October 10, 2008
Misery can empower you if you face it
Q: I've been reading several spiritual books that advise people to be present or "in the now." I don't know about others, but my "now" sucks. Can you explain how being present when my workplace is making me miserable can help my career?
A: Yes. If you aren't paying attention to your outer and inner current reality (and this includes noticing all your misery), it's impossible to react effectively to what's happening.
To expand on my answer, I interviewed Eckhart Tolle and Kim Eng, spiritual teachers who focus on the power available to each of us if we take a few more moments each day to be conscious of the present.
"When we work in dysfunctional situations, we can notice our own thinking, feeling and inner reactions to other people," Tolle suggested. "We can accept whatever misery we're experiencing. Then we have the critical space to be mindful of choosing words and behavior that may change our experience of the situation or the other person's response."
He noted that sometimes we have to deal with people who are incapable of or unwilling to be similarly conscious; in those situations, sometimes our best option is to leave. However, Tolle encouraged readers to make sure they explored their own contributions to situations that make them uncomfortable.
Eng added, "Most people find accepting all of what is going on for them is scary and hard."
She recommends her clients make sure they breathe deeply, and that they close their eyes and pay attention to how their bodies feel. She said scanning our bodies in this way can make us aware of emotional reactions we might not intellectually notice.
Eng emphasized that paying attention to everything going on in the moment isn't an intellectual exercise. Labeling reactions or thoughts can help us notice our inner world, but if we don't become conscious of our bodies we'll remain out of touch with our hearts.
I asked Tolle why so many people believe spiritual teachers advocate the avoidance of anger, grief, sadness or emotional discomfort.
"Most people assume something is wrong with them, so they try to improve themselves," he noted. "There is nothing broken or wrong with you. When you accept you are jealous, annoyed, disappointed or uncomfortable, you create space to not fight with yourself and your situation."
In addition, Tolle said many people believe enlightenment is a permanent state that involves no discomfort or emotion.
"It's a good goal to just have a few more moments each day where we admit and allow our honest reactions," he said, chuckling. "Being completely aware of what is going on 24 hours a day is probably not going to happen, since we all are capable moment by moment of zoning out."
I asked Tolle and Eng what thoughts they had on the role of misery in our workplaces. Eng said, "People think that spiritual development is being happy or comfortable."
Tolle summarized: "In truth, our suffering, if we will experience it, is the gateway to the limitless power of the universe."
So next time you find a workplace situation unfair, infuriating or painful, drop into your body and let yourself experience all your reactions.
If you can tolerate the discomfort, you might just find more flexibility, creativity and effectiveness in what you do next.
The last word(s)
Q: I'm retired and thinking of starting a second career. Can an old dog really learn a new trick?
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author. She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube.
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