer to trade them something (maybe you can run some errands for them) in exchange for help in creating a budget or creating a plan to pay off your debt. Once you start moving in some direction, any direction, the positive feelings you will get will start to catapult you forward.
We haven’t talked yet about yoga, or any physical exercise. In times of stress, it’s so important to be active in any way possible. It’s the first thing to go when we’re stressed and it’s the best thing for us. Even if you can’t fathom going to a gym or practicing yoga, take a walk. Being in nature is a sure way to de-stress. Even if that means you’ll walk outside once a day and take a few deep breaths. Maybe that’s all you can do. Maybe a child’s pose or a legs-up-the-wall pose is all your body can handle. Remember, it’s not how much, but it’s just that you do it. As you start to get into the habit, you can add on a few minutes and then a few more. What usually trips us up is that we try to go from 0-60 in no time at all. By this I mean we go from not exercising at all to setting a goal of exercising every day or even three times a week. And then when we miss the mark, we toss the goal completely. Why not just start small, gain some ground and some “feel good momentum” and build on that.
How about feeling part of a group? This can help tremendously. One of the things we get from a regular studio-based yoga practice is a feeling of belonging. Sure, maybe our co-students don’t know too much about us. Maybe we just have social chit-chat with them when we arrive and place our mats down. Sometimes that can be a relief in itself, when people don’t know our “story.” I went thru a phase recently where I was getting so tired of hearing myself tell the same thing to everyone when they’d ask, “What’s gong on?” that I just decided after a while to pretend everything was great. Sometimes it can be a relief to just be with other people that don’t know everything that’s going on in our lives. Whether it’s a yoga practice a running club or a girls-night out commitment of a few friends, make it a point to be connected to a group.
Lastly, don’t forget to breathe. We have at our disposal a tremendous tool that is available to us at any time, in any place and can have a profound affect on our whole being. It’s the breath. It sounds so simple but it’s really quite hard and something that we barely do when things aren’t going our way. In fact, we tend to hold the breath when we’re stressed. Try it now. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths and see how you feel. It has a wonderful quality of bringing you into the present and connecting you with what’s real; your feet on the ground, your heart beating in your chest; your eyes focusing on one point to calm the tired mind. These are the tools you always have available to you. You can use them in a meeting, in a conversation that’s challenging, in a yoga practice that’s pushing your buttons, in traffic. Take a deep breath and have faith.