Contentedness and the working life – Part 2

Photography by Jorge Royan, Argentina

Photography by Jorge Royan, Argentina

“Could I be clearer about how work affects me emotionally?”

We began part 1 of this article by asking ourselves about our personal reality. We asked about the routines of our working life, and how contented we felt with our lot. We questioned whether our daily commitments brought the satisfaction and fulfilment we felt our efforts justly deserved, and whether our workaday world lent itself to any real sense of contentment, to a positive psychological and emotionally felt reality within. And we felt unsure of our responses; we lacked clarity.

We discovered that the notions we hold regarding our psychological and emotional well-being are bound up with ideas about pleasure and happiness. This indicates we’re unsure as to what it means to be contented, to be at peace with events in our workaday world. And yet it’s precisely this condition that fundamentally motivates all of our activities in life. We don’t set aside this motivation at the start of our working day; it’s there all the time, guiding us towards contentedness.

“I often get distracted from my goals and objectives . . .”

The problem is that this perfectly natural and healthy impulse becomes subverted. We become seduced by transitory and ephemeral gratifications, and we constantly lose sight of our primary objective – to rest content with life as it is. This doesn’t mean becoming submissive to others or acting subserviently within situations; it means accepting the reality of each situation as it presents itself to us. More than that, it means doing so un-begrudgingly, with a reposeful and tranquil mind.

And yet this natural intelligence is thwarted, its purposive thrust becomes subverted in the desires and aversions of the self-entity. So there’s a trade-off occurring that’s not very smart. On the one hand we have a beautiful, natural logic which inclines us to act in our best interests. And on the other hand we have the interjection of selfhood which dumbly chooses short-term gratifications over those best interests – a schizophrenic oscillation that denies any emotional equilibrium.

“Could I be more mindfully aware of my reactions at work?”

The working life provides a wonderful opportunity to address this problem. Whatever our work involves, we’re able to witness this interplay of our natural inclinations as against the corrupting behavioural traits of selfhood. We do this by means of contemplative reflection, by mindfully assessing our reactions to the various twists and turns that the working day inevitably presents. In the process, we learn about acceptance; we learn how to live in accord with life’s actualities.

In part 1, we heard of the seductive and compelling nature of selfhood, and that the fictionally created self-entity is both the seducer and the seduced. We learned that we create within ourselves a narrative account which sustains the notion of selfhood, becoming in the process our personal identity, the embedded story of ‘me in my life’. It’s this fictional creation that we set about untangling in the process of contemplative reflection. And as insight accumulates, the myth of self is deconstructed.

“Is stress caused by my work, or is my attitude causing it?”

This frees the natural intelligence of our authentically disclosed state from the anxieties and stressfulness of selfhood. We progressively come to see the internal conflict that arises between the narrow self-interests of our fictional creation, and the natural intelligence of our better nature. It’s this same conflict that creates the epidemic of stress and anxiety-related disorders that we see in society. And the majority of these disorders relate to, or manifest within, the working life of the sufferer.

For this reason, it’s vital that we don’t compartmentalise our working and private lives. By this I mean, in effect, writing off those eight or so hours of the day when we’re at work as somehow being irrelevant to the well-being of the real ‘me’. There’s no magic transformation occurring at any fundamental level when the private ‘me’ displaces the working ‘me’. Our moods and mental states change, as do our characteristics, yet these are merely appearances in awareness; they’re not what we are.

“Why can work make me feel alienated from myself?”

And of course, what we are is not an appearance in awareness; it’s not merely a perceivable object occurring ‘in the mind’. Neither is what we are a singular and static matter of thingness, or a series of inter-related objects of thingness. What we are is most certainly not the narrative creation we take ourselves to be – a series of largely fictional ideas tied together into a story of selfhood. Neither that story, nor any appearance in awareness, has any innate capacity to feel or know contentment.

Why is that so? Well, not least of all because a fictional creation has no sentience; it can’t feel or know anything. The same is true of any appearance in awareness of course. This is why it can be the case that when we feel and know an emotion, or indeed any other felt or known experience, we somehow sense a disconnect. We may sense a certain feeling of inauthenticity, or perhaps we cling to the experience in the hope of perpetuating it as if a possession. None of this is ever possible.

“Can I really know and be myself whilst I’m working?”

Remember, we’ve already heard that happiness has only a limited impact upon our sense of contentment, and that what we are doesn’t need to feel pleasure to be contented. What we are as our authentic identity needs only to know itself, as itself, in order to rest contentedly in whatever is. This means we need to see what lies behind the narrative overlays of selfhood, beyond the fleeting feelings of pleasure and pain, and prior to the myriad formations of the mind and sensory awareness.

So what can be done in order that our identity may know itself, as itself, and what exactly does that mean? Most of our so-called ‘self-awareness’ is merely mental imagery created in the form of representations in the mind. These are our perceptions of moods and mental states, narrative ideas and thoughts, assumptions and beliefs. Or they’re perceptions of conditioned tendencies or traits such as the projections of our workplace identity. All of these are mental representations; they’re not what we are.

“Is it possible to feel authentic when I have a role to perform?”

So you see, our authentic identity can only know itself, as itself, and not as an image of itself, not as any partial and once-removed fabrication. It simply can’t be known to itself as any representation in awareness. Again, that is what creates the feeling of inauthenticity, or the sense of our being shallowly engaged with experience – the disconnect referred to just above. In order that we may know ourselves, as ourselves, we first must develop presence, our own immediate knowledge of being.

The workplace, whether it be at home, in a TV studio, out on a prairie or in an office on the 31st. floor, provides an ever-changing environment in which to develop presence. In presence, we ‘come home’ to what we are; we step outside the narrative of selfhood with its role playing and subtle deceitfulness. This all happens silently within us, and without external manifestation or hindrance to our work. It becomes a sanctuary, an emotionally safe place, somewhere that enables us to see life as it is.

“Could I work productively, yet free of stress and anxiety?”

In presence, we cease to be one stage removed from our own reality, which is the defining mark of selfhood. We’re no longer under the dictates of self, and are released from its demands and expectations. We no more need take the fabrications of selfhood as our guiding principle, and our energy is not expended in self-interested identification with outcomes. In the sanctuary of presence, we work contentedly and productively, accomplishing our tasks free of stresses and anxieties.

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