Two months ago, I turned in my resignation from a job that I loved and hated at the same time. I enjoyed my Christmas break and the down time I knew that I could justify, but when school started again a few weeks ago, I’d felt like the train left without me.
How is that possible? Frankly, the job – and not just this current job, but apparently the one before it, too – finally burned me out. I love education. I love the people, the challenges, finding solutions – but not the incessant, ongoing, never-a-break speed in which problems occur and seemingly never are solved.
If you talk to a Monk, he’d probably say that I burnt myself out. I’ve known for a while that these feelings were coming on. Most notably, the frustration and the fatigue were telling symptoms, but something else crept in about two years ago. I was avoiding people, bowing out of volunteer work and time with friends, and in my private time vegging out with too much TV (In my case, too much news which made the situation worse.) and perhaps, too much sleep. Anything to avoid connectedness.
I’m known to escape into mud whether it be on a potter’s wheel or in a garden. There’s something elementally soothing about those creative pursuits, but both of those hobbies began to be less enjoyable. And, my creative inspiration was dissipating quickly.
I’ve always been curious about meditation and knew from reading various things that it could help with my stress. Current research says that it can reduce inflammation in the body and reduce age-related disease. The Monk would have encouraged me to stick with it longer than the micro-second I gave it. I kept fighting the confabulation of thoughts in my head. Oh, isn’t that what meditation is supposed to help?
I didn’t give this meditation much of a chance, and that’s why I think the Monk would regard this as my failure, not the job.
Oh, there’s no doubt the job will take you under. Teachers, Administrators (of any organization), Social Workers, Health Care Providers, First Responders/Law Enforcement/Fire Protection Employees – all these and more experience such great distress in their jobs. They care about the needs of others. And that’s it. The beginning of the slippery slope. Those that genuinely care about others enough to make it their career choice are especially prone to what researchers are now calling “empathy fatigue”.
I have a career coach. In our most recent meeting, she mentioned that “mindfulness” meditation is something that I should play with in my transition time between jobs. I am facing a forced sort of resting period due to surgery on my right shoulder – read that dominant side. I am prepared to view this as a blessing in disguise as it provides this force down time with which to turn my attention to more cerebral efforts. So Coach M suggested that since I believed that meditation was was a critical lack in my life, I would spend my two months of rehab experimenting with meditation.
A family member shared with me an article written recently in the November issue of Scientific American about the neuroscience of meditation. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied three kinds of meditation. I noted that one of them – mindfulness – has been adopted in education. The one that caught my attention is practiced by Buddhist Monks and is called “compassion and loving kindness”. It is this kind of meditative attempt that produced the healing necessary to overcome empathy fatigue. In their studies, “preliminary results showed that after a week of meditation-based loving kindness and compassion, novice subjects watched video clips showing suffering people with more positive and benevolent feelings.” Those that devoted a week that just cultivated empathy alone, experienced more negative feelings and experienced more distress.
It’s not enough to empathize. In fact, coming home to veg out in front of hours of news reporting about the world’s problems was making my empathy fatigue even worse! I kept agonizing over immediate issues then coming home and agonizing over the problems of those I didn’t even know. What a set up!
What’s a woman to do with the freedom of several months of unemployment/semi-retirement? I will be delving into the secrets of the Monks. And, oh yes. I think I’ll turn off the TV, or at least the news.