Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On the Brink of the Unknown

“We all have a fear of the unknown. What one does with that fear will make all the difference in the world.”
Lillian Russell

Just over three months ago I tendered my resignation from the company that I joined after I graduated from Uni. That's 25 years in the one organisation!

Walking away was probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. It took 18 months of stress counselling, six months' leave and then a month back at work to make me realise that it was time for a change. And (as clichéd as it might sound) the uncertainty of the future, the fear of the unknown was a major obstacle.

Over the last month, I seem to be hearing news every week about a friend or colleague who has been given notice of redundancy from the company. I knew there were redundancies coming when I returned to work - even put my hand up for a package - but having to look for a commercial role knowing that I might not be offered redundancy proved too stressful. I didn't feel I was being true to myself or, in an indirect way, true to the company. I felt dishonest turning up for interviews knowing that the mentoring role I sought did not exist locally. What happened to trying to live the yamas: non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-appropriation or absence of greed (aparigraha)? In the end, peace of mind won over financial gain—I knew I had to go.

Why had it been so difficult to leave? In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states:

“Ignorance, I-feeling, liking, disliking and fear of death are the pains.”(1) [II.3]

The kleshas or subconscious pains can cause turmoil within us.
Avidya or ignorance in a spiritual sense is a lack of knowledge of the world we live in and who we are. From avidya the other kleshas arise, our ‘I-feeling’ or ego (asmita), our likes (raga) and dislikes (dwesha), and our fear of death (abhinivesha) or to a lesser extent, our fear of change.(2)

To attain vidya (right knowledge or enlightenment), we need to reduce the kleshas through a process of involution from abhinivesha to dwesha, raga, asmita, and then avidya to vidya.(1)

Why do we fear death or change?

Attachment. Attachment to life.

In hindsight, I can see why it was hard to leave - I was attached to my professional life, I identified with the job, I wanted to remain with the ‘known’ whether I liked it or not. Many of us are like that - we crave the stability of a regular job and we become ‘the job’.

How do we reduce the kleshas?

Meditation. Through meditation we can watch the mind, understand the kleshas and make the mind peaceful.

“Peace is that state in which fear of any kind is unknown.”
John Buchan

Once I handed in my resignation, there was quite a rush to get me out the door; I was gone within a week. Initially it was hard to accept that I was just a number on the company's books, that the years of service and experience meant nothing. It was only at my farewell dinner, listening to words of appreciation from the people who had helped and supported me, that I realised what I had achieved. I might have been looking for a formal mentoring role but that was just a label - in some form or other I had been teaching throughout my career.

Now I am watching as friends and colleagues go through the same turmoil. It hasn't been easy for anyone, whether they're staying or going. Those who are staying are watching as colleagues with lots of valuable skills and experience leave. Reactions of those who are leaving vary: those who were looking for a change see it as an opportunity, others seem lost, many are finding it hard to comprehend why after so many years of service and high performance ratings.

With the distance of time, I can see the reasoning behind the business decisions to transfer or outsource roles to others who charge a cheaper rate and to let people go whose skills cannot be easily employed on commercial accounts. Times are tough so costs need to be cut to ensure the business survives.

But that is little consolation for those who have been given notice. Platitudes won't help or bring comfort. Everyone's situation is different and each person has to find his or her own path through life and its obstacles.

All I know is for me, leaving was the one of the best decisions I ever made. My rushed exit left me a little shell-shocked and lost but in the past month I'm finally starting to feel settled. I have found a role that I love and I can't remember the last time I felt so inspired and alive.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Last year I rang a friend to see how she was. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was recovering from an operation to remove the tumour. I had been on leave for about two months and she commented that she had never heard me sound so happy. But more importantly, she told me: “Don't wait until something like this happens to you to know what is important. Get out and enjoy your life now.”

And that's exactly what I'm doing.


  1. Four Chapters on Freedom, Swarmi Satyananda Saraswati
  2. Avidyā – Ignorance, Dr Swami Shankardev Saraswati, Big Shakti Yoga Word Wise Blog

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