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I saw Kate immediately after she interviewed Sharon Salzberg for our series on the economic downturn. Kate was awestruck by her simple profundity. And, after I listened, I understood why.

The Buddhist teacher sees the plight of suffering in the U.S. as a source of shame for most people, a kind of humiliation. We are ashamed of losing control. We fear uncertainty.

This burden denies us the right of being human. We’re vulnerable and so we isolate ourselves. So, instead of reaching out to others and finding comfort and strength in our families and communities, we hide. This point gave me pause and, I hesitate to write this, an unsettled feeling — of shame and embarrassment.

In 2002, I was laid off — honestly, I still think of it as being fired — while my wife and I were living in Oxford. The dot-com company I was working for was hemorrhaging money. My boss back in the States called the head of the London office. She ushered me in to her office; over the phone, he said the company needed to cut salaries and positions and had to “let me go”; I was then told to pack up my items and be escorted out of the office immediately while the office manager observed me.

Talk about humiliation. It’s difficult enough being axed. Being the only American in the London office, being chaperoned and escorted out of the building because of standard HR policy (I still cringe at the thought of this type of inhuman treatment.), being left with a mortgage on a home thousands of miles away while your wife’s a graduate student in a foreign country — and then having to tell her about it, well, it is completely humiliating. I rode the Tube for a good part of the day avoiding the inevitable. Classic stuff I’m sure.

Of course I eventually told my wife that day. She was everything I knew she would be. But the pain didn’t lessen; it staked a larger claim. Her magnanimity and compassion were so pure that I couldn’t return the gesture in any form. I couldn’t, and she didn’t expect me to utter transcendent ideas or practice life-coaching skills, to be zen and thoughtful.

My shame increased. I avoided telling our friends taking care of our house for days, my family and other friends for weeks and months. And then feelings of inadequacy and fear and anxiety increased with each day I couldn’t find a new job. My community was completely supportive; it wasn’t enough.

I know no way around it. I know Sharon Salzberg’s suggestions of conscientious breathing and meditation are wise and helpful. That reaching out to ones close to you is the social safety net we all need. But, despite all that, I do wonder what happens once that practice ceases to embrace the reality of the situation. I’m merely a man, an ambitious American who was canned and feared he couldn’t make his mortgage.

So, where did I find community and ultimately respite? In music. I don’t recall the songs that I repeatedly listened to then, but, surprisingly, the music I’m listening to now transported me back in ways I couldn’t have predicted when I started writing. I’m posting them here because listening to them may be as telling as the paragraphs above. And, check out some of the haunting titles. Strange coincidences persist.

“Roshi’s Very Tired” by Philip Glass from The Book of Longing

“Running Scared” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“Rooftops and Streets” by Thunder in the Valley

“Vartani Mor Vort” by Yuval Ron

“The Romance of Wolves” by Roma di Luna

“Road to Somewhere” by Goldfrapp

“Robots” from Flight of the Conchords

“Rise” from the Into the Wild soundtrack

“River Man” by Nick Drake

Share Your Reflection



thanks for sharing

Most welcome.

Thank you for writing this and sharing your music. I, too, find more solace in music than in breathing or reaching out to friends or family when I hurt. Music is not judgemental and even if friends are compassionate, the sentiments expressed are often not what I need. This music can take me into my sorrow and allow me to experience the emotion - which, in the end, is the only way out for me: I must go through it. Go through the pain and on the other side, understanding waits for me.

I hear what you're saying Sandy, particularly about experiencing the emotion. I never used to be so dang sentimental, but now, with two young sons, I find myself much more in tune with a demonstration of my emotions. (My wife may expose me here. *grin*) I'm thinking it was a way to turn off all the thoughts (logic, reasoning, etc.) and just be a sensual creature.

As I was writing this, I found myself tearing up a bit. Now, as I told a FB friend, it just isn't cool crying in one's cube at work. But, hey, it was difficult to snap out of it with the serendipity of an iTunes random mix streaming in my headphones. Boy, that brought back the feelings. Thanks for commenting, Sandy.

I clicked on this because of the reference to humiliation in suffering. My particular suffering is an illness and the discomfort of the treatments and healing process. I particularly was soothed with the music. These songs lulled me as I sat in front of my little laptop and reminds me of the gift in music -- so much of my life is silence these days. I loved the music.

Judy, I'm glad the songs could soothe your unease, however briefly. If I could, I'd like to suggest two SOF Playlists that have helped me — the first from our show with Vigen Guorian, a mix of rich choral music celebrating gardening and Pascha, and the second from an SOF classic in-studio with Joe Carter. When Lucian, my oldest son who's now three, was a babe, he was often inconsolable at night. As a last-ditch effort early, early one morning, I started playing Joe Carter singing Negro Spirituals and sang along with them. They soothed the savage beast; his music was the best palliative for the little man and I'm forever thankful now. Whew!

I also have to thank you. One of the common struggles we have here at SOF is titling: blog posts, program names, digital offerings, etc. Your feedback helps.

So what happened after that? Were you able to find another job and stay in London?

I think it's totally wrong of companies to treat their fired/laid-off workers like criminals (or potential criminals) by not giving them any notice of their being laid off, and worse, by standing over them while they pack and then escorting them out of the building. Like throwing salt in a wound.

I loved the experience of living in England, but the luster wore off after that. And, we were going into debt by living there longer. Several weeks later I returned home while my wife finished her fellowship. I'm glad I did too because I think I would have brought a pall to her experience in Oxford otherwise.

Funny thing is, I vicariously ended up at Speaking of Faith because of that event. It took a few months, but I eventually found jobs consulting at Target and Wells Fargo in commercial banking. Although I was asked to manage a team there, I declined and shortly thereafter realized that I wasn't invested in the work that I was doing. I learned what I didn't want to do.

I wanted to care about the material I was handling; I didn't. I used to listen to a lot of public radio streams at the time and was taken with the complexity of people in Krista's interviews. With no theological or technical training, I applied for the job anyhow thinking that at least I'd get to meet some of the people who work on the show. Good fortune smiled on me and it's been a great five years since.

Thank you for your thoughts. I was laid off in October and it felt like I was being fired as well. I told friends the wierdest part was that all of the projects, planning and reports I was involved in...it was like the Buddhist monks who create the intricate sand mandalas which are then blown away... my work, my plans for the program, the projects mid-stream, on October 1st - ended. I was escorted out the door. In a moment - it was gone.

I was once faced with loosing my home because I could not meet the mortgage payments. The reasons are not important here, what is and was is that in those dark lonely moments of realising I was merely a woman with a child to support I accepted my humanity. I may not be able to keep a roof over our heads but I would still exist, I would still be Yvonne and I would do my best to care for my son no matter what. Twenty years have passed, I didnt keep that roof, it was sold but I managed to get us a smaller one and then an even smaller one but I never had to make that bed under the bridge I had picked out. I count myself blessed, I am a better person for the experience, I live on as little as possible and create as much beauty around me as I can. Yes you are merely a man, an ambitious American with a big mortgage, how blessed you are.

Thank you for sharing. I was laid off in December, 2010 and have gone through so many conflicting emotions. It is one of the hardest experiences of my life.

Judy, I'm so sorry to read this. I'm glad my story is of some comfort and wish you the very best in the time ahead. And, if you can, please do some of those things you wanted to do but couldn't because of work. It's one of my biggest regrets of having that gift of time.

Isn't it amazing how things work? Today was one of the worst days of my recent life. I too have been out of work since December 2010 and was explaining to a friend just today that it's less about the events themselves than it is the shame and isolation I feel. Then I stumbled on this interview and blog response and suddenly I don't feel so alone. There are no accidents. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Thanks for the posting. I feel the suffering of those who are out work struggling to meet their obligations. I often hold them in my heart just wishing them well, a moment of peace from the stresses of modern life.
Rest in the beauty of music, poetry and art, it is there to heal and to give hope. Never be without hope and beauty.