I often say that yoga has made me less of an asshole. I used to be a quick tempered, intolerant, ego driven human being. Many years of yoga have, thankfully, helped to soften some of those sharp edges. The person I used to be — though she looks a lot like me — has little resemblance to who I am now. It’s like she’s my evil twin and has been relegated to some far off place from whence she is seldom heard any more. Except for at work where she tends to make regular appearances.
It’s not especially difficult to be an enlightened, compassionate human being when surrounded by like-minded individuals who are eager to acknowledge one another’s love and light. I am at my absolute best self when I am with my fellow yogis. I haven’t yet learned how to be this person — the person I want to be — at work. To be candid, I don’t really like “office me” very much. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that my evil twin has taken up residence in a place where I spend a large percentage of my time.
When I began my work life, I hadn’t yet found yoga. At the time, I was driven largely by money, title and accolades. As a result, I suppose it didn’t really faze me that the office environment involved a certain amount of toxicity: agenda pushing, occasional demoralization, gossip and back stabbing. I just assumed all that came with the territory.
Eventually, though, yoga infiltrated all aspects of my world. At a certain point, it began having a significant impact on how I thought about my professional life. But, regardless of how enlightened we are – or, in my case, aspire to be – work comes with a myriad of daily aggravations to challenge our Zen. And yogis are as likely to fall prey to them as anyone else. What yoga may do, though, is make us more aware of how we respond.
One of the effects yoga had on me was to become more mindful of behaviors that show up in the work environment. I notice, for instance, when my ego gets the better of me. This tends to happens in meetings where I feel the need to make my voice heard even when it a) probably isn’t necessary and b) is likely to fall on deaf ears. I also notice my ego flaring up when I’m not acknowledged with the level of respect or appreciation I feel I deserve. Alas, mindfulness does not equate to right action. Even though I recognize what’s going on and should be able to keep myself in check, my evil twin comes out to play a little more frequently than I’d like in these situations.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali instructs that:
In relationships (and work relationships count! Perhaps doubly since we spend so much time with our colleagues) the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.
Keeping this in mind at the office would be extremely helpful. And though it is, in fact, one of my favorite of the aphorisms included in the sutras, I can’t seem to make it stick during my 9 to 5. Instead of being compassionate to someone who is challenging to work with, I get angry. Rather than being indifferent to those who are pushing an agenda that may not be in the best interest of the organization (or, more likely, in my best interest), I try to bend them to my will. All of this only serves to exhaust and deplete me and runs the risk of alienating my colleagues.
In yoga, we often think about the most challenging aspects of our lives as opportunities to learn meaningful lessons. Think of a pebble in a shoe; yes, it rubs and chafes, but it can also leave heels lovely and smooth. Viewed that way, frustrating office dynamics are just an uncomfortable rock in our sensible, work appropriate loafers.
I’ve heard dharma defined as the situations life presents to us in order to work out our karma here on planet earth. In this story, work = dharma = an opportunity to burn off karma and get a few steps closer to enlightenment. Frustrating as it may be, I think I need to soak up all the lessons my work environment has to teach me. I don’t want to be stuck on a karmic hamster wheel, unable to break free of the cycle.
Everyone has a particular environment that tests us more than others. Whether, like me, that environment is the office or it’s something else — perhaps going home for the holidays, interactions with a partner or children — none of us is free from challenging circumstances and relationships. But looked at from a yogic perspective, we would not be able to learn and grow without them. Though it may not feel like it, these situations are actually blessings. If we pay attention, are mindful of our responses and perhaps even adjust our behavior over time, we might eventually be able to get rid of these pebbles in our shoes.
As for me, I will do my best to look at my office as a sort of incubator; a place where I am confronted daily with the things I most need to learn. Ultimately, I am hoping it’s also the place where I can finally rid myself of my evil twin for once and for all.
Originally published on Elephant Journal.