Back to work blues?

Apparently, that’s a thing, as explained in this article on CNN. And not surprisingly.

There is the predictable reason of having to go back to drudgery and a zillion work emails in a grey office or cold building site in a dark January after days and days off indulging in food, drink, sparkly lights, and entertainment, and waking up and going to bed whenever we feel like it. back to work blues.jpg

There is also the problem of even more attachment than usual, where our high hopes of stepping off the treadmill didn’t pan out quite as we anticipated. So we are feeling particularly let down – yet after all this disappointment we still don’t get a break, but instead are obliged to get right back on that treadmill. It’s not fair!

We see this in study after study. People tend to have high hopes coming into Christmas thinking time with their family will be like the Waltons or thinking Santa will bring us all that we want, but it never totally works out that way even if it was a really good holiday. That can leave you feeling let down, too. We see this every year, with a lot more calls to the crisis line, a higher number of deaths and there are even studies that show the letters to Dear Abby sound much more depressed after the holiday. ~ CNN

Conversely, for too many people in our fractured society it is initially a relief having to go back to work because they have just spent a thoroughly sad holiday all on their own. Worldly happiness is relative. That’s why Buddha called it “suffering of change“.

Not to mention all those who would dearly love to have any job to go to at all.

Looks like, one way or another, none of us has any choice in samsara but to feel dissatisfaction, not get what we want, and/or get what we don’t want. Samsara is set up for that, not to mention the big sufferings of birth, ageing, sickness, and death.

What’s the answer?

If we don’t like the back to work blues, the answer is probably not to engineer it to stay on endless holiday (even if we could, which of course we can’t), as that would get old very quickly. On Christmas Eve I passed a teenager in the back seat of his family car on an endless highway, staring sulkily out of the window – Christmas had already gone on way too long in his opinion. Imagine even the best holiday season lasting all year – old, young, or middle-aged, I reckon we’d all soon be pretty desperate to escape irritating conversations, all that sitting around feeling stuffed, Santa images, and torturous Christmas tunes. Classic suffering of change.

So what can we do about the back to work blues? I am going to borrow CNN’s research and do a Buddhist take.

Treat all colleagues like they are insane for the next couple of weeks, it works with family members, too. Know that most people feel like they are in the same sinking boat.

This is good advice for all times – we are all insane because we suffer from the hallucinations of the delusions. And we are all in the same sinking boat of samsara, all wanting and not getting the same thing, which is just to be happy and free from pain, please, is that really too much to ask? renunciation and compassion

So we can use our back to work blues to remind us of our wish for permanent freedom from our own delusions and contaminated karma, and develop empathy for everyone else in the same boat, wishing them the same happiness and freedom. These attitudes of renunciation and compassion will help us feel happy and fulfilled both at work and at home, both in holidays and in jobs.

Stay centered

Ease back into work. Don’t jump into the cold water, you’ll have a heart attack. Ease your way back into your routine. Set small goals to feel a sense of accomplishment. If you ease into this with full awareness, rather than trying to plan a ton and hope to get it all done in the next 24 hours, it helps.

As explained in this article, we can avoid stress and burn out at work by learning to feel more centered and happy in our heart. Even 10 to 15 minutes sitting quietly before we start work is immensely helpful if we do it properly and take refuge in it. Even a few 5-minute breaks through the day can be the difference between a joyful, balanced, creative day and a day that is just angst-driven and draining.

Also, we can overcome that feeling of being too busy and over-stretched by trying out the meditation in this article, as well as learning to be more in the moment. We have all of tomorrow to do what needs to be done tomorrow – so there is no point in worrying about it today. We need a method to shut down the tape that runs in our minds about all that needs to be done that day, that week, that year.

Don’t dwell. Know that something you enjoyed has come to an end, but make peace with it and know it will come back again.

636025932437932618-536324797_o-LIVE-IN-THE-MOMENT-facebookIt is so incredibly helpful and life affirming to learn to live in the moment — wherever we are. So, why not allow your back to work blues to motivate you to do just this?

As it explains in these articles on subtle impermanence, yesterday’s weather, for example, has completely gone, we accept this, we know not a trace of it remains today, so we don’t get all bent out of shape about it. But, heck, the whole of yesterday is like that – it has all completely gone, including yesterday’s me and yesterday’s holidays and/or yesterday’s work. So why try hold onto the past, onto something that has completely gone? Living in the moment by contrast is free, rich, fresh, and deep.

Resist feeling sorry for yourself.

Yep. Self-cherishing is never any good for any of us. It is a “foolish, deceptive mind”, as it says in The New Meditation Handbook, that always upsets our inner peace and blocks us from making the most of our human life. We can remember we are just one person and others are countless, and enjoy the joy of spreading the love we normally reserve for ourselves to everybody. Suddenly our day is a great deal brighter.

Self talk and being optimistic is important. Look at kitten pictures online if you need a little lift.

Whether we have a good day or a bad day at the office, or anywhere else for that matter, depends on the quality of our thoughts = Buddhism 101. So we can focus on anything that brings out our love and compassion and joyful effort – perhaps it is kittens, perhaps it is not! Here are a few of my fosters, just in case it is. IMG_1961

Talking of online pick me ups … further to this article on some pitfalls of social media, I have been thinking that if we always approach our feed not with a craving for affirmation or FOMO but with the intention to spread love and good thoughts, it can be a force for good. We can use it to encourage others, be supportive of their trials, and rejoice in their happiness.

The point about self-talk is important. Our thoughts are free, and with meditation practice we get to let go of the ones that do us no good – after all, what happens to a thought if we stop thinking it? And we can choose to think more and more thoughts that are wise, positive, and happy-making. So, those blues are yet another inducement to get good at meditation.

Am I happy in my heart?

Take advantage of the break in your routine and start new office habits. Even if it is something small like being friendlier to random co-workers or getting up to walk away from your desk once an hour, it helps.

Yes, and we can use the small pauses in the day to get into the best habit of all, connecting with the peace in our hearts. There are so many of these gaps – waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for the lights to change, waiting in a long line at the Post Office, sitting in an irrelevant meeting, using the restroom. All the times we would normally pull out our phone and start checking texts, those are the times we could instead go within to check what is happening in our heart. Am I happy? As it explains in this article, we have a motto in the Kadampa tradition:

Always rely upon a happy mind alone.

pauses.jpgThroughout the day we can adjust and fine-tune the mind so that we are relying upon — or only trusting — a happy mind alone. If we notice our mind becoming agitated, we know not to rely on the evidence portrayed by this mind, because delusions distort reality like a storm destroying the accurate reflections in a still ocean. We can pause for a few valuable moments to reconnect to whatever can instantly bring us joy, such as love for our kittens (?!) or, indeed, being kind and friendly to random co-workers. And then carry on.

This way our life will also be a spiritual journey to a new destination, not just going around in circles.

Controlling the mind

I have a question for you: What can we control if we cannot control our own thoughts?

Without control, we have no choice. This is why meditation is so important. Even breathing meditation is taming the bucking bronco of our uncontrolled mind so we can steer our thoughts in the direction we want to go as opposed to being painfully tossed around by them. Our mind is very powerful and full of potential, as Buddha pointed out with that horse example; but it needs mastering or it will destroy our happiness on a daily basis.

With breathing meditation, we give ourselves a breather, literally, from most of our problems – the ones that are like a cracked record, where we go round and round in sad circles thinking the same boring and hopeless thoughts. Most of these thoughts are to do anyway with something that has gone, completely, or that may or may not happen in a future that doesn’t exist either. mountains black and white 2

We might find, even from the simplest breathing meditation, that we are in no hurry to pick up some of our problems again. We realize we don’t need them. And the ones that insist on hanging around longer – at least there is now some space around them, we don’t have our heads stuck in the clouds as if that is all there is, but are identified instead with the vast open sky.

Our world is a reflection of our minds. With this inner space, we might feel we now have more outer space to deal with the pressing situations at work.

Bliss is already inside you

Think about what you liked about your break and bring an element of it to your work.

Even from slight experience of a simple breathing meditation we can figure out that we don’t have to eat loads of food, watch blockbusters back to back, or hang out and get drunk with friends to be happy – we have peace, happiness, even bliss right inside us already. This can be a revelation.

So by all means think about what you liked about your break and then, rather than doing a poor job of trying to recreate it externally, take control of your own happiness and do the transforming enjoyments meditation explained here! This will help you reconnect to the bliss you have inside you – bliss that, one day, will be on tap. Take that! back to work blues.Hobbes euphoria

This ties in with some later advice:

Prescribe yourself an evening out with relatives or friends in the upcoming weeks without, of course, being drunk or overeating or staying up too late to start the cycle over again. It can help you be mindful that while the holidays are over, yes, but you can have fun again soon.

Why wait? — you can have fun again right now if you put your mind to it! This is because all peace, happiness, and bliss comes from the inside not the outside. So we can do it all, and without the unwanted side effects of outgrowing our skinny jeans or feeling hung-over.

Let’s say we are enjoying the presence of a person in our life. We can enjoy it, but understand that he or she is in truth a reflection of the enjoyment that already lurks within our own mind. Bliss is possible — but only if we stay with its actual source, which is not the person but our own experience. So instead of reaching outside the mind to grasp onto this person with attachment, we stay inside with the enjoyment and wisely recognize, “This person is a surface manifestation of the bliss that is always deep in my mind, like a wave arising from an ocean. Thank you very much! You’ve just reminded me of all that bliss I have inside me! (Even if you are walking out the door for the last time …)”

Only connect

Pajamas may not be in the dress for success plan, but if you enjoyed connecting with friends you don’t normally see, squeeze them into your weekly schedule, even if it’s for a 15-minute coffee. And do connect. People who are blue tend toward withdrawal. Push yourself to interact even if you don’t feel like it. Company helps avoid misery.

Water-cooler-conversation.jpgIt is indeed worthwhile to remain connected with friends, circumstances permitting, if they bring out our heart of love. And we can accomplish something similar by learning to love the people who are around us with equanimity, making them into our friends.

Imagine being at least as pleased to see the person who works at the desk next to you as to see that old college friend you hung out with over the holidays? Going to work would be a lot more fun. And this can happen, just do this meditation.

(As for pajamas, however, if it was up to me I would let people wear them all day long if they wanted to … )

Last and not least, for Kadampa Buddhists all over the world January is in fact their FAVORITE month because it is “retreat month”, when we emphasize our spiritual practices – whether this be for a day or so at the weekend or taking vacation time to do weeks on end. So check out your local center for those opportunities.

Over to you. What are your strategies for overcoming the back to work blues?

Don’t quit your day job (to practice dharma)

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

kamparipa
“Transform your daily task into an internal meditation … the result is the immaculate dharmakaya.” ~Kamparipa, the Mahasiddha who attained enlightenment in his daily life as a blacksmith

What do a Weaver, Musician, Cobbler, Blacksmith, Merchant and Potter all have in common? They are a few of the professions of ancient practitioners who attained full enlightenment through their day jobs. How did they do this? The common theme in the stories of these great yogis is that they used their daily appearances as fuel for their practice of meditation.

These ancient Mahasiddhas knew that everything is a mere appearance to the mind. By changing our mind and learning to see the appearances of our day job as a Dharma teaching, there is no need to change external appearances. Rather than our job being an obstacle to realizing Buddha’s teachings, it becomes our path of meditation. Then the focus of our job is not on escaping it so that we can really practice Dharma. Rather, the focus will be on transforming it in the most profound and meaningful way possible.

Our day job is not an obstacle to our practice
Manibhadra
“When I realized my mind is the nature of emptiness, all phenomena that appeared to my mind became emptiness itself.” ~Manibhadra, the female Mahasiddha who attained enlightenment in her daily life raising her family

Thinking that we need to quit our job to practice Dharma puts the results of our practice into the distant (and often unlikely) future. Often the wish to leave our job to practice Dharma is an aspect of aversion. We believe that if we only could have the space and time to actually focus on our practice, then we could make a dent in our delusions. This way of thinking obstructs us from living in the moment. It also disengages us from transforming every experience into one that destroys our delusions.

The most common objection to this is that we need to do solitary retreat for years to make progress. Geshe Kelsang has explained that with consistent practice we can attain the fourth stage of tranquil abiding in our daily life. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe Kelsang explains how to attain actual tranquil abiding and superior seeing using this level of concentration. This teaching unlocks the complete path to enlightenment without the need to quit our day job.

The complete path to enlightenment is available in daily life
Tantipa
“I weave the strands of my experience … and the finished fabric is the dharmakaya.” ~Tantipa, the Mahasiddha who met his teacher at the age of 89 and attained enlightenment in his daily life as a weaver

Geshe-la has explained again and again that we can easily attain the same results as the ancient practitioners of the past. He said that their stories are our proof that these practices work. We have access to the same techniques, presented in a modern context that are clear and easily understood. Due to many special qualities of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings, attaining the results of these practices is even easier now than it ever has been before!

So what other excuses do we have that stop us from fully embracing every appearance in our life as our spiritual path? What is stopping an Art Manager, Graphic Designer, Performer, Event Coordinator, or Software Engineer from becoming a modern-day Mahasiddha?

We need to fully believe that we can attain enlightenment in our day job and encourage ourself again and again until this becomes our reality.

Top Five Regrets of the Dying – and a Buddhist’s perspective

A hospice worker called Bronnie Ware wrote a very interesting article called “Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. I (and others) posted it on Facebook and it garnered a lot of attention, probably as all of us are dying sooner or later, and who wants to die with regrets?! Other hospice workers chimed in to agree that they found these to be the top five regrets amongst their patients too.

I think Buddha’s meditations can help us prevent all of these (as well as  a few other regrets I can think of) and make the most of the time we have left. I hope she doesn’t mind, but I’m going to borrow Bronnie Ware’s points and share just a few more ideas below; and please add your own ideas in the comments.

Meditating on death awareness now — remembering the fact that we are definitely going to die and lose everything external, and that this could happen any time, even today – is probably the most effective preparation for preventing these regrets. If we live each week, or day, as if it is our last, this tends to get our priorities straight! And it doesn’t have to be scary either, it can be very liberating. (You can try this experiment to see if this is true.)

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

We are often wrapped up in the so-called “worldly concerns” of wishing to experience praise and a good reputation and not criticism and a bad reputation, and this can make us overly fearful. We need integrity – knowing based on our own wisdom (not blind allegiance) what is good and kind, and sticking to it regardless of what everyone around us thinks or does. We need a self-worth based not on distracting, fleeting concerns like our reputation and whether or not people like us, but based on the good qualities we are developing in own mind – our own love, kindness, compassion, wisdom, and so on. These are what make us feel good about ourselves both now and at the time of our death.

If we imagine what it is going to be like to lose everything – our body, our possessions, our career, our friends, even our most dearly beloved who seems to have been validating our existence – what do we want to have left? Does it matter at that time what others expected of us? Or does it matter more that we have tried to live up to our highest ideals?

If any of you have lost your job recently, or a loved one, or your health, did you find this to be the case?

When we meditate on death awareness, we think of what it’ll be like to lose EVERYTHING, the entire infrastructure of our life, including our friends, our possessions and even our own body. This can have a dramatic effect on our mind because it puts us in touch with the naked truth. But sometimes I think it can also be very powerful to meditate on losing one thing at a time. You can start by imagining that you are fired from your long-term job/career (you can also imagine what often goes along with it, such as being pitied and/or criticized behind your back, and no longer having anything in common with the people you made your working life with.) You can imagine that your most dearly beloved partner, parent or child dies. You can imagine losing your health. What matters at these times, what protects you from pain, what do you have left, what do you want to have left?

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

So true, isn’t it, that old adage that no one’s last words are “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”?!

Of course, it depends what we’re working hard doing, and especially why. If we are motivated by a desire just for making this life comfortable, and especially if we become addicted to earning more and more money, status etc, when we see that these pursuits are pointless in the light of death we are bound to feel some regret for the wasted time and energy. But if we work hard to help others, motivated by a wish to bring happiness and freedom into others’ lives, I doubt we’ll regret that. It doesn’t matter so much what job we have to do to earn our keep and look after our loved ones. It matters far more why we are going to work each day.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

Bronnie explains that “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

I think this is related to #1 above. It’s a good idea not to suppress our emotions/pretend we’re someone different. Bodhisattvas have a vow to avoid both “pretension” and “deceit”. But nor do we have to suddenly tell everyone exactly what we think of them, especially if it may hurt them (see this article about criticism) – we’ll probably regret that too! Better to work on overcoming the resentment by learning to love unconditionally, based on a genuine self-confidence. From our side, do we really need to worry quite so much about what people think or say about us, or even say to us? It means very little in the grand scheme of things.

There is a Kadampa motto:

“Help others as much as you can. Harm your delusions as much as you can.”

Following this advice gives us the courage we need.

4. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends

See, Facebook is helpful!! Children of my nieces’ generation will never have to lose a friend again; they’ll be followed from crib to grave by hundreds upon hundreds of friends…!!

Actually, of course, we don’t want attachment to our friends, as this will cause us pain at the time of death when we understand we have to lose them in this current form. But if we have the three types of love – warm affection, cherishing them as precious, and wishing them to be happy – we’ll never truly be separated from our friends. (You can find out more about the difference between the positive mind of love and the delusion of attachment in Joyful Path.)

It is good to live as if every encounter we have with another may be our last – it’ll naturally prevent our being cross with them, and mean that we appreciate every moment we have together.

5. I wish I’d let myself be happier

Bronnie says:

“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.”

So, the sooner we realize this, the better! Enough said.

Please add your own observations on these or any other likely deathbed regrets you can think of. And share this article if you feel like it.