Looking at our working lives
As most of us do not work in the aforementioned unethical trades, the question of right livelihood will primarily concern the way we work. It can be useful to start by looking at whether our relationship to our job, workplace and colleagues contributes to the creation or maintenance of forms of gross and subtle suffering for ourselves and for others. This may be as simple as recognising that a poor attitude affects not only the approach we take to the events of a working day, but contributes to the establishment of an unpleasant working environment and perhaps even a culture of bad attitude that permeates the working establishment. An ethical approach to work is to honour our agreements (contractually, verbally and interpersonally) and be as impeccable as possible. We dedicate ourselves to excellence as a commitment to ongoing development and we align our use of energy with practice. We use the working environment as a sphere of activity in which we firstly learn to recognise patterns of reactivity, or aversion, and how our preferences, attraction, play out. We let go of frenetic reactivity to stressful circumstances and seek to align with the movements of our working day in a way that allows us to maintain internal balance and presence. It is an ongoing art to do so. It is likely not possible in all working environments and this is the point when a change of circumstances may become necessary. If our working environment demands too many hours, too much stress inducing work, excessive aggressivity, or the giving away of our autonomy and individuality, we may need to consider a different career path if we are dedicated to long-term meditation practice.
As we are all too aware, work takes up a considerable amount of our waking life. That may be good news for some, but for many it is not. Work is a must for a great number of people: an obligation that would be preferably avoided. Even though this attitude is being tested by the global economic crisis we are currently going through, once you step outside of job anxiety, the same dissatisfaction that so many have in relationship to work remains.
So, what can be done about this? A dichotomy seems to emerge between two basic approaches to an unsatisfactory working life. The first is to accept your lot, view experience as experience and let go of any particular preference. In the light, this is taking a sort of Zen approach of accepting what arises, which is easier said than done, but certainly possible. In the dark it’s resigning yourself to circumstances, because to change would either be impossible, or simply not worth it. These two excuses arise as pretence voices with lots of baggage in tow.
The second approach recognises a genuine necessity for change and engages in the search for more meaningful work, and more rewarding circumstances. Both are important to recognise and develop familiarity with and are certainly not mutually exclusive. The basis for working effectively with either is having a sense of the genuine priority in a given period and a sensitivity to timing.
There have been many books written about finding the job of your dreams. Many of them are very good and have certainly helped many people change their lives and find more rewarding work. For many people this is certainly something to look at, even in challenging economic times like the one we are living in. There is no doubt that when we are enthusiastic about the activity we are investing our energy and time into, we work better and we feel better doing it and it is easier usually to remain present and open to experience. In an ideal world we would all have the job of our dreams and dedicate ourselves to doing the best we can whilst at work.
For this section I have taken inspiration from Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh is a spokesman and elder of mindfulness; a Vietnamese Zen monk, and international figure in promoting world-peace and civil rights. He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King and he is probably the world’s most famous Buddhist after the Dalai Lama, although this certainly does not detract from the potency of much of his teaching. At times his works are seemingly geared towards the mass-market, but within his books are many real gems, especially regarding mindfulness, and he has been forthright in transmitting a heartfelt form of Buddhism to a much wider audience whilst making mindfulness popular and accessible to all.
Mindfulness is a rich and varied topic central to the world of Buddhism. It has become increasingly popular and widespread, being incorporated into hospitals, prisons, major businesses such as Google and Apple, and has been implemented in the cure of depression and recognised by the medical establishment for its validity and comparability with antidepressants. Much research has been undertaken on the beneficial effects of mindfulness practice and this has led to a great variety of books being published that extol its virtues, usually aimed at as wide a market as possible.
This is all great news and certainly needs to be commended. It is important though to consider the intent behind this popularisation of meditative technology practice as intent is paramount in shaping the experience of actual practice and the capacity for it to move us in one direction or another. Mindfulness used to manage difficult emotions and feelings, and mindfulness used to help one focus one’s mind in order to work more effectively are not the same as mindfulness used as an ongoing path for liberation, radical freedom and change.
Perhaps it would be useful at this point to make a distinction between Non-Buddhist Mindfulness and Buddhist Mindfulness, between mindfulness stripped of any overt Buddhist leanings, and of mindfulness practised within the Eightfold Path, or any path for that matter, with the intent of waking us up. We can consider the latter as Right Mindfulness for the sake of simplicity and this post.