Thinking about the difficulty of genuinely transforming our outlook and responding to these challenging situations in new ways, I remarked, "I think these are all good practical suggestions, although of course, even if these things are true, these lines of reasoning may not act as a consolation to everybody."
"That's true," the Dalai Lama admitted, "but my main point is that if there is a possibility to change your work environment, then of course you have the right to make that attempt. But you also need to understand the fundamental cause of various problems.
"So, once again, this brings us to the reality that everything is interconnected. If there are certain problems in the workplace, or layoffs and one is having difficulty finding a job, there are always many factors at play. So, you experience dissatisfaction. You suffer. Maybe some worldwide economic conditions or even some environmental problems may be at the root of the problem. In those cases, it does no good to take things so personally and complain to the company, or perhaps direct your anger toward one individual boss. And your anger could even turn into hatred, but even if your hatred escalates uncontrolled, and even if eventually you killed that person, it would have no effect on the situation, it would do nothing to change the wider problems.
"This kind of thing occurs, for example, in the Tibetan community here in India. There may be some people who are upset with the Tibetan government in exile, always complaining. So, focusing on some day-to-day activities of the government, they are dissatisfied, but they tend to forget that the government in exile is exactly that-an exiled government. And from that angle, the fundamental cause of the problem is the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, which forced us into exile. That is the source of the problem. Once they focus on the real issue, it creates a sense of unity among us, which creates a sense of greater satisfaction instead of the divisions and conflicts caused when we lose sight of the wider issues and start bickering among ourselves.
"So, instead of just complaining and complaining, or directing your anger to a particular boss, in that type of situation, with your realization of the wider, more fundamental causes of the problem, it would be better if you redirected your thoughts. Think about the world, the global economy. Think about the environment. Look at the various forms of social injustice. Perhaps you could even make a small contribution to improve things in some way."
"Of course," I interjected, "there's often very little we can do to change these wider problems."
"That's true," the Dalai Lama conceded. "Your efforts may have little or no results, things may not change much. But at least instead of misplaced anger and frustration, you are transforming your mental energy, turning it in a more constructive direction. Your underlying motivation can change based on this wider perspective and it will build your enthusiasm to work, to make changes that will benefit society. Of course that takes time, but meantime if you can't change the work environment or the wider forces that contribute to the work environment, then you may need to change or adjust your outlook. Otherwise, you will remain unhappy at work and in your life."
Our meeting for the day was coming to a close, and thinking that he had finished, I began gathering up my notes, when he suddenly added a final comment about the harsh reality of life. Yet despite his unsentimental acknowledgment of life's difficulties, there was a certain fearlessness mingled with a gentle undertone of compassion in his voice.
"Now look. There will always be problems in life. It is just not possible to go through life without encountering problems. There is no event from which you get one hundred percent satisfaction, right? Some dissatisfaction will always remain. The better we are able to accept that fact, the better we will be able to cope with life's disappointments.
From The Art of Happiness at Work. Copyright The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Riverhead Books.
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