Apparently, burnout is the disease (dis ease) of our age, and it’s a verifiable affliction. I don’t know about you, but for me, there are days that I find difficult to get through. Everything is a schlep, difficult and dull. There are days when I want to boomerang my mobile off the wall and blow it all up. The lot. Sometimes I feel as if I have burnout.
My adrenal glands are pumping goodness knows what into my system (ok, smart ass … I know it’s adrenaline), and it makes me feel quite ill. These are the days that I wish someone would take this burden off me. These are the days that the Snub Nose 38’s siren song beckons to me, bringing me the promise of peace.
Burnout in context
Luckily I listened to this discourse below, and it gave me enough insight to stave off burnout. My spiritual preceptor, Shaykh Ebrahim Schuitema gave a discourse that put my questions about burnout into context. It was most helpful for me. It may be helpful to you.
Why is it that some people can work very hard for extended periods of time? I mean really hard. Be sleep-deprived. Work as exhausting hours as another person, and yet they don’t get burnt out. Why do some people get burnt out, and other people don’t? It occurs to me that this really has something to do with not with the work itself, but with what goes on inside one.
Burnout is an intent problem
The root of the problem comes from the whole idea of resources. We are so used to thinking about the world in terms of resources. We even think of people as resources, hence a human resources department. The word resource has dominated our economic thinking. It stands to reason that a resource gets consumed.
We have conditional motives, and we consume something to get something. Examine the structure of any conditional motive. We do something to get something. I am a resource, and the degree to which I treat myself as a resource to get an outcome is the degree to which I will deplete myself and eventually burn myself out. I literally consume myself.
Now, this becomes really obvious when you think about basic things. How is it that one day you can find exactly the same activity completely exhausting, and on another day you find it nourishing?
Lug your carcass up the mountain
Like walking up a mountain, for instance. Sometimes the walk is unmitigated hell. You’re just suffering walking up the mountain, and you are having to lug your carcass in order to get to the top of the mountain. And when you’re walking like that – in order to get to the top of the mountain. If there’s a rock, you’re going to fall over it. If there’s a bush we’re going to walk through it, you’re going to get yourself injured and bruised. Why? Because all your attention is on the top of the mountain, and you’re trying to get over the hurdle of what’s in front of you to get there.
If you’re doing something in order to get there, you’re basically being discourteous to the immediate. It’s a discourtesy to what’s in front of you because you push your way through it. Of course, there’s another way to walk up the mountain. And, that is actually to walk in order to enjoy the walk. And that means that your motive has inverted.
“I’m not walking to get to the top of the mountain, the top of the mountain is my means to have a good walk.”There’s a shift in my attention from what I’m trying to get to what I’m doing. In a sense, I’m giving into the moment that I’m in.
The beauty in the journey
We’ve all had this. Why is it that sometimes you suffer on a journey, and exactly the same journey, and another time, you find it a pleasure? You suffer the journey when you’re in a hurry to get to the destination. Then the journey becomes a thing of affliction and misery that you have to suffer through to get to the outcome that you want. You could enjoy the journey, give attention to the things that are passing you, and so on. And then, strangely, you get to the outcome faster.
And, you’re not exhausted yourself in the process of getting there. So, this thing is about doing things to get somewhere else, giving in order to get (conditional motive). That’s the thing that exhausts you. It is not the journey. It’s not the action. It is not what sits in the outer world. It’s what sits inside of your inner space. It is the structure of your intent that depletes you. Anything that you do from the point of view of doing it in order to achieve something else and to get somewhere else will exhaust you.
Studying is an excellent example. Some people are good students because they love studying. Those people are nourished by study. Other people suffer from studying in order to get through the exam. That studying exhausts depletes and makes them hostile to the experience of studying. So, if you think about it, the life of the student is studying, and there’s the outcome of the examination and the degree.
If you’re using the outcome, the examination, as an opportunity to really focus your studying so that you can study well, then studying becomes pleasurable. But if studying is the thing that you have to suffer to get the degree, then you destroy yourself in the process. You deplete yourself in the process, and it’s not inconceivable for a student to get burnout.
Do you have to comply?
This single insight is such a deep indictment of how many parents deal with the whole issue of their children. “You must get a degree. You must sell your life to the slavers so that you can become useful to the system.” And then we’re surprised that we produce people, who, in their 40s start to have midlife crises, mess around, and leave their spouses. We start having extreme stress problems because we manufacture those people with these insane demands of having to comply. You have to understand that the problem of this disease of consuming yourself is not just doing things for selfish ends.
So if I reflect back on a period that I spent on a mine that I found very depleting. Why is this? Well, there were a host of issues. I had the naive belief that I could actually be useful to the client. So there was an outcome for the mine that I had in mind. I was also there, truth be told, because I had real financial responsibilities, so I had to earn money. I don’t think I would have taken nearly the amount of nonsense I got from that client if there wasn’t anxiety about money. Another reason I was there was that I was concerned about the rest of the team that I was leading on that client’s side.
Flip the switch
So most of those reasons weren’t actually selfish. They were quite benign. But I was going to the mine in order to achieve an outcome. I wasn’t going to the mine to enjoy the work. Now I’m not saying that one shouldn’t achieve an outcome. We’re not on this path for absolute hedonism. The trick is to do the work to do it well. It’s an onerous burden if you think, “I’ve got to get through in order to earn my keep here.” You could also say, “Well, how can I turn this into a pleasurable experience?”
Anything done in the spirit of doing it in order to do it well is a pleasurable experience. Don’t just do things to get through getting them done, this will definitely consume you and exhaust you. Rather ritualize your life. Everything has its courtesy. In other words, you do the thing to do it well, to be eloquent. Don’t do things just to get them done. When you do that, you consume yourself in the process.
You’re the Job.
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