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stress at workRobert Thurman, a renowned Buddhist scholar once remarked "all this talk of practice, what about the main performance?".  Something important is being said here, and I've been thinking about it in the context of the working environment. A good friend was sharing with me at the weekend the challenges he has been facing at work. The last few months have seen extra demand placed upon him - both logistically and also emotionally. Expectations to deliver on unrealistic deadlines, starting work early and leaving late, sleepless nights - many of us know this pattern and the consequences on our quality of life and health. Even when we are not at work, the preoccupation of what needs to be done means mentally we are still behind our desk in the evenings and at weekends. “Its relentless” said my friend. Often, when we hear a friend’s story like this, we might have an internal response of “why don’t you just leave?” Yet, we want to enjoy a stimulating work. How do we find a balance - to find a job that engages and stretches us, but doesn’t stretch us so thinly that fear we might snap?

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group shadowIn last week’s post, I started setting the scene for my recent contemplations: whether a view that focuses on the basic goodness of humanity might get distorted and become the root of harm. Many Tibetan Buddhist lineages and schools hold fundamental the view that all beings are “basically good”; yet there is a seeming paradox. Only this week, news reports detailed how the Dalai Lama has met with survivors of Buddhist teacher abuse. How can this be?

Shambhala is one Buddhist organisation currently dealing with the news of sexual impropriety and abuses of power. I’m curious as to how this happens in a community that emphases Basic Goodness. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala, taught that if practitioners could see Basic Goodness in their experience, we could build an “enlightened society”. This is not a group of enlightened beings, but rather that the awake society - that like basic goodness already exists - just needs polishing up and brought out. Not only are we social animals, compassion is part of our birthright and we can live that out in community. This Enlightened Society has a name - Shambhala. You might know of it as “Shangri-La”, made famous by author James Hilton. From very early on in the Shambhala path, we practitioners are encouraged to think about how we can contribute to Enlightened Society: not as a fictional place that we are preparing to leave our lives for and inhabit one day, but rather how we make it manifest here, now. It is an inspiring vision. But even before events within Shambhala were reported back in June, I’ve often felt resistance around how Enlightened Society is presented. Let me back track a little….

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Emotional baggageStudy of the lojong slogans at a time when my Buddhist community is in a state of instability has me working with a interesting conundrum. On the one hand, these ‘post-it note’ type proverbs remind me of our basic nature, which according to the Buddhist view is one of an inherent goodness; the Shambhala lineage is rooted in these teachings yet it is alleged that the current leader has not demonstrated this inherent goodness. How can we understand this paradox, this contradiction? Perhaps psychotherapy can offer us an explanation - and so in skipping to the punchline of this two-part blogpost: perhaps an overt focus on goodness misses the need to address our shadow.

I wanted to start this week by preparing the ground for my thoughts: so a little theoretical background on how Buddhist and Western psychotherapeutic approaches view human nature. If we consider three basic ‘camps’ of thought: psychoanalytic (after Freud), humanistic (after Rogers) and Buddhist (after Buddha!) we might place them along a psychological health continuum.