What is Work? Buddhist Discernment on the Job - Part of the Green Books Campaign

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

Note to readers: A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting me to part of a Green Books Campaign sponsored by Eco-Libris, a for-profit enterprise that promotes books printed on non-virgin paper and funds the planting of trees in Africa and Central America.

One hundred thirteen book bloggers are scheduled to review books printed on recycled, or Forest Steward Commission certified paper today at 1 pm EST.

This review of Discernment: Educating Mind and Spirit (Lantern Books) is part of the Green Books campaign - and a fitting next step in this ongoing series about Work.

More about Eco-Libris in my overview of the Green Books Campaign for Publishing Perspectives.

Some people read sports books to unwind. Other folks read cook-books, or travel books. I read books on Buddhism. Reading about folks who meditate, or cross-culturally explore or practice right livelihood is my version of armchair traveling.

"Enlightenment" is not one of my recurring Work To-Do List items (although I have voiced the occasional, Enlightened sounding character on TV). But I find comfort - and practical work advice - in the gap between The Buddhist Authors' Balanced Approach to Life and my Whirling Dervish approach to same.

Discernment: Educating the Mind and Spirit by Yifa, a Fo Guang Shan nun, arrived on my desk at the perfect time.

As a solo-preneur, my professional life can hyper-pixelate, like a Chuck Close painting gone-bad.

When Discernment showed up, I had spend the week as a fiddle-playing, digital media teacher/humorist with a minor in global warming audio production for non-scientists and synergistic health-care rhetoric.

Enter: the mental act of discernment, which Yifa describes as, " the quality of mind that analyzes and perceives accurately the nature of something and then forms a thoughtful and accurate judgment about it."

The act of taking a moment - or ten - to determine What Is can turn potential freak-outs into opportunities for positive decision making. Seeing, thinking and then choosing is the grown-up version of a kid's "Stop. Look. Go." street-crossing instructions.

Discernment can transform empathy into compassion. It's a key tool in the search for "right-livelihood" - Doing the Right Thing for ourselves and the world-at-large.

When Stress knocks on a discerning professional's door, discernment can help her kick Stress in the ass.

Colleague X from Work Hell isn't the source of our misery, the discerning mind realizes.
The source of suffering is our anger, jealousy - or ouch! - sense of entitlement about what we perceive as Colleague X's unfair ability to get her projects approved/beat bad hair days with two drops of water and a fine-tooth comb or....(insert your favorite, possibly-baseless reason for suffering here). All of which is totally fixable, firsthand.

Discernment can be a tough idea to embrace when you feel frazzled. Righteous anger seems so much easier. Even fun.

This is where meditation comes in. Yifa is not prescribing a post-yoga 10 minute nap/space-out, however. We're talking Meditation as Life's Work. This is where our sense of humor comes in - is vital, in fact.

The Fo Guang Shan school of Buddhism "seeks to make Buddhist practice relevant to contemporary life."

One of the early stories in Discernment involves a reality-impaired teacher and his disciple - a useful metaphor for our critical upper-mind and our inner Seeker.

"Don't look at the sexy woman - she is a dangerous tiger!" the discernment-challenged teacher warns the disciple. At the end of the day - surprise! - the disciple remembers and craves the tiger.

Yifa also includes stories about Su Dongpo, a Type-A meditator, and Foyin, a meditator who's Simply There, to illustrate the "gotta do it now!" vs. "gotta be" mindset.

Form and emptiness are key Buddhist concepts - which leads us back to the idea of green books in general.

Discernment 's 100% recycled paper stock looked even whiter, brighter and somehow, happier - than the average book to me - this was a pleasant surprise to my 1970s "green = brown" mindset. The book is a small, 130 page paperback. Its $12 cover price may "cost a little more," per its publisher. But the difference in price struck me as less than the premium placed on organic vs. non-organic foods.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, Discernment appeared in my life at the end of a wildly frazzled week. I read it one sitting. And when I finished it, I felt, like many a Buddhist student, like a total jerk-head.

For the next two days, I raked leaves, roasted a chicken, and silently reviewed my work-life balance. On Day Three, I quit one of my bands, said No to an absurdly low-paying/time-sucking project, gave thanks for work of true value and gracious, great folks as friends - and started drinking more coffee.

That last activity may not be totally discerning. But hey. It's a start.