to do list

The to-do list for this weekend was daunting.  Year-end accounting, reports dangling from two weeks ago, documents to upload to the clinic blog site, and announcements to send out about exciting new changes in the clinic.  Oh, and slides for the upcoming Chaplaincy thesis presentation and (drum roll) ordination!

Drawing all these strands together has given me a massive headache but it does remind me to practice gratitude for the privilege to have the resources to get all this done.  The to-do list is now a TA-DA list and I must say it is going to be interesting to squeeze 28 slides into a 20 minute presentation.  However, all this also reminded me to present the issues of Burnout and Spiritual Incongruence on this blog.  Perhaps it would be easiest to start with my own burnout even though I can hardly say I was the poster child for positive action and recovery.

It’s all in the To-Do list, you see.  A list of things to get done is a bit like a set of aspirations or expectations.  In my case, the internal To-Do list is a harsh task-master with a poison-laden bull-whip.  Over the years, that list took on Herculean proportions and required an equally Herculean effort to pick up each day.  And, I’m talking just picking up the list.  We haven’t got to the tasks yet!

Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter (Canadian content noted!) define burnout by three factors: exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of personal ineffectiveness.  The exhaustion is physical, emotional, and cognitive.  Dragged out, numb, and in a brain fog, I’m amazed I managed to get done what I did.  Ironically, this was ten years ago and I had just opened the Mindfulness Clinic.  Once you stop laughing, you might take a moment to note that the most important requirement of a mindfulness teacher is his/her own personal practice.  It was on my to-do list and it was done; and, getting my sorry butt on the cushion is likely what saved it in the long run.

Now, Maslach was the doctoral student of Phil Zimbardo, primary researcher in the Stanford Prison Experiment and author of The Lucifer Effect.  She noticed some interesting things in the study, confronted Zimbardo to end the study, and went on to develop the values dissonance model of burnout.

Burnout happens when our values are not in alignment with those of the organization.  We become exhausted as we try to try to meet the demands of the organization with rapidly depleting resources.  We try to change the organization, find a different way to meet the mission statement, and get caught in the crossfire of intentions and production.  I was no different and my downfall was not from dealing with only one organization but several at the same time.  But more than that, I was also caught in the cross-hairs of my internal sniper who eliminated every success because stopping to enjoy it was a threat to ambition.

Depleted, emotionally crippled, and fearing the worst about myself, I realized that my compass had lost its bearings and I had lost charge of my self-stewardship.   The To-Do list with all its implicit judgments about my worth and competence had taken on a life of its own and was about to drag me into deadly waters.

to be continued…

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