During this intense and complex vortex of change in our world, when we find ourselves over-committed and daily life becomes hectic, how do we cope? Here’s the story of a method I developed which I call “survival plus.”
I once taught a seven-week class on the philosophy of living. We began at the middle of the semester, when the students had already formed habits for the term. They were honors students, and their lives were fully scheduled; about a third were heavily overcommitted. Some reported cycling between spurts of high performance followed by collapse. For days or weeks, they would exert themselves to the maximum with no exercise, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition; once the project was done, they would fall into bed in total exhaustion and only gradually recover their energy. So I developed an artistic living project option that I called “survival plus.” The idea is that when demands come thick and fast and the pressure is on, we can survive—and even do better than that. We can hold our head high as we go through the hectic period. But we refuse to abuse our bodies or to subordinate ourselves—our souls—to deadlines and external task demands. We are each the captain of our ship as we navigate the experience. We prune our list of activities, letting go of those that are optional. In some of our remaining activities, we remember that the Father’s will is not to attain our soaring ideals, but to do what we are capable of. We also notice the factors that led to getting overcommitted and determine to avoid repeating those mistakes. We finish strong in spirit.
Several students took the survival-plus project option and disciplined themselves to programs of sleep, nutrition, or exercise. During class, they supported each other in small-group sharing, and their striving was frequently encouraged in class. They all had successes to report.
If we are prepared to make time for a deeper solution, we can profit from something that was done by Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet and educator Rabindranath Tagore.
I withdrew my heart from my own schemes and calculation, from my daily struggles . . . and gradually my heart was filled. I began to see the world around me through the eyes of my soul. . . . Thus, when I turned back from the struggle to achieve results, from the ambition of doing benefit to others, and came to my own innermost need . . . then the unquiet atmosphere of the outward struggle cleared up and the power of spontaneous creation found its way through the centre of all things. [Quoted in Kathleen O’Connell, Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet as Educator, p. 258]
Tagore’s path to artistic creativity went through the soul’s perspective on truth to the divine center.
During that seven-week class, students were exposed to responsible, factual, down-to-earth realism about facts and causes as relevant to their health; to making philosophically responsible decisions by integrating the meaning of the relevant facts with the meaning of the relevant values; to spiritual experience, with alternatives and instructions for centering, which may seem like a waste of precious time but in fact saves time by enhancing effectiveness through the integration of mind, soul, and body; techniques of enhancing our enjoyment of the beauties of nature; ways of artistic living; an expanded concept of the golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated; and a vision of natural and gradual growth that culminates in a character dominated by love. All dimensions of the new philosophy of living help people to live divinely. (For details, see my just published Living in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.)
When I contemplate the life and teachings of Jesus, I see the fulfillment of divine living and the way to follow. For all that rested upon his shoulders, he was never over-committed, never rushed, never anxious, never sacrificing the wisdom of living to the demands of the hour. He accomplished the essential that was his to do, even though he was rejected by the religious leaders whom he had hoped to win for the gospel movement. His way and his gospel will one day prevail in our world; and the more we live the balance that we see in him, the more we help our world turn around.
Of course there is more to say about living through hectic times. What would you add?
Photo Credit: Since the book to which I referred to is not available on amazon, I relied on amazon’s book cover for another volume by Kathleen and Joseph O’Connell, Rabindranath Tagore: Facets of a Cultural Icon.