These last few days I have been growing impatient by the ignorance of the people in this world. Plato already said that ignorance is the root of all evil. Almost any influential way of thinking and almost every religion warns of the dangers of an ignorant mind and yet we seem to accept ignorance as a way of life these days. One moment we are appalled by terrorist attacks in Paris, we change our Facebook avatar to the French flag and continue our daily lives again without thinking about the causes of the attacks, without trying to understand what is truely happening in the world. People go out to hold vigils carrying signs saying ‘no fear’, but at the sound of a faint ‘pop’ break into total panic. We cling onto our self-constructed ideas of feigned solidatity and political correctness. Meanwhile in our stressy lives we are preoccupied with our work, our studies, finance, fashion. We live in a world where we let the media and politics think for us, since we don’t want to think ourselves anymore, our lives are busy enough as they are and we simply don’t have time to think about what really matters in our lives.
It’s eat, sleep, work, repeat. We cram some hobbies in between to create an illusionary atmosphere of relaxation and we spend the little free time we have by hastily trying to spend time with those we truly care about, being forced to spend the rest of the week with colleagues, earning money to pay for our hobbies and our houses. It’s all a big endless cycle. We race through life, chasing advancements and promotions and we often wonder how time flies. We slipstream in the wake of our competition and overtake our own emotions. We race, on and on toward the finish-line, but if life is a race then it’s finish-line, its ultimate goal can only be death. And isn’t death the ultimate fear, the ultimate opposite of the lives we seem so eager to sustain by working and earning wealth?
It is time to slow down your life and to practice some mindfulness. Making mindfulness part of everyday life is an essential part of Buddhism. Being aware of yourself, your mind and the world around you in which nothing can exist independently from all other things and without your mind recognising that you are awake.
Let me tell you a part of my story so you can understand how my vision of life drastically changed:
Seven years ago my mother fell into a twisted mental state. She was eventually diagnosed with a deep depression and a severe bipolar disorder. Not much later my father was diagnosed with cancer. It took us two long years of extreme physical and mental suffering, hardships, suicide attempts, visiting doctors and hospitals and therapists, fights, physical and mental beatings and the constant fear of losing both my parents, one to a physival illness and one to a mental one, before the situation stabilised a bit. While being treated for a light post-traumatic disorder I had to finish my studies, take care of my parents and worry about finding a job. At this moment in life (and it is way worse than my short description here) I decided that money didn’t bring happiness, but I still raced on and on, unaware that I was developing another disorder in my head: BPD. It took four more years of punishment untill I realised that I was a captive of my own demons, my self-sustained ignorance and my hopeless attachment to an idealist dream of what life should look like. I didn’t see the truth.
In 2014 I completely broke down after clinging onto an unhealthy job (for me personally) and a relationship which was already failing before it actually took off. I came to realise that I spent 40 hours a week with people that didn’t matter to me, doing work that didn’t bring anything useful to the world or to myself.
I have studied archaeology at university for 6.5 years, most of them suffering from mental problems. Still I used my studies as a whetstone to sharpen my mind, gaining knowledge of all kinds of research, literature, art-history, religion, history, psychology, philosophy and anthropology. I dared to follow my dreams and passions and in 2012 I earned my master’s degree and I went looking for a fitting job. I felt like doing something useful in this chaotic world, so I decided to join the police force or the fire department, but I was turned down due to poor and uncurable eyesight, although I had been physically and mentally preparing myself for this kind of work for years as well.
I was completely open-minded, believing that things would find their way as they had always done, but after hundreds (literally) of applications I ended up in a callcenter, trying to trick people into buying expensive mobile phone subscriptions. This didn’t help to boost my self esteem, further feeding a failure-complex I had aleady developed in my mind. I did miserable work, was poorly paid and I suffered day after day until my doctor told me to quit after I felt worse and worse. I went on by doing some part-time work in archaeology, also being poorly paid with no actual outlook on a real job in that particular sector. I went on cleaning vacation houses in a bungalow park for minimum wages. It was poorly paid and extremely dissatisfying and filthy work, but I met some inspiring people in the process. One of them was a devoted christian with whom I had extremely interesting discussions about God, religion and Buddhism. Later on in life I visited him at home and received an Orang Malu. Because of the job however, I was growing extremely unhappy with life. I worked in factories and in logistics, coming home dog-tired and mind numbed by the work I did. I spent 40 hours a week doing something that was somehow mentally wrecking me and I was lumbering on and on into a life that didn’t seem to be worth it. I had to stop working somehow and I applied for social welfare.
In early 2015 I was officially diagnosed with BPD which finally gave me some insights. A dear friend of mine (you can find her blog here) helped me to understand my BPD and I started psychotherapy as well. I now understood that there is a reason why I can’t do most kinds of work. I want to work, but I simply can’t do it yet. Those of you suffering from BPD or other mental afflictions will probably recognise my story. For me anyhow, a possible job has to apply to certain principles, otherwise it will simply worsen my mental affliction:
– My job has to suit me as a person, it has to apply to my personal and moral interests and standards. One of the steps on the Noble Eightfold path encompasses ‘the right means of livelihood.’ I need work that corresponds with this vision.
– Since I am intelligent (without trying to look up to people or look down upon them), my job has to be challenging as well, there has to be diversity and my mind hould be kept occupied.
– On the other hand, seemingly contradictory, I need stability and structure. I cannot work irregular shifts (only if the job really suits me, like the fireman’s existance) and a structured way of organisation and working must be present, including regular working days and times.
– I need this structure because I am good with planning and sructurising, yet too many deadlines and stress mah lead to my compulsive nature (aggressive attacks of anger out of powerlessnes) being triggered.
– I suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder so I cannot work with too many annoyed (or annoying) or angry customers. Yet I am very social, so I need frequent contact with intelligent colleagues and nice costumers as well.
– Whenever I get aggravated I have to be able to withdraw from any given situation completely in order to re-focus, that’s a hard criterium to combine with a paid job.
– I cannot work well in a environment full of stressing incitement, like a hall full of busy people or machines if I cannot apply some sort of control on that environment.
– Again, very conflicting, I cannt stand pressure and stress, but I need some sort of healthy stress, like the adrenalin rush a soldier experiences in combat or a policeman when surveying an area.
– I need a job that I literally choose because it enriches my life, it should be a contribution to my life, rather than a compulsory obligation.
With all these criteria, it should come as no surprise that I cannot find a suiting job. I’ve even lost the idea or notion of what I want to do for a living. I simply have no idea which job is suited for me or where I should start looking. Browsing for vacancies instantly brings stress, a feeling of failure and incompetency and the fear of setbacks, for which I am currently extremely vulnerable. I am currently trying to find out what kind of work suits me using a test, provided by a re-integration coach.
Since February I work as a volunteer at the animal shelter, driving around in the animal ambulance in order to help wounded and dying animals. It is an extremely rewarding job, altough it costs me money (to drive there) and doesn’t earn me a penny, while the socia, welfare instances keep cutting back on my welfare. Even though I lve this work, I cannot keep it up for more than 12 hours a week. When I get home after 6 hous of work I am utterly spent and I can not seem to understand why, other than blaming the BPD.
It is so tiring and frustrating to explain to people why I can’t work yet. The instances are currently trying to get me back to work again for a maximum of 20 hours. They believe me to be fit enough to work again, while I only seem to be thinking ‘who do they think they are for believing to know what I can and can’t do?! They think that because I look happy (a mask I put on while making myself stressed and small whenever I have to meet with official instances). Other people believe that I am hiding behind my BPD or that I even use it so I don’t have to work. They say things like: “Shouldn’t someone kick you in the butt and just put you back to work?”
That really infuriates me as they don’t even seem to be able to comprehend the slightest of what is happening inside my head. I never chose to be a borderliner and I sure as heck don ‘t wish anyone to have to experience it first-hand! But acknowledging that I suffer from BPD is part of the process, it makes me realise that there is a mental blockade in my head which prevents me from accessing the full extent of my mental capabilities. It has to do with acceptance, rather than submission. I fight against my own mind every day and I can only win this battle and this war if I know WHAT I am fighting.
Buddhism has provided me with insights and answers where others fail, lack or lag behind. I am perfectly capable of understanding buddhist theory and philosophy and I always to try and apply the teaching to my life. Due to my mental afflictions, emotions are still often stronger than the mind and the mist of dukkha, suffering, clouds my judgement and blocks my mind. Still, I try Vipassana meditation to gain insight into the processes in my mind, I have a psychologist to help me understand the mental formations I cannot grasp, dear friends who are often mirrors in which I behold my behaviour and the most wonderful and loving girlfriend I could wish for, who always supports and understands me, who inspires me and who reciprocally supports me on the path we walk through our lives.
But never forget that you can only observe the world through your own mind and your own perceptions. The world is what you make of it in your mind, anger only exists when you recognise it as anger. Sadness is only sadness as long as yoh recognise it and don’t act upon it. The first principle of the Dhammapada, one of the main works of teachings of the Buddha, states:
“Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief. They are all mind-wrought.”
Currently working does not work for me yet. I understand my mind at this point and I also know why work doesn’t work right now. I only need to acknowledge that at present. The past has gone by and is unchangeable. The future merely doesn’t exist. I can only train my mind here and now and seek to understand it, let my ignorance go and no longer fuel it with negativity and media-induced garbage.
Instead I use the compost of the garbage in my past to feed the flowers of happiness and compassion here in the present. I am grateful for all the things that truly matter in life like my girlfriend, my parents, my dog, my friends, the fact that I am free in my mind, free to be here writing this blog for all those who want to read it. Feel free to inspire me and others or share your thoughts and feelings on this matter of work. Maybe you can use the pain of your own past to inspire others!