On Work

“Work is love made visible,” declared Ajahn this morning. “This is a line from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Have you read it? I think he is one of the Western poets that comes closest to the Buddha’s teachings. You should always try to find joy in your work, and you should focus on those aspects, not on the parts you dislike. Most of us are wired to find problems, and this is usually easy to do. The challenge is to find joy in every situation. When I do something I don’t naturally love, for example taking care of young novices for weeks at a time, I try to remember they’re children, and I focus on their beautiful qualities. Otherwise I would be angry all the time. So my work becomes an act of love.”

 

For a second, I thought Wow this is beautiful and true, but I immediately remembered how inherently heinous most jobs are in the West. “But Ajahn, I asked, I don’t know about Thailand, but in the West, a   lot of people feel stuck in their work. They feel like they’re selling part of their souls in order to earn a salary, and they would argue that they don’t have a choice. Most office jobs are brutal and numbing, and people only accept to be there because they have mortgages, credit card debt, and children. But they are often perpetually on the edge of a burnout. Where is the love in this?”

 

He smiled. “Well, I think it’s important to always keep learning and developing your skills. There are always opportunities for change. You have to be wise about this. If you keep learning, then you can find something you hadn’t noticed in your job, you can change your attitude, or you can get a new job. Kahlil Gibran says work should be a manifestation of your love in the world, but he also says that if you can’t love your work, you should move on, because if you do something without love, you are spreading poison: And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work (…) For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half of man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.

 

“And the Buddha would agree, he continued. There is wisdom in discernment. If you feel your work is not conducive to your inner growth, you need to take action. Ultimately, we want unconditional peace, in other words, a kind of peace that doesn’t depend on circumstances. But this doesn’t mean we should stay in a situation that doesn’t suit us. The key here is to know yourself and your goals. This will allow you to know deep down whether or not your job is right for you.”

 

“The problem, I think, is that people usually leave a situation too soon, out of a knee-jerk reaction to something they don’t like. But they don’t give themselves time to see whether this reaction will pass or is a sign of a deeper incompatibility. This is not skillful, because you don’t learn anything, and the same situation is likely to repeat itself in your next job. You will quickly find something you dislike, and you will again want to leave. This aversion is not the same as real incompatibility. In fact, with real incompatibility, you may still be able to find some joy in your work, but you will know that this is not the place for you. There will be a clear and calm knowing. Aversion is different, more like an allergic reaction, and the decision to leave will be impulsive and will prevent you from learning about yourself. The challenge in this case is to resist the temptation to jump and to use this as an opportunity to define your goals and create change.”

 

He paused for a few seconds and gazed into space before resuming: “The peace we’re all looking for is never in the job, the place, or the person. It is always in our mind. And as long as we don’t allow ourselves to tap into it, we keep running around looking for it outside. And this running in itself prevents us from noticing that the peace we’re looking for is already inside us, waiting. So if you don’t like your job, you need to change either your attitude or your job. And to know which, you need to exercise discernment.”

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One thought on “On Work

  1. Intéressant de voir qu’un moine bouddhiste explique que le bonheur inconditionnel par rapport aux circonstances est une chose mais que faire des choix par rapport aux circonstances peut-être tout à fait approprié.

    Like

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