A friend who heads a large company sounded rather listless the other day.
"Is your back acting up again?" I asked.
"Nope, just had my annual physical check-up and the doc says I'm in surprisingly good shape - for my age!"
Heh, test results may look good but when you don't feel good, what's the point?
"Too much stress?" I ventured.
Well, that is part of the problem. Pressures on the bottomline. Budget cuts, affecting quality of the product. Deadlines and more deadlines.
"But you what really gets my goat," he says."People constantly wanting me to listen to them, solve their problems."
And no, these are not 'work' issues. As if there weren't enough inter-personal conflicts in the office which the boss has to 'settle' at some point, now there is one more plate on the grievance table.
The plate of personal pareshaanis.
Someone going through a messy divorce? Don't be surprised if he comes into your cabin one morning, and sobs his heart out.
"Not that I don't feel sympathy but it's so draining, emotionally," says my friend. "On top of all my other responsibilities, now I also have to be a counsellor?"
I guess my friend is not a kadak, systems-driver, Hitler-minus-the-moustache kind of boss. Poor guy's affable and approachable nature makes him a sitting duck for woebegone walk-ins.
"What can I do - turn the chap away? The office is his only support system!"
Which is really speaking, hitting the nail on the head.
Once upon a time, men came to office, did the work they had to, and went home at 6 o clock in the evening. There, a hot meal and unconditional acceptance (if not necessarily 'love') could always be counted on.
You worked for money and got emotional support at home. But hey, that was then.
Today, there is no guarantee of that hot meal or unconditional anything, coz women are working, or following the daily soaps.
Besides, you don't work just for money. You work for your life to be thrilling, meaningful, and full of tangible achievements. You must be recognised, praised, rewarded, respected, even loved for this act of showing up and doing your work.
When life at home is shitty, you take refuge in your office. Sometimes, that works. You live in a fantasy world where this is your family, and so you cross that lakshmanrekha - and share your secret world.
But let's say life at office is equally shitty. And you don't have a boss or colleagues for emotional support. You escape from home to be trapped in office. You escape from office, only to enter the torture chamber you call 'home'.
There are millions of people out there in this horrible situation. And they simply don't know how to get off this Misery Merry Go Round.
If you're lucky, you have a bipolar mind where no matter what pins and needles are stuck in your heart, your mind continues to function and you are able to 'deliver' at work.
If you can't, well then, at some point your job will be in danger. And then, things will only get worse.
Yes, it's all very depressing but the worst of it is, it's like second hand smoke. An 'innocent bystander' can also get depressed, when he or she becomes exposed to your toxic emotions, constantly.
Your problem thus becomes everyone's problem. The world itself becomes sooty, coughy and grey.
I don't have the 'solution'. But I think a little more emphasis on self management and self-healing programs is the need of the hour.
We attend tons of programs to learn new skills, to network with the industry, to be better professionals. But if we can't manage our own mind and emotions, all this comes to nought.
It's time HR department opened its mind to programs which acknowledge the 'human' aspect of people. It will involve some existential mumbo-jumbo, and a lot of ha ha hee hee. But ultimately, you realise life is meant to be as easy and effortless as breathing.
And that everything boils down to what you think.
And that what you think, comes from how you feel.
Feel good, and everything around you starts shifting.
But how. How do you make this happen?
We need emotional gymnasiums. I'm serious and this isn't a concept I've invented but something I read in a book.
"Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them?" is a very interesting - although not easy to read - four hundred pages. It's the outcome of a 'scientific dialogue' between the Dalai Lama and a group of Western psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists.
Can we move from being tossed around by on a sea emotions, to become captains of our own mental ships? Can we ever gain mastery over our thoughts?
The Buddhists believe it is possible and they train themselves in a gymnasium - popularly known as the monastery. But you don't have to become a monk, to start walking down this path.
"When we speak of meditation, the word used in Tibetan really means familiarisation. We need to familiarise ourselves with a new way of dealing with the arising of thoughts. At the beginning when a thought of anger, desire of jealousy arises, we are not prepared for it. So within seconds that thought has given rise to a second thought and a third thought..."
Until one spark has set the whole forest on fire.
"The basic way to intervene has been called 'staring back' at a thought. When a thought arises, we need to watch it and look back at its source... The point is not to try to block the thought - that is not possible anyway but to not let them invade your mind."
Of course it's not at all easy. Because our minds are like a sheet of paper that has been rolled up for years. You try to flatten it, but the moment you release your attention, it curls back up.
But it can be done. It must be done. We may be PhDs but a majority of us are in kindergarten as far as emotional skills are concerned.
With a lot of awareness and effort over the last few years I think that I have graduated to class one. I can only imagine how amazing life will be when finally - hopefully, in this lifetime - I reach a far higher level.
To be able to say, "Shoo, angry thought - go away!" Without effort, without judgement.
That is freedom in its ultimate sense.
To live your life in a featherweight state.
With love, compassion and joy in your heart.