Just recently, the CIPR annual State of the Profession report put stress as a major issue. It regularly comes in the top two of most stressful jobs in the UK. Journalist is the most stressed. But what can we do? We asked a Buddhist book publisher for some thoughts and advice. It makes for fascinating reading.
1. How did the Buddha communicate?
The Buddha was a master communicator. He gave talks to masses of people as well as individuals over a period of forty-five years. His words, delivered approximately 2,550 years ago, were remembered and recorded, and have become what we today call ‘Buddhism’.
It is not about how successful the Buddha was at transmitting his message, however, that is the issue here; it is the message itself which we might find useful in our lives and in our work.
There is much being made these days of mindfulness; it has become a sort of movement in the western world as a technique for reducing stress and finding a degree of peace and calm. It is a technique that has been lifted directly from Buddhism. The Buddha, however, gave mindfulness as a method for becoming aware of the present moment and, leaving aside all thoughts of past and future, focussing on this moment so that the mind becomes clear and one begins to realise what one is, why one suffers, and how one can find liberation from the suffering that one brings upon oneself.
2. Buddhism is a way of life.
To describe Buddhism as a way of life is a fair description, but how can it relate to the work we do today in our modern world?
As a communicator, for example, most of our working day could well be taken up with the latest technologies, servicing blogs, websites, twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Instagrams, the obligatory Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, and social networks we joined some time ago as ‘name-grabs’ which we have probably forgotten by now. Our work can be fascinating, exciting, exhilarating, frenetic, time-consuming, and if we are not careful debilitating.
Telling our story, building relationships and growing our audiences has never before been so easy for ‘comms people’. The web has made it possible for anyone to be a global player, and the competition is fierce.
Unless we are very skilful, however, our exciting lives can turn into a nightmare, a confusion of ideas, a burden to be faced day in and day out.
3. Maybe we ask ourselves what we really want in life.
From a Buddhist point of view, some work might lead to material success, but also the downfall of our self-esteem, and that is a high price to pay for worldly success. Probably most jobs don’t come into the category of what Buddhism terms ‘wrong livelihood’ (dealing in arms, slaughtering animals, deception, theft, and generally harming others) but some do. On reflection we will realise that if we feel uneasy about our work, we will feel uneasy about ourselves. It is worth contemplating how we feel about what we do, and how our actions react upon us and affect us.
As communicators our aim is probably to influence people’s thinking and behaviour for good or bad, but if we find that what we do makes us feel bad about ourselves, then maybe it’s time we did something else!
As the management guru, Stephen Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, ‘A manager must manage his or her own person.’
4. Fear and worry
We cannot be content with life if we are constantly worrying about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. Being aware of this very moment is the only time we will find ease and a sense of wellbeing. The way to do this is to put all our effort into what we are doing right now. If we focus totally on the job in hand rather than the next one, there will be a sense of lightness and freedom. Then what we do will be done well, and we will feel good about it. The way to get the best out of the work we do, therefore, is to find joy in what we are doing. Any job can be done in this way. We can use social media and live busy lives without forfeiting our freedom of mind or destroying our inner peace by acts of deception that make us feel small. We can work well and enjoy our work if we centre exclusively upon exactly and precisely what we are doing, whatever it is. When the mind is focused on what is in front of us, there is no boredom, no anxiety, no hurry.
5. The mind composed
Realise there will always be things in this world that we don’t like. The point is to stop objecting to them; it’s a habit we can do without. When we hate something or someone, the hatred is in ourselves. We’re carrying it around with us like a poison. Life is happier if we just leave those states of mind behind. Just drop them and live what is there to be lived ‘in the moment’. Being here and now, living here and now. These are like Buddhist mantras. More and more our society is encouraging people to object more and more, complain more and more, point the finger to others’ faults more and more. What a burden all that fault-finding is in one’s own life. Much better to let all that go. That’s the way to remain composed and transcend the troublesome mental states. Anyone can do it!
Look inwards and become aware of the here and now ― the body, the breath, the mental states, the moods ― without trying to control or judge or do anything about them. Just allow everything to be what it is.
You can start right now with these first steps into Buddhist meditation.