A teacher at the New York Shambhala Meditation Center, Lodro Rinzler is the author of The Buddha Walks into a Bar… A Guide to Life for a New Generation, and Walk Like a Buddha: Even If Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You & You’re Hungover Again. Here, he answers an all-too-common worker’s question.
Q: How do I leave behind the feeling of being trapped in my job and the resentment it causes? I want to be authentic at work.
A: You never leave feelings behind, in my experience. You can go through a horrible breakup, think you’re over your ex, then months later hear about the ex dating another person and experience all of those same painful feelings anew. Emotions come and go, like the waves of an ocean. Sometimes they are powerful and knock us over; sometimes they simply lap at our feet. They are not good or bad; they are all a part of the vast ocean of our mind.
The feelings of being trapped or resentful will never just disappear. They may take on new story lines or circumstances, but they will always be a part of our lives, just like other feelings such as affection or jealousy. Whenever you find yourself in a claustrophobic situation with your feelings, you have a poignant choice. You can lean into them or run away from them.
Running away from your feelings is a bit like running from a heat-seeking missile. They will always find you; they have locked on to you and know exactly where you are going. In this case the only thing you are doing by running from them is exhausting yourself. The emotions will still catch up with you, only now you are even more drained and have to deal with them in this exhausted state.
However, if you lean into your feelings, you may find a form of liberation within them. If you are feeling trapped, the best way to get untrapped is to embrace whatever emotions arise for you, on or off the meditation cushion. If you are at work and you are spending eight hours a day lost in resentment, look at that resentment. Embrace it. Explore it, just as you explore a question or phrase during contemplation practice. You can see where it resides in your body or what shape or color it bears. The more you poke at the feeling of resentment, the less heavy it feels. This path of exploring resentment shows us how ephemeral this and other emotions truly are.
My friend and fellow Shambhala teacher Susan Piver has written, “A brilliant life is not about being untouched by sorrow but has more to do with relaxing and allowing the world to touch you.” Sorrow, resentment, pain—these emotions will touch us. There’s no way around it. If you want to live a rich and full life, especially at work, you need to take those feelings on as part of your path. You have to see whatever obstacles arise as simply part of your meditation practice. Taking each challenge as an opportunity to let the world touch you is the Vajrayana path.
Another term for Vajrayana is tantra. Tantra can be translated in a number of ways, but the translation that has stuck in my mind over the years is “continuity.” Tantra, in this regard, does not refer just to the vast plethora of practices, rituals, and teachings from the Buddhist tradition that analyzes reality. It points to the fact that in any moment we have the ability to wake up to our true selves, bursting through our emotional barriers as if they were paper. We can string together our moments of waking up to reality as it is. We can embody that continuity of awake even at a job in which we previously felt trapped.
The Vajrayana practices employ many skillful means of waking up that need to be offered to students by authorized teachers. However, we can all aspire to wake up on a moment-by-moment basis, seeing our resentment or other emotions not as challenges but as moments when we can come back to the present and see reality as it is. Through waking up to what is actually going on, as opposed to succumbing to the emotional storm that attempts to blur our vision, we are continuously waking up. Thus, your job that you feel trapped in, or that makes you feel resentment, is actually a perfectly good opportunity to practice meditation and become an authentic human being.
Part of being authentic is knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. The Buddha never said you should always grin and bear whatever horrible situation comes your way. If you have a mean boss or you feel unsuited for your position or you are constantly underappreciated, you can address those issues in a genuine and straightforward manner. Part of exploring and embracing tough emotional situations is making sure you can navigate through those storms in the kindest way possible, for yourself and for others. If your authentic truth is that you need to leave your place of employment, then you ought to follow through with that notion.
If you find that your resentment is more fleeting, then stay at your job and use it as an opportunity to continually come back to waking up, moment by moment, emotional trap by emotional trap. Your shitty job is an excellent training ground for enlightenment.
From “Walk Like a Buddha,” by Lodro Rinzler, © 2013 by Lodro Rinzler. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA. www.shambhala.com