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Love and Positivity versus Shame and Guilt: Applying Mindfulness to Work August 26, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
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Over the past several months I’ve been making an increased effort to apply the practice to different areas of my daily life, or as many aspects as I possibly can. One area that I have found especially challenging and fruitful at the same time has been my work, both paid and unpaid (school).

I have made a vow to myself to motivate myself to work only (or as much as I can) with love and positivity. I guess the vow was due to seeing just how much suffering I cause myself by using shame, guilt, and fear as motivation to complete my work. This suffering has manifested in multiple forms, including but not limited to stress, physical pain, exhaustion, and aversion.

To give a bit more detail, before, I would make an effort to complete a school assignment (such as a lovely major term paper/ essay) by framing it in my mind in the form of a negative, that is, what I would lose if I didn’t complete it. “If I don’t finish this essay on time…I won’t get a good course mark (fear).” “…I will be a bad student (shame).” “…I will regret it later (guilt).”

On the other hand, a type of motivation that I am just learning to use more would be out of love and positivity. I am completing a task because I am taking good care of myself, or because I enjoy doing it, or because I have an inherent motivation to direct my mental/ physical energy toward something and I choose this object as a target. In other words, I am gaining something positive by doing it, whether it be the satisfaction of completing a task I set my mind to, the inherent enjoyment of the work, or a paycheck that puts food on my breakfast table.

I spent a lot of time (i.e., years) practicing the negative forms of motivation of shame, guilt, and fear, so its no surprise that they are taking quite a bit of effort to overcome. They have become quite heavily engrained habit energies.

I completed most of an undergraduate degree motivating myself through fear and anxiety. I actually went through a period of time once I completed my degree where I had quite a bit of ambivalence about my accomplishment. I felt that I didn’t really deserve to have a bachelor’s degree, that piece of paper that set me in a different category from my parents and many people in my family and a large proportion of the population. I felt that I didn’t deserve it because I could look back over the course of four years and see quite clearly just how much negative emotions and mental states were used to achieve that accomplishment. And as a result, I was still living in those states of impatience, anxiety, and shame that were still causing so much suffering in so many other areas of my life.

I think meditation has a big part to play in my determination to be more positive in motivating myself to work. Meditation is the cultivation of awareness, so I have become more aware of just how much negativity can surround my work. This awareness doesn’t just take place in the moment, but builds and increases and accumulates over time. I get to the point where I just get so absolutely tired of seeing how my regular behaviour can directly cause my own suffering that I veer myself in the other direction. (I’m not sure if the veering is always a conscious phenomenon.)

Sometimes that other direction can be just as painful, because its new and uncertain and scary: I don’t know if this whole lovey-dovey, positivity stuff will work. Negativity seems to be all that I have ever known as far as I can tell, and its seems like a big mistake to throw something out if it has been working.

But again, when these types of motivations are so heavily engrained and become such strong habit energy, I have to veer myself in the other direction again and again. Its a daily practice. I have to remind myself again and again why I am doing it. And that reminder often occurs in the midst of suffering, when I am filled with shame or guilt or regret, or physical pain and exhaustion, and I remember why I am trying to make changes.

I recently explained to someone who is very close to me my determination to be more positive and loving in my efforts to complete my work, in this case my job search process. The other person responded to me with, “Well, isn’t that just the way life is sometimes, is that we have to just suck it up and get something over with so that its done?”

And my response was no, not for me. Maybe for other people it can work from time to time, but as far as I am concerned I have to do a complete 180 degree turn. My default, automatic response is to use that “suck it up, get it over with—even though it hurts and is painful and will cause suffering down the road”. So I don’t need to think about using that strategy. Instead what takes more effort, and is better for my well-being, is the opposite, using a desire to love myself or to frame my situation in a positive light in order to accomplish something.

I think if I can’t successfully use that strategy, then maybe I just shouldn’t be doing whatever it is I am trying to do.



1. Brian - August 30, 2012

I like this, Andrea. Particularly the last line gives me some great food for thought… good stuff.

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