Here and Now: Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Burnout–A Guest Post from Jessica Olin

Mishka The Buddhist

Today’s guest post is from Jessica OlinJessica Olin is a Buddhist. She is also the Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College in Dover, DE. Her professional interests include building communities at liberal arts college libraries, bringing the lessons of intersectional feminism to bear in professional settings, and helping others bridge the gap between library science graduate programs and professional practice. She blogs regularly at Letters to a Young Librarian and tweets (somewhat obsessively) at @olinj.


Last year, I wrote a post on my blog about the routines I’ve built to avoid burning out professionally. Shortly afterward, Maria approached me about writing a guest post. In her invitation, she said something that struck me as particularly apt:

“I would to love publish something by you on my burnout blog that is a closer look at the role meditation and Buddhism plays in your life as it relates to burnout prevention and/or recovery. My hunch is that there is a spiritual dimension to burnout that people don’t really talk about that much, so I’m eager to shine some light on that.”

A lot of things got in the way of me following up on my promise to write that post, such as a crushingly busy Fall semester, but I think the biggest hurdle for me was my uncertainty about how to approach the topic. I tried multiple times, from a lot of different angles, before I finally realized there is a slight disconnect between how Maria phrased her request and my actual religious practice.

You see, for me, Buddhism isn’t spirituality. At least not my personal definition of that word, which in my mind gets at mysticism and deities and following dictates handed down from long long ago. That isn’t how I practice Buddhism. For me, Buddhism is practical. It’s almost like a coastal map that helps me avoid shoals and reefs. If you’re really interested in a history lesson about the evolution of this religion, I can recommend some books and/or websites. But the important thing to know here is that Buddhism is much more about the here and now than about any kind of hereafter.

In the interests of sharing the practical aspects, here are three ideas/practices that I think can help you avoid or even recover from burnout:

  1. Non-attachment. Try to avoid getting attached to ideas or people or things or places. Attachment makes us afraid to lose those ideas or people or things or places, and that’s the root of suffering and anxiety – that fear. I’m still kind of crap at non-attachment, but not getting too upset about not being good about this yet is itself an example of non-attachment. No matter how hard we try, pretty much all of us are still going to get attached to people, places, things, ideas, but we need to keep working towards non-attachment without getting wrapped up in (attached to) the results.
  2. Mindfulness. This is the idea of being in the moment instead of somewhere in the past or somewhere in the future. Try doing only one thing at a time, and really concentrating on that one thing. Another way to practice being present is to take a couple of minutes each day and concentrate solely on your breathing. I’ve got an Android app that I use to help me, but you really just need to count your breath.
  3. Daily meditation. Don’t think of meditation as quieting your mind. It’s letting the thoughts rise and fall without attaching significance (non-attachment again) to any of them. If I’m sitting with others, I can meditate for a lot longer, but in my daily practice I sit for 10-15 minutes. Even five minutes a day can help you. (This LifeHacker post has a good rundown of the science.) Also, even if you don’t sit in a lotus position on your fancy meditation pillow, just being still for 5-10 minutes can be beneficial. I read once that our minds are like ponds, and the events of our lives are like wind or pebbles or even boulders that disturb the surface. Meditation allows you to stop the input for those few minutes, and the surface clears a bit. No other explanation of the benefits of meditation has ever felt truer to me.

I know that Buddhism isn’t the right fit for everyone, but the benefits of meditation are proven. Give it a try, even if you just sit still for a couple of minutes per day. And if what I’ve said about Buddhism intrigues you, let me know? I’ve got about a bazillion books I can recommend.


3 thoughts on “Here and Now: Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Burnout–A Guest Post from Jessica Olin

  1. Thank you for this blessedly brief and clear summary. As a budding Buddhist practitioner, I would love to see a bibliography. Perhaps another post, just bibliography? I’ve been reading a little randomly – mostly Thich Nhat Hanh – but I know there’s a lot more than that (of course… it’s a 2000 year old tradition), and many different streams of Buddhism with different perspectives and practices, some of them even kind of antithetical to each other, all claiming to be the one true way, as religions do. It can be kind of a thicket.


  2. Thank you for the post, and the opportunity to talk about librarianship and spirituality (or other practices that help us cope). I am also a Buddhist and a librarian…also dealing with burnout. My Buddhist practice teaches me to awaken my Buddha nature every day through chanting a mantra: Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo. When I awaken my Buddha nature, I awaken to the infinite potential and joy that is my life, and also, the lives of others. One of my favorite quotes: “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha…lies in his behavior as a human being” sums up how I strive to treat others and myself: with deep respect for that Buddha nature. So, whether I am interacting with a difficult person, whether it is a student, faculty member or co-worker, I remember that we are essentially all equal. All people desire to be happy. Not just happy in a “I feel good” kind of way. But, in a “I am completely fulfilled and at peace” way. This feeling or life-state can expand like the ripples in a wave and extend out to our environment. Basically, I’m chanting for peace and I believe it starts with each one of us. Maybe it’s asking for a lot. But, as Robert Browning said: ““Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”


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