Monday, September 2, 2019
Today marks the 125th anniversary of our celebration of Labor Day as a U.S. national holiday. As the U.S. Department of Labor reminds us:
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. . . .
The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.
Certainly, there remains much to celebrate. Yet, an online piece written two years ago that focuses in on the history in a more detailed way offers words of caution:
The original holiday was meant to handle a problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for highly skilled white-collar workers, many of whom are constantly connected to work.
[Note: I have been accused of being constantly connected to work--or the equivalent. Sometimes rightly so.] The article goes on to urge taking a day off and enjoying time at a barbecue. I want to offer an additional idea: consider adding mindfulness to your tool kit (and more specifically a simple practice).
Yes, I have extolled the virtues of mindfulness practices before, including here and here. Marcia has, too. I want to incorporate by reference here all that we have collectively said in that regard. But I also want to emphasize in today's post a new application of the concept--one that I learned in a series of beginner meditation classes that I completed yesterday.
All of us have thoughts relating to our work (and our personal lives) that niggle at us over time or disrupt our flow in the moment. They may involve, for example, a grudge against a colleague or anger at an administrator or anxiety about a student or upcoming project or event. These ongoing meddlesome thoughts interfere with our work and our lives outside work. Specifically, they distract us and make us unhappy, inefficient, and unproductive. They can lengthen our work days and extend the work week into weekends. They can ruin our time with family--even at a Labor Day barbecue.
There are ways of managing this kind of stress in our work lives. The instructor in my meditation class offered the technique (labeled, apropos of today's holiday, "The Work") suggested and promoted in Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell. As the title of the book suggests, the approach consists of four questions. They are:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it's true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
In addition to the book, a website offers guidance, including a series of videos. The same coauthors have written a follow-on book, A Mind at Home with Itself: Finding Freedom in a World of Suffering. (Byron Katie apparently has two other books--one also coauthored with Stephen Mitchell, here and here. They also may be helpful but may not be as central to using The Work.) I have not read any of the books, but I plan to practice the use of the four questions.
Why would I invest in this? If used properly and successfully, what can these four questions do for me? Here's what I have learned so far.
The four questions and the way in which they are used in The Work invite us to compartmentalize a thought that troubles us, allowing us to explore its contours and question it and ourselves. In the process, we can reduce the suffering it causes us and slow down any reaction process that we determine is needed. Ultimately, this method of addressing troubling thoughts has the capacity to free us from the drag that our niggling thoughts have on our working and personal lives. The Work also may enable us to take required action to address true concerns in the workplace and at home in a manner that is more compassionate and less driven by the exigencies of the moment.
I offer this new mindfulness process for what it may be worth to you, in the spirit of personal wellness, institutional health, and Labor Day--to allow you more "time off" from work (among other things). Regardless of the appeal--or lack thereof--The Work may hold for you, I wish you all a happy and restful Labor Day. I am making a special brunch that I will enjoy with my husband and daughter. No family or neighborhood barbecue is planned, but who knows? My hubby and I may just make our own . . . .