by Eric Santillan
When you have found your happiness, ironically that is when the real trouble begins. That is when the real battle, as it were, for your soul starts. Life is not as easy and as simple as forsaking the world and gaining your soul anymore. Our life in the marketplace and the world of work points us to the possibility of great success and the potential to do great, life-giving and meaningful work.
But we’ve heard of good politicians getting eaten up by the system, or of doctors gone bad, or of idealistic lawyers giving in to a corrupt justice system. These stories abound. Because just as there is success, there is also the possibility of losing integrity, and compromising your values.
So how do you gain the world and not lose your soul? How do you remain virtuous without losing your dreams for a better, more financially stable and comfortable life? How do you prevent yourself from getting corrupted by the “system”? How do you assure yourself that you sleep well at night and face yourself in the mirror during the day?
Here are some of my thoughts:
One of the most difficult things to do when things start becoming really busy is balancing work and life outside work. I am constantly guilty of this myself.
But it is true; work can eat us up that we start losing perspective; and losing perspective is the first step to losing your sense of who you are and what is important for you. Sometimes, the promise of financial rewards can become the be-all and end-all of our lives that we lose sight of what is really important. The operative word here is BALANCE. I do not mean putting family, enjoyment, exercise ahead of our jobs. The key is to put these ALONG with your job. Because all these other things place your job in perspective. They make work more meaningful. They make life more enjoyable.
Stop. Pause. Listen.
We also need to step back once in a while and take stock of life so that we’re able to see life from a “longer” and “wider” perspective. By longer, I mean having the perspective of time—seeing life from beginning to what it is now. When we see life as the journey it has been; we become more grateful. We see how decisions we never saw as important before actually led us to where we are now. Successes are not as important. Failures are put in perspective. Suffering becomes optional.
By wider, I mean having the perspective of space: you see life from the perspective of the people you have touched and the lives you have shared it with. You begin to see how your own story melds into the stories of other people. This wider perspective makes us more humble. We see that we are not the center of the world. We live life a little more lightly. We can laugh at the world. And at ourselves.
You get this wider and longer perspective by doing many little and big things: reading a good book, watching a good movie, doing a review of the day before you go to sleep at night, going on regular retreats, climbing a mountain, having intimate conversations with someone you trust. Basically we all need time to pause, and take stock of our lives and literally catch our breath.
The word integrity comes from the word integer. An integer is a whole number (as against a fraction). To have integrity therefore is to be whole: to do what you say, to act on what you promise. To have integrity means not to be fragmented–a fraction of yourself. When you make decision outside your core values, that is when you tug at your integrity until all you become is a fraction of who you could be.
Find God in All Things.
Fr. Arrupe, SJ once said, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is than falling in love in a quiet absolute and final way.” In a more and more “modern” world, we have become very adept at keeping God out of the confines of our lives. We have become very good at compartmentalizing our lives into “for God” and “not for God”.
And while I talk about God, I do not talk about religion here. Rather, I talk about spirituality. We could use more spiritual people–people in touch with the divine and radiating it to people around them; people waging peace and not war; people whose arms are bigger than their own religion and willing to embrace humanity. These people are able to see the fleetingness of life, and are able to forgive more willingly, while not forgetting the lesson/s learned from the experience. They’re able to see that a blessing is not what happens to you–but what you do after what happens to you happens to you. They’re able to accept (while not negating the doubt, anger, bargaining, denial) that God can work in any situation. Even in suffering; ESPECIALLY in suffering because while pain is very difficult, we all have the capacity to be stronger than our pain.
There are millions of citizens who refuse to give in to what their more cynical neighbors call “reality,” who insist with their lives that there has to be a better way. Wondering about this, the study listened to stories of educators, entrepreneurs, homemakers, youth workers, artists, attorneys, writers, scientists, religious leaders, and physicians who are working to improve schools, health, business practices, race relations, economic conditions. The study eventually came to be known as Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World. The study strived to find the patterns that characterize their lives.
They found out several things. But the thread that links all the major reasons is Love.
They found out that people who try to do it on their own oftentimes fail. Love is what brings people together in community. In our highly individualistic culture, we tend to uphold a romantic vision of the hero- a lone, isolated individual who stands against the tide for what is right, not caring about what others think. And yet few if any of the people studied represented this stereotype. Rather, they cared about what others thought and felt, and were characterized by a particular capacity for connection, an ability to draw others around them into communities of comfort and challenge.
They also found out that people need to feel love in order to go on. When Valerie Russell, a veteran civil rights worker was asked how she managed to stay the course, especially when it got discouraging, she responded immediately: “Meals and music.”
Others spoke similarly. Meals shared together with a few friends and colleagues provide the nourishment for body and spirit that comes from a combination of good food and good conversation –conversation that gives perspective, heals, and helps us to say “yes” all over again. And music can help us hold it all together – the suffering and the wonder of life itself –in a way that anchors and re-energizes the soul. How we are together and what feeds our souls is what finally makes the difference in a world hungry for hope and love.
How we are together, and what feeds our souls is what will make difference in a world hungry for hope and love. In a world hungry for people who will not lose their souls. In a world hungry for people who will leave the world a better place than when they found it.
“There is much talk these days about all the choices we have, and about how it is up to each one of us to choose our own lives, but more often than not they seem to choose us. Our best laid ten-year plans are interrupted by life’s own plans for us: by sudden illness and surprise babies, by aging parents and the economy. Terrible things happen and wonderful things happen, but seldom do we know ahead of time exactly what will happen to us. Like Mary, our choices often boil down to yes or no: yes, I will live this life that is being held out to me or no, I will not.
If you decide to say no, you simply drop your eyes until you know the angel has left the room. Then you smooth your hair and go back to your spinning or your reading or whatever is most familiar to you and you pretend that nothing has happened.
Or you can decide to say yes. You can decide to be a daredevil, a test pilot, a gambler. You can decide to take part in a plan you did not choose. It does not mean you are not afraid. It just means that you are not willing to let your fear keep you locked in your room.”
–Barbara Brown Taylor, writing about “the Announciation”.
You have a minute? You might also find these interesting:
- Letters from Casa Santillan
- How Psychology and Spirituality are Two Sides of the Same Coin
- Three Practices to Celebrate Your Day
- Volo Ergo Sum
- First Two Steps to Creating Resilience