How do we move towards a more whole way of doing life?
This is one of the questions raised by Prof Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University who wrote about meditation and mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things” long before the mindfulness craze had begun.
We often speak of a work-life balance, when what we really should move towards is ‘work-life integration’.
What she means it this:
It’s Monday morning, and you’re dreading the week-end ending, because you have to go to work. But what if you didn’t think of your work as ‘work’, but as a continuation of the weekend?
You would never have to be afraid of a Monday morning ever again.
Sounds crazy. But, in her research, she showed that you could induce an actual physiological change in chambermaids when they thought of their work as exercise instead. By definition, they were exercising all day, but it was how they perceived it that made the difference.
Stress comes from being caught in a situation you don’t want to be in, or the fear of being caught in one.
One way of fixing it is by eliminating the situation (wishing you had less work, more of a week-end, a higher pay, less obligations).
Chances are that this way isn’t going to be very effective, and trying to go this route might only end up in more stress.
The other way of fixing it is eliminating your dislike of the situation. If you didn’t mind being in it, and ideally, actually came to embrace it, you wouldn’t fear it.
I think of the period in my life when I was training for my half-marathon. Trust me, it took a lot of mental energy to keep myself on that track, and my legs moving in semi-automatic manner. But, the secret for me was sinking into the pain, and teaching myself how to, in fact, enjoy the discomfort.
By teaching ourselves to embrace lack and find joy through it, we find ourselves strangely invincible: we no longer fear lack, discomfort, or pain.
I was thinking about this last night as I was waiting for my train to come:
we think that by amassing money, power, status, we will protect ourselves from that lack, discomfort and pain.
But in fact, the more we get of those things that will supposedly protect us, we get more fearful, because now we are more afraid of losing them. We move closer towards the inevitable loss (the stock-market crash, the bubble burst etc.) without any mechanism of defending ourselves.
I thought about how immunizations work:
We are protected from disease is by getting tiny shots of the bacteria. Our immune system comes to recognize these small pathogens, and learns to fight against them. It is then more prepared to fight against the bigger disease when it does come.
Which moments of my life were most courage-building?
One was when I got robbed from in freshman year at a retreat with Rolland Baker. My computer, textbooks, clothes – even my toothbrush got stolen. But, after the initial shock and tears, my friend lent me a toothbrush and PJs, and I did survive the retreat. I learned that no one could steal my joy.
There was that moment when I stood in front of the airport check-in counter, the contents of my suitcase spilling out in front of everyone to see. I had just been told that I could only take one suitcase with me for my two years in China. So, I packed only what I really needed and sent all the extra toothpaste tubes back with my friend.
And the forty-day fast which brought me literally to my knees some mornings, face to face with raw cravings and all that is human about me.
They were my tiny immunization shots that I survived.
They taught me that what I had learned to fear wasn’t that scary after all. And more importantly, how to search for and find joy in lack.
I believe a whole life is one where we don’t run from parts of it. It is that supernatural shalom that if even in the lack, there is joy, then there really isn’t anything that can take it away from us. And so, we show up more bravely.
We experiment by slowly peeling away the excess to reveal the raw. We realise wounds exposed to clean air actually do heal.
And that living without the excesses we hide behind is a much lighter way to live.
We give ourselves tiny immunization shots, and find we survive. We grow stronger, building our foundation on the strength of our character, not our piles of physical possessions.
We lack – then find that in fact He “has made all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” (2 Cor 9:8)
So, really, we never lack.
and this is the truth – the truth that sets us free 🙂