At some point in your life you're likely going to be unemployed. Maybe you’re unemployed now. I know what it’s like. One week before I began my Yoga Teacher Training program my new job fell through, and I was left to struggle through my emotions on being unemployed while I was also subsequently learning how to be a yoga teacher. Experiencing these two transformative life experiences at the same time led to many deeply revelatory moments interspersed with a lot of crying and “woe is me” moments. Hey, we’re all human. During this time of stress and uncertainty, I found deep comfort in my yoga practice. Here are some of the insights I learned during this time.
1. Impermanence is a steadfast part of the human condition.
The Yoga Sutras and the Buddha both stress this, yet we silly humans tend to forget this. We think the good times will last forever. Likewise, when things are terrible, we are sure our circumstances will never change. The good news (or the bad news, depending on which situation you’re in) is that whether you like it or not, change is going to come. When you’re unemployed it can feel like you’re in a sinkhole that's slowly pulling you under. It’s better to think of your life as an art palette on which your life is continually being painted.
2. The concept of ishvarapranidhana, roughly translated as “surrender to God,” is important.
Being unemployed, I found a great deal of solace (as well as initial annoyance) in this belief. Many of us who are taught that our life is of our own making find this a tough concept to embrace. We believe that if we continue to endlessly exert ourselves we'll get what we want.
It's hard to embrace the fact that much of our life is out of our control. We may submit job application after job application, endlessly network and job search and still feel like we've gotten nowhere at the end of the day. In these trying times, we have to remember that sometimes our situations are not of our own doing. There's good luck and bad luck. Ultimately, we must accept that, at times, we are in God’s hands.
3. One of the most damaging aspects of unemployment is what it does to our self-esteem.
When we're gainfully employed we tend to self-identify as our profession, and view our profession as our purpose for being on this earth. Without this employment, we're forced to determine who we are without work. Our pain and discomfort comes from false identification — that is, we view our true nature as being our profession, when in fact our true nature never changes, no matter what we do, who we love, or where we live. This part of us is always whole and always perfect.
4. When you're employed, it is easy to get attached to the industry or community that we work in.
Unemployment can be a double whammy to many people because, along with losing our job, we lose the community that we existed in and we can feel shut out, unwelcome, and unworthy. The Yoga Sutras warn of the dangers of attachment. One of the benefits of unemployment is, free of the attachments of a steady position, we can truly and critically assess what we want and where we want to belong. This time and space for true clarity is usually lacking when we're comfortably in a steady position.
Unemployment is scary. It's also a deeply personal experience. I've found that my yoga practice comforted me while I was unemployed by reminding me that the pain of my experience, like every other experience in life, would pass. It also provided me an intensive period in which to examine myself, my failings, my triumphs, and my hopes and dreams for the future. In many ways, unemployment, like yoga, has the potential to be extremely illuminating if we are open to it.