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Stress In Livelihood

The Buddha said, "Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison."

Buddhism, since long before it became a religion, is a path, the "Middle Way". The middle way is understood as the avoidance of extremes. The application is predicated on balance, poise, equanimity. Meditation is the embodiment of these qualities. Livelihood, too, is part of our practice; something that we routinely do. The Zen rhetoric about this recommends that one avoid livelihoods which result in harm being done to one's self, others, other beings or the environment. Generally speaking, some measure of contentment can be achieved by structuring how we generate our livelihood to conform with the avoidance of harm and/or the actualizing of harmlessness. The application of harmlessness is what zen meditation is all about. Few livelihoods are perfectly benign, which leaves mindfulness about harm reduction as the key to workplace stress reduction.

Stress is a social and personal pollutant. Speaking very generally, stress results from relationships, the reciprocity of which is not symetrical. Perfectly symetrical relationships require very little extra energy and attention to sustain, while extremely asymetrical relationships require a lot of energy and attention to sustain. This extra effort either is or results in what we call stress. When levels of stress have reached toxic level, which is to say they are dysfunctional in some way, it means that some aspect of the relationship between what we do and what we experience is out of whack.

No working situation is without stress; indeed it is dysfunctional to even wish for such an antiseptic workplace. Deadlines induce stress, fear of retribution or failure induces stress, strategic changes induce stress; but all of these also spur us on to innovations and excellence and increased production. The middle way approach is to find the level of stress which helps people do their best but which does not cross the line into a corrosive influence on the individual. Zen meditation tends to the essential self. By cultivating equanimity the reflexes of mind and body fail to result in stress. Where there is no comparison, (that is, when we meditate), mind and body can drop away. Stresses and distractions also can drop away. Strategic thinkers and stevedores, though their stressors are quite different, can use the tools of composure to bring our basic relationships into balance.