I attended a talk the other day, given by a hospital Chaplain who spoke about weaving the threads of body and spirit together. This, he said, is the role of the Chaplain. It struck me that when we do this we are joining together what “man tore asunder.” Descartes, Spinoza, and all those heavy hitters of mind-body dualities are well beyond my capacity to weave together in this thread of thought but it is giving me a hint of the challenges about to face me in writing the next section of my thesis.
As I plod through the sections on burnout and spiritual well being, I feel very much like that spider in the picture. Strands of knotted thoughts secrete out the tips of my fingers sometimes gluing them to the computer keyboard as I frantically try to keep the unrelenting winds of work and other demands from tearing it all apart. Practice is helping. Just this one word, just this one sentence. It helps too that the old habits of academic writing are still lurking around the edges of my awareness. One day, one hour, one word, one moment – and slowly I’ve come to the end of the dreaded, mind-parching “literature review.”
However, I’ve actually learned some things, acquired some insights to the nature of burnout and the corrosive action of being in organizations that cannot live their mission statements or manifest their values. That, it turns out, is the realization that precipitates the exhaustion and cynicism we associate with burnout. Interesting, isn’t it? An incongruence in values that leads to a physical depletion and the arising of the judgmental mind. And yet, for so long we’ve focused on the physical nature of “work-related” depletion, missing the crucial role of the heart/mind which says, “This, this is not right.”
Is this what faced Siddhartha? Raised in a life sheltered from the reality of poverty, illness, and death, a royal corporation that enjoyed an ease not available to those outside the palace walls, how did he meet the incongruence between his unquestioned values and what he witnessed on that fateful ride outside? Was his disillusion and release from the trance of privilege a manifestation of this clash of values? Did he Occupy Kapilavastu? Methinks he did – and more!
The mythology of his intense emotional reaction after seeing illness, aging, and death suggests he felt the weariness of unrelenting hedonism and the cynicism of the worth of the path he tread. I think he felt the rift in a place beyond the simple mind/body fracture point but it would be years before he would experience it. It was only after determined rejection of the body which brought him to the brink of death that he wove together the threads of body and spirit, heart and mind. It would take years and many teachers before he would know deep in his being that the most dangerous gap is between his wisdom and his choices.
If the Buddha’s life is an exemplar of ours, there are questions raised from his direct experience of incongruence that are worth asking. Is this where you are – this place where the threads have been torn from your fingers, spun but not anchored? Is this where you see most vividly the vastness of the canyon between what you believe in and what you are living? Is this where you can feel the futility of continuing to feed the delusion that your victimhood is your privilege?