Work and Compassion


The Rat Race

As many of you may know, I have been on a quest to become more compassionate. I have been searching out information to this end, and came upon the following blog article. My wife and I have this similar work dynamic. I teach yoga full time and she works in corporate America. In the Buddhist tradition, they talk about “Right Livelihood” . In the Yoga tradition we talk about “Non-Grasping, Non Greediness, (aparagraha), that is taking only what we need. ( Whatever that means). Here in Scottsdale that has a very different meaning from other places. Don’t believe me, ask our teenage daughters. Anyway, “How much is enough?” “What lifestyle should we be living?” I think that these are very personal questions, but at some point you have to step back and evaluate where you are in your life and where you want to be. Then you have to see if the path that you are on is leading you to the place that you want to be. If it is not, you need to make some changes. Recently I have had many conversations with students who are less than satisfied with their work situations. I feel that your work should inspire you. I think that everyone should be paid to do what they love. If you do not love what you are doing, you should meditate on what your perfect life would look life, and then manifest that. Everyone wastes so much of their time at a job that they do not enjoy just so they can get money to buy things that really don’t make them happy. Think about that……..

Here is the article.

Make the World a Better Place from the Job You have Right Now.

By Penelope Trunk

At some point in their work life most people start wondering about the bigger questions: How can you support yourself with enjoyable work and still make the world a better place?

I have had discussions about this topic with my husband. He was working at a grassroots agency that struggles to save people from poverty and prison. I told my husband that since I was supporting our family while he worked for a nonprofit that pays peanuts, I was doing enough to save the world.

He said, “You’re not saving the world. You’re saving us.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m an enabler. I’m enabling you to save the world.”

He said, “You can do what you want. But grassroot action makes an immediate difference.”

Grassroot action. This is the kind of language you hear all the time if you live with an activist.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing the sadness my husband saw every day: Like the juvenile offender who was not going to school because the prison forgot. But I still want to make sure my work has meaning.

And I am not alone. In the book,The Altruism Question psychologist Daniel Batson reviews approximately twenty-five studies that all show that people have an inherent need to help others out of a sense of altruism — to make other people feel better. And Stephan Bodian who often writes about Buddhism explains, “Each of us must find our own right livelihood by following our hearts while facing the reality of our unique situation.” What I take this to mean is that we all want to do good, but you have to take care of yourself first, then your family, and then the world. Most of us have enough trouble with the first two.
For some people right livelihood will mean a life of environmental activism. For other people, it might take the form of creativity. “For many of us, it might simply involve doing what we can, at the jobs we currently have, to add to the world’s collective store of peace, love, happiness and material well-being,” writes Bodian in Yoga Journal.

In case you are wondering, my husband is typical of social activists in that he has a spouse working in a more lucrative sector. We found this out the hard way, when we tried to depend on his job for insurance. The human resource person actually told my husband, “The premiums are sky-high because no one here needs to use the insurance.”

Fortunately for those who do need insurance, the business world offers a surprising range of opportunities to honor one’s need for right work. I have mentored people who have been able to make huge changes in their lives, and I have changed corporate policies to accommodate single mothers and gay job applicants. These have been high points in my career because I felt like I was doing good.

But you don’t actually have to make a monumental contribution to the world in order to feel good about yourself. Small acts of kindness add up.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside, found that being kind makes you feel more positive about yourself and the world. She has an exact prescription for how to be kind that reminds me of my husband doing good at the grassroot

“In our daily lives, we all perform acts of kindness for others. These acts may be large or small and the person for whom the act is performed may or may not be aware of the act. Examples include feeding a stranger’s parking meter, donating blood, helping a friend with homework, visiting an elderly relative, or writing a thank you letter.” In order to optimize the good feelings that come from good acts, Lyubomirsky’s research indicates that you should load up your acts of kindness so you do five in one day.

You can follow these instructions from any job, no matter how big or small. Write a note to yourself on one day each week, and count your deeds until you get to five. Your job will bring deeper meaning to your life because you will be using it to directly cause positive feelings in the world.

As for me and my husband, I am never going to work in a prison, and he’s never going back to corporate life. But we are striking a balance. Winston Churchill once said: “Make a living by what you get, make a life by what you give.” The best careers can combine both, and this is true of a marriage, too.

Where are you really going?

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