Lately I’ve grown sort of weary of all of the so-called “life coaches,” “consultants,” and “personal advisors” who tell us that we have to follow our passions or who direct us toward more fulfilling ways to spend our time. Maybe we just need more balance in how we view our work, how we deal with the past, and how we move ahead.
I laughed out loud at an article that was sent out on New Year’s Day by the ecclesial higher-ups inside my particular religious institution. The article, written by a life coach, talked about the value of doing those things that truly give joy in one’s off-hours so as not to jeopardize income. It was a frustrating read because, on the one hand, it feels like a cop-out to tell folks to endure their miserable income-generating job to enable them to do what they’re really passionate about in their off-hours. That’s just another way of convincing us that we, like many who’ve just taken their “medicine,” don’t really deserve to be happy (thanks, Puritans). On the other hand, I simultaneously couldn’t help but wonder how we’ve become so preoccupied with “passion.” That can be so self-indulgent and easily become a built-in excuse for a lack of resilience when things don’t go as we want. It’s important to make a living, but because that’s where most of us will spend the majority of our awake hours, there should be some fulfillment to it. At the same time, it’s narcissistic to expect that the universe should be dedicated to making us happy.
We need a better sense of balance that both requires something of us and simultaneously rewards us spiritually.
As another New Year’s celebration, my least favorite part of the whole “holiday season,” has come and gone, it makes me consider balance differently. Invariably, the disappointment at all of the things we didn’t get done “last year” speed down the highway toward a head-on collision with the expectations of things we secretly believe we’ll never live up to. Expectation management seems like an important skill to learn. On the one hand, maybe I should set more realistic goals and, on the other, maybe I shouldn’t be so fatalistic (the universe really is out to get me, by the way). Satisfaction seems to be all about balance. But it also seems to have something to do with how we frame it — or maybe how we sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
That song could easily work us into a sadness and grief at the days that have gone that we can’t get back.
When someone dies in New Orleans, the funeral service starts with a dirge but eventually moves to “When the Saints Go Marching In” played with full jazz band brashness — and why not? Normally, “Auld Lang Syne” depresses me, so I try to get past it as fast as possible because disappointment and dark expectations are hard to stare down for very long. But I discovered a version of the song that seems right. Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the band for “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert, have a version that starts with the dirge, but then kicking into a party — and why not? Batiste is a New Orleans native.
In the same way that traditional Big Easy funerals acknowledge grief but then thumb their nose to the pain in order to celebrate a life, so Batiste takes the regrets of the ending year and sacrifices them to a celebration of being alive.
The celebration isn’t about the possibilities of the future, but instead it lets go of the past which can’t be changed and squarely settles into the present. That’s where balance lives.
How much happier we’d all be if we could just allow ourselves the balance we need. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future (because fear is only ever of the future), maybe we surrender to the moment, live in the moment, absorb it and celebrate it.
The past represents life that has given us context, wisdom, resilience, joy and pain. The future is where we set a direction for where we want to go. Balancing the two, however, is seeing our lives held beautifully in tension between the two.
So I do not wish you a happy new year. That’s out of balance. I wish you a new year in which you have to struggle to get what you want or to do what you want.
I wish you a new year in which you can be at peace with yourself in between the tragedies and triumphs. May your past and future plant you in a rich and deep present. May you feel deeply and yet never be blinded by your passions. May you know yourself as a part of a community of people and yet never lose your individuality. I wish you to know balance.