Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


The End of a Chapter

Today feels like my first "Official" day of being unemployed. Something about not making the 8AM status call. I also noted that for some reason it doesn't feel like I'm on vacation. Maybe it was because CK was busy getting ready for work herself?

In my usual style I've filled this first week out of work with projects and appointments. I am having lunch with people 3 days this week, taking my Mom to the doctor late tomorrow afternoon (amazed that she has a 5PM appointment), Portland Ignite on Wednesday night, a cohort meeting & zazen with my Zen community on Thursday. Tuesday is my official "good-bye" lunch with my team - some folks were on vacation last week and I was really too swamped to do it with trying to wrap things up.

Saturday I felt kind of extra burnt out from staying up late with a friend from our Sangha who is going to be relocating to New York indefinitely. We went and did another walk through at the venue for Open Source Bridge in June followed by lunch with a couple of the other organizers. We ended up napping in the late afternoon which felt very disorienting. In the evening we finally watched Amongst White Clouds, which was just stunning.

Sunday I think I'd finally rested enough to suddenly be hit with the reality of my unemployment. The anxiety I'd managed to push off with the huge task list finally manifest. Big waves of uncertainty and groundlessness. My Inner Critic, Lovey, wailing, "What have you done!"

What really struck me is just how much of my sense of self has been wrapped up in the job I held, in teaching yoga. Letting go of my regular class at Dishman was bad enough, but at least I still had my job to give the impression of stability, of knowing. I think I was really quite unaware of just how much I measured my self worth, my idea of who I am, by those titles and those paychecks.

Today starts a new chapter where I practice with letting go of more of the idea of "Self" as some construct of all the memories I have, titles I've held, places I've been. Another reminder that I am not my job, not my paycheck, not comprised of the entries on my resume. All of that stuff is mind chatter, part of the noise that separates us from the Essential Self, the No-Self Self.

And it is poetry challenge time in the Zen Community of Oregon. What is now becoming an annual tradition of writing 30 poems in 30 days. To start off, prime the pump as it were, a rather smallish poem:


Scent rising up from the kitchen.
Grain steaming. Roots roasting.
Cats sleeping peacefully.

The simple gifts of home.


Mudita Bhāvanā

Mudita, one of the four Brahmavihāras (divine abidings), one of the mind-states of an enlightened being. Mudita is the state of rejoicing in the happiness of others, the state of sympathetic joy. It can also been see as the recognition of an inner joy we always have access to which helps us to appreciate our lives.

Bhāvanā is Sanskrit for 'development', 'producing', or 'cultivation'.

Mudita Bhāvanā is the cultivation of the mind-states of joy and appreciation or gratitude.

I recently invited a group of people, not necessarily Buddhist practitioners or mediators, to join me in looking at a mindfulness exercise based on one Chozen Roshi sent out last year.

Part of her mindfulness task included the following: "We want to engage in Mudita practice as an investigation of what we can or are appreciating in this moment rather than as a way of suppressing or ignoring negative mind states. We want to broaden our awareness to consciously include and embrace what we appreciate and notice what effect that has. Do negative mind states drop away by themselves when we focus on what we appreciate? Does our habit or conditioning to notice and become obsessed with the negative change with Mudita practice?"

We would spend a week spent dedicated to the practice of Mudita Bhāvanā. At the end of the week each participant would write a little bit about their experience and share it with another participant in a letter. In the end, nine people participated. Right away people commented on how just anticipating the dates to start the experiment brought mindfulness to their daily life. I was thrilled to receive this feedback and have made it part of my own practice. It has been an opportunity for me to gratefully receive positive feedback and fully, truly enjoy the excitement of others.

I've been making a practice around appreciation for all of Ango. I continue to note something I appreciated about my day each night before bed. On the nights I forgot, I merely note it and write something in the morning. I stay mindful of my vow to be gentle with myself and do not let my Inner Critic beat me up too much about not doing this task exactly when I "should have".

This past week of really staying mindful to gratitude and sympathetic joy has been far more challenging than I expected. On the 5th I was given the opportunity to take a severance package at my job of 7.5 years. I wasn't actually on the list to be laid off, however, if I volunteered it would mean upper management wouldn't look at having to lay off someone with only a few years left to retirement with pension intact.

The truth is, I am grateful for my job. I appreciate the illusion of security and comfort it provides me. Some of the people I work with, particularly my boss, have become real friends over the years I've known them. However, most of the time my job has been unsatisfying, frustrating, and stagnant. Upper management has denied me a promotion for a few years now. Bearing all that in mind I said I'd volunteer to be laid off. My boss and I discussed early May as a potential target for me to leave and I was very appreciative of this time to wrap up loose ends.

Tuesday morning I was told that my volunteer offer had been accepted. However, despite my careful planning, the separation date would need to be the end of this month. I would have less than two weeks to wrap up the most demanding of the loose ends. I also am forbidden from sharing the news with my teammates until Monday; they will get 5 days warning.

I've spent the past two days in "triage mode" trying to determine what is critical to be changed starting Monday, once the people who will assume my responsibilities are informed. This morning I had to lie during a team call as to why I couldn't pick up a new project. It felt awful.

In that moment, on the verge of tears and feeling nauseated, what could I feel grateful for? Could I turn toward the positive things about that moment instead of feeling crushed by the negative mind-states rapidly manifesting? Having been focused on this practice I found that a long list came to mind very quickly.

  • I felt grateful that I was working at home and not having to be face-to-face with people.
  • I was appreciative of the sun breaking up the clouds and beginning to brighten my home office.
  • At hearing nervous discussion about job cuts happening in my department I felt grateful knowing that having volunteered to go it meant some of those nervous people would keep their jobs for the time being.
  • I deeply appreciated the encouraging words from CK via instant message.
  • I was/am profoundly grateful to have a partner who is glad I'm being laid off and reassures me that she's got my back.
  • I'm so grateful that she doesn't mind reassuring me a lot these past few days.
  • I was appreciative of the cup of very good tea I was drinking.
  • I was happy to be at home where I could go out to the garden or enjoy the company of the cats.

After directing my thoughts toward all the positives in the present moment I did feel better. The tears subsided as did the tightness in my throat and chest. I was able to focus and come back fully into the present moment, including the challenging team meeting.

In the past week I have found that each time I mindfully direct my thoughts towards sympathetic joy and gratitude there is a noticeable sensation of feeling lighter. Whereas my anxiety manifests itself in a tight, crushing sensation, Mudita feels as though weight has been removed. I feel anxiety as a terrible weight, a tearing at my heart center, but when I mindfully cultivate joy and gratitude, I feel my heart pulse with life and open to the present moment.

I have found it interesting to compare the practice I do with Metta, Loving-Kindness (another of the Brahmavihāras), and Mudita. When I practice Metta for myself I feel comforted, protected. I don't feel an openness in my heart until I turn my Metta practice toward others. It is almost as if my self-directed Metta is more about nurturing my hurt than about becoming more open. Mudita is entirely different in that I feel that opening in my heart when I practice for myself.

I've really found it useful to first do Metta practice for myself, comforting the hurt my heart/mind feels, and then cultivating Mudita from that safe, nurtured space. Using the two practices together this way has felt very powerful. Although it isn't easy yet, I have found that the more I practice Metta and/or Mudita, the faster my mind shifts. Even if this shift is small and I am not entirely lifted out of the negative mind-state I've found myself in, these practices still create space, light, and ease.


Work Stress/Changes

In March 2002 I was laid off from a company and it took until July 2002 for a company I was a vendor for to clear the red tape and hire me. Pure nepotism, I lucked out and a client offered me a job.

The company I've been working for has been shrinking. There's been layoffs, encouraged retirements and other outright reductions for employees. Since February 2002 I've not been around an environment that doesn't have some kind of downsizing going on. My manager and the director of our team have been trying to get me a promotion, even just in title alone, to recognize the work I've been doing for 4 years. Nothing.

It has been utterly exhausting to be working in this kind of environment. On top of that - a lot of the work I've been doing has become increasingly frustrating, increasingly tiring, and pretty demoralizing. I've been feeling increasingly down about myself and my abilities at work for months now.

And then we get the announcement that our overall department is being dismantled. It is baffling in some ways since we have one of the most highly engaged, award-winning, and revenue-generating teams. Why take us apart!? Our executive retiring. The director of my team retiring. A manager for a team I worked with is leaving. I'm fearful my manager might end up being downsized. There has even been talk of moving my team into IT - where we'd probably end up being downsized from in the first few months of 2010.

I've polished up my resume over the last week or so and have started to look around town at postings. I feel really anxious about it, about even considering leaving all the comforts I have of working from home, liking the people I work with, having lots of flexible time to go to appointments and volunteer. It has reached the point where all those financially intangible things that have made the rest of the stuff bearable aren't helping as much anymore.

In all my disaster planning I'm also trying to hold onto the idea that it might go really well. I might get to stop doing all the programming and systems work to just focus on the stuff I'm both good at and enjoy - writing things like requirements, documentation and test cases. Yeah, maybe I'd still be fighting that uphill battle for the promotion, but the work would at least be more satisfying, less frustrating, than it is now and those intangibles would mean something again.

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