Be Here Now, Instead of Numbing Out or Being Frenetic
by Karma Kitaj, PhD
If you’re sick of your job, but go to work every day, grateful that you still have your job … Or if you’ve been laid off in the rash of downsizings – you might take one of two different routes to respond to the malaise you’ve encountered. You might go into frenetic over-drive to figure out what to do next. Or you might be unmotivated, sleep later than you planned, eat meals at any old time with no routine, postpone your usual exercise or never get to it at all (even if you have lots of free time). You might spend hours on the Internet or on TV, aimlessly searching for the answer to your dilemma -- or just anesthetizing yourself from feeling anything. You might schedule lots of “networking” lunches or events or calls or an email blast – hoping that with more exposure to more people, you’ll surely find the contact that will lead you to the job you want and can get. Most people do a combination of these two: get into frenetic activity for a while and then when that doesn’t bear fruit, they get depressed.
What’s a better choice for the frustrated over-50 employee or the laid off worker? I’ve talked in this column about various ways of using this time of your life to establish a clear vision of who you are and what is your life purpose – i.e., what will give you a sense of meaning and fulfillment in these next 20-30 years, within some of which you’ll need to earn income to contribute to support of yourself and your family.
Clearly, the responses outlined in the beginning of this article won’t do. I was thinking of the many people in these straits while attending a conference last week with the Dalai Lama, called: “Meditation and Psychotherapy: Finding Compassion and Wisdom.” Here are some thoughts about what I found there that might be helpful to those who’ve lost their purpose and their sense of meaning when they lost their jobs or lost their love for their work.
One of the speakers, an American “lama,” called Lama Surya Das, quoted an old Tibetan lama who told him that everyone thinks their “happiness and difficulties come from outside, from circumstances and conditions, although true wellbeing and fulfillment are not found there.” This is the core of the Buddhist tradition. Not many of us in the West are practitioners of Buddhist teachings. But we can all comprehend some of the basic tenets.
One is that wisdom involves “cultivating the ability and practice of observing what is, participating fully in what is … and responding to what is,” in the words of a well-known psychotherapy-researcher named Marsha Linehan, who spoke at the conference. How might cultivating this wisdom help you if you’re in this miasma of job insecurity?
Instead of numbing out or running in circles, you might try “being here now,” another Buddhist tenet, popularized in the US by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a luminary in the field of spiritual practice, one who writes and teaches about mindfulness meditation. Being here now, whether through a meditation practice, or through living mindfully (as we’re brushing our teeth or peeling an orange or reading to our children or exercising), allows us to access contentment in the moment. It keeps us from escalating into useless worry that gets us nowhere. It helps us stay in our center, in our Wise Self, as we navigate the troubled waters of this unasked for transition.
How exactly might we put this into practice on a daily basis? Here are a few thoughts:
- Whether you are working or not, plan to arise and go to sleep at around the same time each day.
- If you have an exercise or meditation or stretching routine, do it consistently early in the day. If you do not, consider building one of these, or more, into your day.
- As you are doing this, do not multi-task. Stay in the present moment. Focus your attention, even if for 10-20 minutes.
- Eat your meals consistently, using healthy foods, preferably home made, rather than fast-food. Again, focus your attention on your eating for at least some of the meal, rather than watching TV or reading or driving or working.
- Each day make a list of MITs (Most Important Tasks) as blogger Leo Babauta recommends on his website called: “Zen Habits.” He suggests listing 3 tasks that relate to your desired goal for the day and doing them 1st thing in the morning, whether you’re at work or looking for work. My suggestion is that if there are big goals, such as “Find a Job,” that you break that down into 3 realizable goals for the day.
- Another Leo Babauta thought: “Stop worrying about the future – focus on the present.” When you find your thoughts escalating into “what if’s,” you are on the wrong track. Bring your attention back to the present moment.
- Spend some time each day in nature, even if only for a few moments. When there breathe deeply and be aware with all of your senses.
- Spend some time each day with people whom you care about and who care about you. While with them, focus your attention on being with them, rather than on all the things you should be doing.
- As you might notice, most of these are spiritual activities, destined to make you experience your higher self or your Wise Self. Moving toward living this kind of life will go a long way towards allowing you to feel joy, no matter what the external world is bringing you today. As you experience more joy, you will attract more opportunity and more synchronicity.
These are some of the take-aways I wanted to share with you from my time in the presence of the Dalai Lama and his followers.