Saturday, July 12, 2008

DIARY 67 - Master and Commander

This week dragged its feet pretty much as the previous one, dreary disengagement and irritable restlessness being predominant. On Wednesday I met with Ratnagosha, and he suggested I took some time off sick. I wasn't sure about that, but it was obvious I needed to do some thing out of the norm. So I took a days break, went away to the coast, to get my head into a better space. Early on Friday morning I travelled up to Sheringham in Norfolk, to spend the the day there. I went armed with my new camera, a notebook and my copy of the Majima Nikaya, packed, along with a waterproof jacket, in a back pack. Well, I say spent the day, it was about five hours in total, lounging around on various parts of the beach, enjoying taking lots of photographs, whilst I spiritually stock taked. The majority of the morning was spent in travelling, taking about three hours to get from home to coast. On returning there was a heavy lightning storm which damaged rail points, so the journey back took over four hours, with a lot of waiting wearily for delayed trains and buses.

The day before, I'd had a long conversation with Saddharaja about what was up with me. As usual there was food for thought - I guess I knew this already; that things couldn't go on for much longer as they currently are. Either I changed my job, or my approach, or these bouts of depression were likely to get more frequent and deepen. At some point I could breakdown, I can sense, even now, how close to that edge I sometimes veer. The core problem is an overwhelming feeling, at an existential level, of profound dissatisfaction. It's usually prompted by a difficulty with external circumstances - this time it was the constantly testing nature of my work, and of course Richard's suicide. The resulting restlessness and frustration can become so unbearable I have, in the past, had to leave, or change my work in some fundamental way. On the train up to Sheringham I calculated I've changed my place, or style of employment, eleven times over the last twenty seven years. The situation has got significantly worse since I've entered middle age; changing workstyle seven times in the last eleven years - roughly every fifteen months. Here I am, ten months into my new job already feeling like I should be leaving it. Saddharaja suggested, rightly, that this strategy is getting less and less tenable as I progress further into my fifties. I know, all too well, that my options are increasingly being limited by my age and work experience. With most of the credible career options, I've missed the boat by at least a decade and a half, if I was going to pursue them. I've seriously muffed my timing. Over this, I find myself alternately wailing or railing. His constructive suggestion was to devise some way of accommodating or ameliorating the dissatisfied feelings, so they don't dominate my experience. Then, hopefully, I could stay engaged with work, in a sustained, managable way, and strike a happier balance with the rest of my lifestyle. I hadn't a clue how I might achieve this, at the time, but I do have a bit of more of a feeling for it now. I believe I need to cultivate more fun and constructive playfulness around it.

One thing I said in our conversation, that slightly surprised me, but nevertheless rang true, was that I'd lost faith in meditation as a means of transformation. On reflection this does make sense, and explains why regular meditation practice has been so difficult for me to maintain in recent years. It's obvious now, that my meditation has been plodding along on depleted batteries for far too long, lacking an inspirational re-charge. At present those batteries are as flat as can possible be. I came back from the Seven Point Mind Training Retreat in May, inspired by practice for the first time in ages, but the strain of Customer Services and Richard's death a month after I returned, soon knocked the stuffing out of that. I've not completely lost faith in everything, though it can feel like it some times. It's only weak in this particular area, the ethics and wisdom aspects of the Threefold Way I believe to be still robust and intact. But it is sobering to realise this state of affairs - which I now need to find some way to address.

The day in Sheringham appears to have largely done the trick. I had some very insightful reflections. I realised that this 'existential dissatisfaction' is a very real 'Life Koan' that cannot be resolved on its own level, by a conscious change of the way I feel, think or act. As a feeling, it's impervious to rational debate, with too strong an emotional volition behind it, which cannot be reasoned with. One way to transform it is by practices that tap into energy that goes beyond the rational - to the unconscious and the mythic - mantra chanting, visualisation, sadhana, and devotional practices - areas which I've had a slightly diffident relationship with in the past. Apart from this, its maintaining a healthy connection with nature, and with my creative interests. I've even been thinking of getting back into performing in some way. I need to make sure I get time away on my own, this is more important than I've previously realised. As for work, I'm going to revisit the Seven Point Mind Training - to practice working primarily for other peoples benefit, not from a self-preoccupied, self-regarding perspective. Remove that dart from my heart.

I came back from Sheringham with a small model boat in my bag, and the gestation of a new approach being carried with it. It has a nautical thread running through it, which I'm just beginning to tease out. Though my instincts tell me that this might very well transform my approach to work. It gives me an archetype, a way of envisaging my role in Customer Services as its Master and Commander, constructively supporting the crew, and effectively steer them through choppy, as well as dormant waters. Today I've had great fun researching nautical flags. realising how similar a ships steering wheel is to a Dharmachakra wheel, even the Ships Figurehead, Compass, Nets, Bell and Stores, all resonate in some imaginative way too. The ideas I'm having are all creatively reinvigorating, to be interested in Customer Services in an entirely fresh, and fun way. I might even physically change our set up to look more like a boat, with a mast etc. I've yet to test how the rest of my team colleagues respond to this. There might be just me willingly on board, the rest of them feeling press ganged - but hey! what the hell, let's give it a go. I've just bought a DVD of the Peter Weir film Master and Commander, ( starring that handsome deep throated hunk Russell Crowe ) as a sort of mythic touchstone for this new direction. I've also ordered some seafaring reading;a book about heroic sailing adventurers; a Patrick O'Brien novel, and a W.G. Sebald novel 'The Rings of Saturn' about his travels along the Suffolk coast. The restoration starts here.

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