The Six Paramitas of Professional Life

Continuing my journey through the work of Pema Chodron, I started reading about the 6 paramitas of life and was thinking about how we could apply them to grow in our professional life. After all, most of us spend the better part of our days at work and isn’t it only fit that we use the interactions we have there to explore, evolve and change for the better?

Pema talks about these paramitas as tools in our travelling from the shore of anger, anxiety, fear, irritation to a shore of acceptance, living in the moment, embracing what is. Tools to support us “lean into the suck”as Sheryl Sandberg invited us to do not long ago. Whether “the suck” is anger, pain (physical or otherwise), lack or an overdose of ego, the paramitas are meant to help us cultivate a curiosity that grows us, a curiosity which is meant to replace the avoidance that instinctively occurs when we encounter discomfort. “It is the journey, not the destination” explains Pema, it is not the getting to the other shore that counts, it is the way you take the trip. And I would add that it is precisely the moment to moment realisation of the journey that is the shore of salvation – “paying attention with tenderness and intelligence to the enlightenment which is right under your feet.”

The six paramitas that Pema talks about are: generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation and wisdom. And it is probably easier to imagine how these tools can be used in day to day life, with our family or friends. How can we use these tools to evolve in our professional life?

GENEROSITY – “the basic idea of generosity is to train in thinking bigger, to do ourselves the world’s biggest favour and stop cultivating our own scheme.” This invites to letting go of our side as the only side, of our opinion as the know it all, invites positive presumptions about our interlocutors. Especially in times of conflict, presuming positive intentions and letting go of our side of things is generous and such a powerful exercise. Due to the loud mouth of the ego that lives in all of us, presuming that the person in front of you, arguing with you or not giving you exactly what you are asking for, may be right, that they are coming from a good place does not come naturally to us. It is actually quite hard to do and it is easier to start by just wondering, in the midst of the argument – what if the person in front of me actually means well and has a point, what would this look like if they did? This “simple” wondering is such a reality call from the ventures of our ego.

DISCIPLINE – “what we discipline is not our ‘badness’or our ‘wrongness.’ What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality.” This is important in any endeavour. Routine, discipline, a scheduling within your work day, notebooks that will hold your ideas in an organised manner help each of us concentrate – these are all good and helpful, and one way of looking at discipline. What Pema brings before us and could be very useful in our professional life (regardless of what we do) is the discipline of coming back to the present. Our minds – the monkeys in our lives – wonder constantly to the past and future and several times we are in fact arguing with some imagined situation rather than with the person in front of us. The discipline of always coming back to the present, regardless of how many times a day, an hour, a minute we have to remind ourselves to do it, will help place our feet firmly on the ground – essential for any interaction.

PATIENCE – “it is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet in our path.” And may I say, the simple reading of this pissed me off in a way that I can’t explain. There is a joke about Aries, my star sign, that in prayer they go like this: God, please give me patience. NOW!! And nothing could be closer to the truth. I find patience to be the hardest of all. Some exercises I use whenever I can (keywords) is taking a few breaths before I chew someone’s head off, waiting at least 24 hours to send a loaded email, or have a difficult conversation with a co-worker, writing things down and role playing with a friend to hear myself talk. Enlightening …

EXERTION – “How do we connect with inspiration? How do we connect with the spark and joy that’s available in every moment? Exertion is not like pushing ourselves. It’s not a project to complete or a race we have to win. It’s like waking up on a cold, snowy day in a mountain cabin, ready to go for a walk but knowing that you first have to get out of bed and make a fire. You’d rather stay in your cosy bed, but you jump out and make the fire because the brightness of the day in front of you is bigger than staying in bed.” One of the greatest dangers in our growing is getting too comfortable in a place / situation. So comfortable that we ignore the new sunshine, on a brand new beautiful day,

MEDITATION – “not filling the space, allowing for the possibility of connecting with unconditional openness – this provides the basis for real change.” You have got to be joking, meditation? At work? When we barely have time to go to the bathroom? Yes, indeed, it seems daunting if you think of it this way. But you can start with that one second you close your eyes to relax them from too much screen. Try for just one or three or 20 seconds to just … be. Whatever that means for you in that moment. I used to think I had to get really ohmmmm – y for meditation to actually take place. But the truth is meditation is simply being. Try it and you will see what a powerful notion this is.

WISDOM (Prajna) – “Prajna makes us homeless; we have no place to dwell on anything. Because of this, we can finally relax. No more fighting. No more biting. No more taking sides.” There is a saying in Romania, “God, give a man the thinking of his last days.” – actually wishing for the wisdom of our old days when we realise that nothing, but nothing at all is actually worth clinging to, fighting over and breaking bridges for. That the ego is in fact our great hustler and life happens only in the moment, now, in the present breath and that it is in fact quite fascinating.

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