Life for Rent

This has been a long week–a long two weeks, actually. I edit financial news releases, and we’re in the second busiest quarter of the year. This means working overtime, which is physically exhausting, but more than that, it means hectic, frenetic days in which the phone never stops ringing, deadlines are tight, and the mood is tense. I’ve found myself feeling guilty when it’s time to take my lunch break and realizing that entire hours sometimes elapse between having the initial thought that I need to use the restroom and actually leaving my desk to take that 30 second walk.

In a way, I don’t mind all of this *too* much–the days are long, but they’re absorbing and go by quickly; there’s a certain stress in the air, but it’s shared among all the editors, and the basic comradery that I’ve come to appreciate in my co-workers remains. What has been a bit harder has actually been managing my expectations once I’m finally leaving the office.  It feels as though I throw myself into the day’s work, all the while looking forward to going home at the end of the day to relax and decompress, but once I’m actually inhabiting those precious hours I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. After reading all day, picking up the novel I was so engrossed in a few weeks ago doesn’t have the same appeal; after a twelve-hour work day, the idea of taking a run feels out of the question. Watching a movie or mindless television show usually wins out, but once it’s over and I realize that it’s (already) time to go to bed so I can get up and do it all over again, I’m left feeling hollowed out, numb, and as though I’m renting a small space in my life to live in and too exhausted to enjoy it.

And in the midst of the physical and existential weariness,  I do know that I am lucky: I don’t feel this way *most* of the time, and I have a good job in an economy where good jobs are not easy to come by. Looking around at the same tired passengers on my daily commute, I can see that what is a notably long day for me is the norm for many, and I think with shame that I’ve really no right to complain. Everyone is dealing with his own dissatisfactions in life, managing them as best she can.

From a Buddhist point of view, getting caught up in my own hardships is 99% of the suffering I’m experiencing, and it’s true that waking up to the shared burden with my fellow human beings does lighten the load. However, it strikes me as I’m writing that this realization that, if we stop there,  we run the risk of slipping into an almost apathetic, pessimistic (in the philosophical sense) attitude of, well, I guess this is just how life is, which I’m not ready to accept. So I suppose my challenge this week is to use the shared dissatisfaction as point of departure rather than a conclusion.

We are all tired, all doing our best to avoid pain and experience joy. How can I use this knowledge to think beyond my own narrow circumstances, to take my own discomforts less seriously? But also, how can I think more deeply about this dissatisfaction that, when I look around, is clearly shared in one manifestation or other with everyone I encounter?

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