Burnout can be a common problem in our busy modern lives. Many of us want to be helpful and do charity or volunteer work since it is needed in so many places, but it can also result in burnout. In this teaching given at Antioch College in Ohio in 2016, Phakchok Rinpoche addresses this issue. Rinpoche recalls his own experiences from organizing aid efforts during the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. And Rinpoche understands how burnout can overwhelm us.
When we are always busy dealing with one crisis after another, we can often feel like our work is never enough. And that is when we might experience burnout. We should understand that this can come from both physical and mental work. Physical exhaustion usually is easier to remedy. We take a nap, or relax in nature, or eat some nourishing food as we slow down.
Don’t Think Too Fast
Avoiding mental burnout can be accomplished, he says, by making time to meditate. We can learn how to be mindful and try not to think too fast. Take just a few minutes, a short amount of time, to meditate. It can be helpful, Rinpoche says from his own experience, to start the day with that time. The type of meditation is not so important. We can practice mindfulness meditation, focusing on our breath, or meditating on compassion. It does not matter which technique we choose, but it helps us when we bring our mind to a calm place.
Sometimes we can be resistant to “meditation” because it sounds too heavy. So Rinpoche likes to teach the practice of “creating space.” Here, we think of the spaciousness surrounding us. In this practice, our aim is not to stop thinking! Instead, we consider the vastness of space. When we take the time to allow for spaciousness, we physically feel different. Slowly, we can feel that our chest opens a bit and our heart feels lighter. Then, just relax into that feeling and maintain that spaciousness. Stay there for at least 10 minutes! Carefully observe what happens to your body and mind.
Then if you are having a problem, go ahead and allow that problem to come up. But also stay with the spaciousness. Rinpoche uses his earthquake aid example to talk about how we can feel we cannot do enough to help. He says we can avoid burnout by being creative.
Be Polite and Humble
And we can’t forget to be polite. We remember not to allow the tiredness to make us irritable toward others. It can help to remember that we are not heroes. We are helping because we want to serve, not to be heroes. Serving requires some humility, and we should always put those who we serve and help foremost in our minds. If we can remember that, then we avoid feeling superior. Humanitarian work is not something that should puff us up with pride and make us act toward others without respect. Also, if we are the leaders or the bosses, then we have to go out into the field sometimes.
Three Key Take-Aways For Avoiding Burnout
Rinpoche reminds us to think about three things when we engage in humanitarian work:
1. Make time to meditate
2. Don’t feel superior to those you help
3. Be polite and listen