Helping My Husband (Not): How The Best Intentions Can Go Wrong

One of the things that bothers me to no end is how fathers are underappreciated.  I won’t ever forget how, despite his exhaustion and the emotional toll of worrying about his wife and baby, no one took care of my husband during our baby’s birth.  The most ironic part of this story is that because I knew no one was taking care of him, I was worried about him, and as we know, worrying has adverse effects on one’s physical well-being.

Now the interesting thing is that, however passionate I am as an individual about this topic, I still live in a society that breeds a certain indifference towards the capacity of fathers.  And this belief, which has molded and shaped the structures of our society, has also affected me.  This effect is, in my opinion, even more dangerous: because of my passion for the elevation of fatherhood to its full worth, I can and am often blinded by sometimes very subtle actions that are, in fact, breeding the same type of indifference but in a much more insidious way.

Now as all parents know, the first couple of months are particularly exhausting.  Night feeding, crap naps, witching hour, clinginess of a baby introduced to a brand-new world—a lot of demands are being made that are unique to this time period and uniquely tiring.  I saw the effect this had on my husband and decided that I would take care of him by taking on as much as I could of our baby’s care.

Oh, how this backfired.  In my drive to make sure my husband didn’t feel as exhausted as I did, I took away from him and our baby the precious opportunities that I have had to get to bond with her and get to know her.  And one of the underlying assumptions that kept me going was that men weren’t built to do this the way women are.  In other words, that men don’t have the capacity to go through these first few weeks like women do.

Woah.

Thankfully, I realised this early on and was able to address this underlying assumption.  I still take care of my husband as much as I can, but not by “hogging” our baby’s care.  Rather, taking care of my husband now includes giving him the time he craves to be with her.  This gave given the two of them precious time to bond and connect, and has given me the precious opportunity to sit back and watch their relationship blossom.

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Choosing to Turn Towards the Good: A Powerful, Empowering Choice

When I twisted my ankle back in 2008, I remember how a whole new world opened up to me right where I had been living for a number of years.  On the one hand, I saw just how selfish, self-centered, and unaware people were, as they would rush by me and ignore the fact that I couldn’t get through doors, or wouldn’t get up to let me sit in the bus or the train.  On the other hand, I also saw amazing and inspiring displays of good cheer and selflessness—free rides, letting me pass in front of a long line, and rearranging the seating in a food court so that I could take the table on the side where I could stretch my leg out comfortably.

One of the things that I have always struggled with, that I struggled with during that time dealing with life with a twisted ankle, and that I continue to deal with is the choice to see the world either as half full, or half empty, of goodness.  Let’s be honest: there is a lot that is going wrong in the world, and a lot that needs some serious fixing, if not outright replacement.  But on the other hand, there is so much that is going right in the world, so much goodness that we can build on and create a better world.

It’s all the more important today, with some of the things that have happened since I first posted these Chronicles of a Twisted Ankle, to remain optimistic.  It doesn’t mean burying one’s head in the sand.  Rather, it means looking at the reality that surrounds us, but never forgetting that there are more than enough good things happening in the world that we can build on.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

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Enjoying the Reality Instead of Grieving the Fantasy of Parenthood

Every parent I know had a certain image of what life would be like with their children.  And every parent I have talked to tell me the same thing: that life with their children is not all like what they thought it would be.

What happens next is also really interesting and has got me thinking a lot about the importance of attitude and perspective.  Some parents end up disappointed in what their life is like, seeing the discrepancy between their plans and the reality of parenthood.  Other parents thought love every moment of it—even the worst parts of it that they could imagine.

It seems that the trick to being a happy parent—and to have a happy child—is to enjoy the good and the bad sides of parenting, to the point that the bad side of parenting becomes a source of joy in itself.  I put the question before a couple of parents and here are some of the ways that the difficult sides of parenthood became a source of joy for them.

Breastfeeding

There is definitely something beautiful about the concept of breasts being able to feed a little human being with exactly what he needs.  There is also something delightful and beautiful about holding your baby while you are feeding him in such an intimate, unique, and short-lived way.

But oh boy, can breastfeeding be messy!  Some mothers have told me tales of how their milk shoots in their babies faces or leaks all over while their baby struggles to latch on.  Other moms shared how gross they often feel what with milk always leaking through their bras and clothes.  Some mothers couldn’t get over the unsettling smell that seemed to follow them everywhere while they were breastfeeding.

Then again, as one mother said, if you laugh at it, it’s all becomes fun.  When her milk shoots in her baby’s face, she laughs, and the baby, taking his cue from her, learned to scrunch his face as she would open up her bra and would laugh when the milk would hit his face.  Another mother told me how she and her husband cataloged all the different ways she smelled because of the breastmilk, and how they would create fake perfume ads based on her “scent of the day”.  And all of them said that once their babies were weaned off, they really missed breastfeeding in all its messy, gross splendour.

Diapering

Diapering is another one of those moments that can be quite beautiful, a great opportunity for parents to bond and enjoy their baby.  But do I even need to mention all the things that can go wrong?

Again, laughing it off seems to be key.  One of my friends, realising that whatever she did, her baby boy was going to end up peeing at some point when not covered, put up a bullseye on the wall by the changing table and would give her son points based on how close he would get to its centre.  Another mom started cataloging the various colours and textures and would send updated to her close friends who, also mothers, started battling it out for the grossest poo of the day.  Each week, the winner of the grossest poo would be treated to coffee by the other women.

The most powerful “retake”, however, it to consider every bowel movement as a gift: the gift of knowing that your baby’s gastrointestinal system is doing fine and that you got another reminder that everything is OK.

Nighttime Feedings

Especially in the dead of winter, when the idea of getting out of a warm bed into the cool air of your bedroom, nighttime feedings can be quite difficult.  The exhaustion, the discomfort, the loneliness, the baby that won’t settle, the baby that bites because he falls asleep at the breast, the lolling head—there is a really long list of reasons why nighttime feeds are just so darn difficult.

Then again, most mothers agreed that despite it all, there is something incredibly peaceful and almost magical when it’s just them and their baby, without anyone or anything to come in between them.  One Mom told me that those moments were some of her most peaceful and restful ones, when all she had to do was watch her son eat.  Another one told me that’s when some of the most precious things happened—her baby’s first real smile, her baby’s first laugh, and the first time her baby was able to reach out and grab her finger without hesitation, to name a few.  Another one said that the nighttime feeds became her meditation time—at which point her mental health became a lot better and, consequently, so did her physical health.  So much so that when her husband suggested that he start getting up with her on weekends and holidays, she turned him down!

Conclusion

The consensus is that parenting is truly wonderful.  It’s an experience that transforms you as an individual and greatly enriches your marriage.  But it’s also tough, sometimes so tough some parents wonder how they will ever get through it.  It’s OK to not enjoy every moment, and it’s OK to acknowledge that some moments are tougher to enjoy—and make sure to laugh as much as you can.

But I think there is something else to remember: you should always enjoy every moment.  When you are single, enjoy every moment.  When you are dating, enjoy every moment.  The same for when you are engaged, married without children, married with one child, married with more than one child, and married with grown-up children.  These moments will all pass and only if we live them to the fullest will we not regret them.

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Blogging about Passions or Passionately Blogging?

While going through all the posts I have uploaded on this blog since it’s launch almost nine years ago, I came across this particular post from October 2008.  It reminded me of the difficult few years during which I struggled between blogging about the things I passionately wanted to blog about and blogging about the various passions I knew would get me more readers.

This is a struggle I see a lot around me, as many young women start up blogs with the hope that it will become a money-making machine, only to remove it from the internet years, even months later because the fire ran out.

While some lucky bloggers manage to have a passion that appeals to enough people to shine the light of success on their endeavours, most struggle to strike gold.  But that seems to be the problem in the first place: these bloggers try to appeal to the masses by blogging about topics that are popular, rather than by learning to craft their art in such a way that they become popular because of who they are.  They are letting the public’s passion mould them, rather than moulding the public’s passion with the strength of theirs.

Focusing one’s attention to what is mainstream in this day an age is quite dangerous.  For one, the tide being as strong as it is, a curious look into mainstream might sweep you right along with the rest of them.  Had I succumbed to the temptation of blogging about popular topics, I might have been an internationally well-known blogger by now, but I wouldn’t be blogging about my passions.  How happy would I be?

Another reason to not step into mainstream interests online, as defined by Google Trends, is that oftentimes, the spectacularly bad is particularly trendy.  I can’t help but wonder how much of one’s sense of hope turns into despair in these conditions.  This feeling is further compounded by the fact that superficial and unimportant news seems to make for most of the other news trends.  How then, one might get caught thinking, is there any hope for the future when these things are considered “news”?

A third reason has to do with the way reports are written.  I feel like more often than not, news stories are written in such a way to generate a passionate response.  And even if it isn’t, beware of the comment section.  Reading such things takes its toll as precious emotional energy goes into completely unimportant things.

Yet another reason has to do with effecting change.  I have heard many (including myself) hypothesising that if they become famous, they will have an influenceable voice that they can then use to effect change.  But if you become famous for a superficial reason, how much weight will your voice carry when discussion weighty matters?

Of course, this is quite the black-and-white scenario.  We can’t segregate ourselves from mainstream interests.  Similarly, there are some Google Trends that we should take note of.  Furthermore, some individuals, who became famous for superficial reasons, have learned to use their voice in a powerful way.  But ultimately, my advice to a girl-next-door who wants to become a world-renown blogger is that she should consistently upload quality content about something she is incredibly passionate about, content that she then should market diligently and systematically.  Maybe her blog about a more serious matter will not attract as many people as would a more superficial blog, but she will remain true to her passion and will effect change within the small community that bands together around her content.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

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Dealing with Parent Guilt: Some of the Best Advice I Got

Speaking of guilt: I’m a very avid advice seeker.  I mean, why not prevent things from happening by getting the advice to do just that, rather than fall into the same trap as others have?  And so, right after we got married, my husband and I started reaching out to our generous and loving friends who had children to ask them about their learnings and insights.  To each, we always asked: what is the one piece of advice you wish you could have given yourself?

My husband and I are also huge nerds; we have been following a couple of the major parenting blogs for quite some time now.  And the case of both our friends and of parent bloggers, one theme seems to rule them all: that of Parent Guilt.

I think any parent, however new, deals with this feeling pretty early on in their journey.  It seems inevitable, and it seems at times that Parent Guilt can even break a marriage long after the last child has long flown the nest.  It seemed to my husband and I that it was something that we had to deal with—and the sooner, the better.

We were lucky enough to get this brilliant piece of advice pretty early on during our own journey as parents, and our friend is kind enough to let me share it with readers.

Parent guilt has to be fought from the bottom up from the very beginning, which means, even before you’re pregnant, on a firm foundation of striving for excellence.

In other words:

  • Make sure that you are doing your best as soon as you decide you want children, and keep that up as much as you can. Compare yourself to only yourself; make sure you are doing a little bit better each day.  What better gift to give your child than that of your best self?
  • Don’t feel guilty about anything.   All.  Even the smallest thing can fester and become a big, gaping, emotional wound.

It sounds great, but in a world that seems to thrive on guilt, what does this process look like in a parents’ day-to-day life?

“Data,” our friend said without hesitation.  “Evidence-based guilt fighting.  You feel that you are a bad parent because of this one thing you did wrong?  Make a list of all the things you did right on the same day.  See which list is longer.  My bet is, the latter will be much, much, much longer.”

This is great advice not just for parents, but for anyone who deals with guilt.  Whatever you do, you will feel guilty if that’s the pattern of thought you choose to engage in.  So don’t let guilt in, even–or perhaps especially–with the small stuff.  It’s just not worth it.  Just think about it — do you remember the times your own mom zoned out in front of the TV, or all the times she was there playing right beside you?  My bet is you remember the latter more than the former.

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An Artist’s Life And An Artist’s Art: How Coherent Should They Be?

I wasn’t very good with titles back in 2008, and this post is solid proof of the lack of title-writing skills.  The reflection though is still something that I constantly think about: the ever-present dichotomy the work of some artists and their personal lives.  And in this case, think of “artist” in the broad sense of the word.

This reflection is especially weighing on my mind these days as I work my way through a detailed outline for the third volume of Spirit Within Club.  Is the message I am trying to convey in this series undermined by the choices that I am making in my own life?  Thankfully, I don’t seem to have obvious dichotomies, such as an artist portraying women as sex objects who back up organisations working to, say, empower young women.  But of course, there are less obvious dichotomies that litter my life.  Sometimes I ask myself: how, then, do I dare write a book for impressionable young children on a topic as important as leading a life of service?

This was one of the major questions that delayed the writing of the second volume of the series—that is, until I had a conversation with a very wise individual who pointed out that approaching the plotline itself as a learning process and not proposing formulaic solutions, but rather, focusing on the process of consulting about an issue, studying various documents on the matter, acting on any decision that is taken, and then reflecting on how well this action effected a change on the issue.

Because, in a way, if we expect the arts to be perfect, then their creator should be perfect as well—and that is an impossibility.  Yet again, it implies that our consumption of media needs to be an open yet aware one, in which we question things that are presented to us.

In light of that, I will definitely be revising the wording used in the series to ensure that I am not presenting anything as THE solution to a problem, but rather to emphasize the process that the characters are going through.  I’m sure that, in the future, I will learn more about writing fiction in a way that triggers reflections rather than imposes formulas.  Until then, I take solace in the fact that parents will hopefully reading right along with their children, and will point out to them (and maybe even email me?  Please?) the dichotomies and contradictions I have unwillingly introduced between my life and my art.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

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From Nurturing to The Opposite: The Dark Forces that Take Mothers from One to the Other

This is a very difficult post to write, mostly because of the sensitivity of the topic at hand.  But please bear with me—I think it is an important topic that we, as members of a community, really need to deeply think about and, hopefully, be inspired to do something about.

There is something so horrific about mothers who kill their children.  It seems to illogical, so contrary to nature, that it can be understood why we tend to condemn these women.  If all mothers were to act in such a way, the human race would become extinct in a matter of years.

But the horrific nature of this act is what makes it so important for us to think about and reflect on.  What is it that drives a mother, who, biologically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, is driven to love and protect their offspring?

Think about it: the most natural, normal thing for a mother to do is to protect her young ones.  It is a very powerful drive that has yielded amazing stories of women performing incredible acts when their children were in danger.

Which really begs the vital question: what would drive a mother to commit such as act?  Whatever it may be, the negative force that counters the positive instinct to protect and nurture is a very powerful one.

My own mother told me stories about some of the difficulties of being a parent.  They include isolation and exhaustion and the pressure of being the perfect mother, wife, and homemaker despite it.  Not just that: we are meant to achieve all of this without the traditional family and community structures that used to support mothers.

When my close friends started becoming mothers, they told me of isolation and exhaustion, and also of the pressure to be the perfect mother, wife, and homemaker, and on top of that, of maintaining a career, an active social life, and making it all look good on social media.

Since I’ve become a mother myself, I have gained a taste of what the pressures society exerts on us can do to a mother.  Even when I was at my most exhausted, all I could think of sometimes, instead of sleeping because the baby is sleeping, is that I had to clean the house, clean myself, bake something, wash dishes, do chores, go out.  If all those things were done, then I would start thinking about exercising to lose weight, because I had been, at less than two weeks after giving birth, the target of comments about the way my stomach looks (despite the fact that I am quite slim and healthy-looking and that my weight and stomach are of absolutely no medical concern.)  If that was done, I would start thinking about my career, about working, writing, applying for jobs.

In other words, there always was, and still is, something pressuring me to do more, rather than sit back and take a deep breath, just enjoy motherhood, and just be.

If I didn’t have the support I have from my incredible husband; some measure of financial stability; the support of my amazing parents and lovely sisters; a healthy baby, a healthy husband, and a healthy body; a job that was on hold and waiting for me to pick up again; well, honestly, I can see why someone would be driven to commit the unthinkable.

Because it’s hard being a mom, and if we don’t give moms the support they need—which most of the time, we don’t—they will crack.

So instead of looking at moms who kills their children with the eyes of judgment, we should look at them with concern not for themselves and those like them.  Rather, we should look at them with concern for the state of the society they live in.  More importantly, we need to take a long, hard look at our own contribution to creating and maintaining a society the structures of which allow for the perfect storm of pressure to build on moms to such an extent that some would commit such horrible acts.

It can be very simple, and each one of us can do something right now about it.  When we see a mother, we should ask them how they are doing, instead of focusing only on the baby.  We should comment on everything they are doing right, rather on what they are doing wrong; we should do little acts of kindness for the ones we don’t know, like opening the door for them, making their baby smile, handing them that can of tomato sauce they are waiting for, letting them pass in front of us at the grocery store, helping them with the stroller.  For those mothers we know, we can also drop off food, visit them to say hi, pick up a little something for them from the store—a couple of apples, an orange, flowers—anything to make them feel loved and appreciated for the service they are providing humanity.  And for the mothers in our intimate circle of friends, we should go over to their place with our laptops and keep them company, watch their baby for half an hour while they linger under the shower head, make them food, hug them while they cry because they are so tired, and assure them that whatever they choose to do, they are wonderful and incredible.

We should also not forget about the fathers, who soldier on beside their wives and are allowed even less leeway when it comes to showing any change in their “productivity” after having a child.  They have to be strong, they have to be energetic, they have to keep exercising to keep that six pack, they have to not cry, they can’t admit to being tired, they can’t acknowledge that they are overwhelmed.

Thankfully, on an individual level, the conversations are changing, and more women and men are admitting to all of the above that applies to them.  It means that we have already taken an important step towards changing the discourse in our society on these topics; and hopefully, once the discourse reaches a tipping point, we can create a world in which no mother will ever get to the point of committing the unthinkable ever again.

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Guest Post: Life Lessons From An Ant Infestation, by The Ten Thousand Hour Mama

This is a shortened version of Catherine’s post. To read the full article, or to have access to a large number of great posts, visit her insightful, hilarious, and just plain wonderful blog, The Ten Thousand Hour Mama.

It’s probably a bad sign when a household ant infestation feels like a metaphor for your life.

A few times a year since we moved into our house, tiny sugar ants appear. They swarm on crumbs and march in lines along room perimeters. After a while—and usually more rigorous housecleaning—they go back to whatever outside home they have.

This time is different. I keep fighting the ants, and, predictably, more show up. And they are spreading.

Perhaps it’s not shocking that this particularly bad ant infestation mirrors a time in my life that also feels chaotic.

More tasks than hours

I know this sounds dramatic. And things are fine, really. These are just the musings of an overstretched mom/writer/daughter/grandmother/wife/entrepreneur with a bug problem.

Just so I’m not vaguebooking, suffice to say I’m busy at work, looking into starting a new business and helping my elderly grandmother whom we just moved from Alabama to Oregon. In an ideal world, I would also spend time with my husband, occasionally work out, see friends and—oh, yeah—keep my house somewhat sanitary (and ant-free).

Yet—and yet. My to-do list gets longer, and the ant infestation is now, apparently, permanent.

A less than surprising ant infestation

Anyone who has been to my house will say I am not the most fastidious housecleaner—as long as they’re being honest. Most nights I’m too tired to make sure every dirty dish is out of the sink, and let’s just say that scrubbing the shower is not at the top of my priority list.

So when a few ants find stray crumbs under the kids’ booster seats or behind the toaster, it’s not that surprising.

I’ve stepped up my attempts to June Cleaver my house since the most recent ant situation, though. I wipe down counters. I vacuum every time my toddler upends her plate of Crispix. I rinse out the sink obsessively.

But when I wake up in the morning, I’m inevitably greeted by a pile of ants that have turned the most minuscule of crumbs into an invertebrate rave. That overnight mess reminds me of my running list of responsibilities: My tasks multiply like so many ants on a stray Cheerio.

Ant high-fives

Toward the end of a very long day recently—a day that involved an epic car tantrum from my older daughter and no end to sibling rivalry—I had to use the bathroom. During the five seconds of alone time a potty break bought me, I noticed a stream of ants marching up and down the tub.

I noticed that whenever two ants passed each other, they paused. They touched each other with their feelers. And only then did they go on their merry way.

Every single ant did this. Not a single ant ignored another. No ant’s high-five was left hanging. No ant shunned another for their baby ant’s unbrushed hair or lack of proper rainy day footwear.

Yes, I’m projecting. But I’ve been thinking about those ants constantly.

Life lessons from invertebrates

I should probably be pissed that those ants stop to gently tap each other’s antennae. After all, they’re communicating something along the lines of, “Hey, I just found the motherlode of crushed bunny crackers under the couch. TELL EVERYONE!”

But being the person I am (read: an overanalyzer who has a lot of feelings), I have been thinking about how that constant stream of check-ins might help me, too.

So despite feeling overbooked and overwhelmed, I reach out. I’ve been making a conscious effort to text with friends I don’t see often enough. I invited a friend I know wouldn’t mention the Great 2017 Ant Infestation Situation over for a play date. I send pictures of the girls to family spread across the country.

When I get a text back, even though it’s just a gentle “ping,” it makes me feel a little more connected to my hive. (Yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors. Give me a break; I’m hosting close to 100 million ants in my home.)

In this way, I’m trying to be a tad more ant-like. I still will spray the eff out of an ant conga line with my Mrs. Meyer’s counter cleaner, but I’m also taking my lessons where I can get them.

I’m also giving some of those ants a free pass—not because I suddenly feel emotionally connected to them but because there are just more important things in life than sanitizing my house.

As I finish up work, I can hear my kids playing with my husband, dad and grandma upstairs. We’re about to eat a big pile of spaghetti, much of which will probably end up smashed in booster seats and flung under the table. (Hey, ants, more food!) I’ll hold my grandma’s hand, listen to her retell the same stories and tell her that she is loved. I will pretend to be Pluto or Elsa or whatever character my preschooler requests, and I’ll tell my toddler the word for every single snake, lizard and tortoise in her new-favorite reptile book.

Just for tonight, ants, I declare a truce.

————————————

Catherine Ryan Gregory writes about becoming a good mom—or at least a good-enough one—at TenThousandHourMama.com. She shares craft projects, children’s book recommendations and ideas on how to raise a generous, caring and socially conscious family.

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Coherence: Answering The Needs of Baby, Daddy, And Mommy At The Same Time

I have been told and have read time and again that taking care of one’s children means taking care of one’s marriage, one’s spouse, oneself, and, of course, one’s children.  It makes sense theoretically, but in practice, it can be quite a challenge when there are only 24 hours in one day.

What would I give for Hermione’s Time-Turner…

Layering Needs

In lieu of that, I have come to greatly appreciate what I am referring to for now as the “layering” of needs.  In other words, how can we, as a family, layer our needs together and answer them with one common activity?

One prime example that has become a precious part of our daily routine is baby’s need for naps, and mommy and daddy’s need to pray, meditate, and read Sacred Writings.  Like all babies, ours need to unwind before she can settle into a restful nap.  And like so many babies, she loves music.

Her father and I love music as well, so we put together a simple nap-time routine that helps baby unwind and give mommy and daddy some time to close their eyes, listen to Sacred Writings, and meditate.

Our ‘Layered’ Naptime Routine

It sounds ominous, but our routine is amazingly simple.  We play the three videos below in the order I have embedded them, one of us holding the baby in our arms and cuddling her.  She usually babbles her way during the first one, but by the end of the second one, she is completely relaxed.  By the middle of the third, she is ready to be put down and she falls asleep, content and relaxed, shortly after its conclusion.

At the same time, her father and I have the time to reflect on the three quotes used in each of these videos of utmost importance to a life of service.  The first reads: “Unite and bind together the hearts, join in accord all the souls. Oh Lord! Make these faces radiant through the light of Thy oneness.”  While the main reason we love this song so much is that one of our dear friends put it together and another few dear friends feature in it, the quote seems so important to us in our efforts to build a vibrant community that we can’t reflect enough on it.

Similarly, the second video features a quote we find important to our efforts in becoming better individual members of our community.  It is from The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh and reads: “O son of Spirit!  My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.”

And yes, it features another one of our friends.

Wrapping It All Up

Finally, the last video is of a live performance of a song of great significance to many Bahá’ís.  It also features a choir, which is quite uplifting and inspiring in itself.  In very short, the song is a request for Divine Help, something that we all need when working for the betterment of both our communities and ourselves.

There you have it; a daily routine that we repeat at least twice, if not thrice, which helps baby nap well and allows mommy and daddy to regularly reflect on their life’s purpose.

Now that’s what I call being efficient.

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No More Headaches: Overcoming Dichotomies to Create Coherence

I often feel like I am only a step away from being caught up in a life defined by more money, more shopping, more outings, more, more, and more.  Why?  Because that’s the message that I feel I am being bombarded with.  When I go out, I see billboards and signs inviting me to do more and buy more; when I pick up a magazine, I see ads and articles about buying more and doing more; when I talk to people, I hear mentions about how I should be experiencing more, achieving more.

Although I strive to live a simple life, when surrounded by all this push towards “more”, I feel it’s important to ask myself: Am I fooling myself?  What if I am living the exact kind of life I don’t want to live?  Because fact is that the life we are told to live is itself ruled by contradictions.  Just think about the importance a wedding and a marriage are given—the former should be such a small, relatively unimportant part but gets so much more attention that the latter.

Why is it so Important to Deal with Contradictions in One’s Life?

Such contradictions can cause a lot of anguish, which I understand is labelled cognitive dissonance in psychology.  It seems that, on top of the “regular” cognitive dissonance is the tension that people like myself feel when they choose to lead lives governed by rules that are very different from the rules that the structures of society support.

One thing that has helped me is to identify real dichotomies that exist in my life.  This helped me eliminate false dichotomies from my mind, clearing it to deal with the real dichotomies that create a state of cognitive dissonance.  I’m hoping that by sharing my personal experience, two things will happen.  The first, that others will feel encouraged to go through this same process.  The second, that those of you who choose to go through this process will reach out to me and share your experiences, so that we can, together, share our learnings in future posts so help one another as well as inspire more to embark on a similar journey.

Dissonance-Inducing Dichotomies

One definition of coherence that I particularly like—which can be found in books such as “Concise Introduction to Logic”, Stan Baronett’s “Logic”, Roger Freedman’s “Universe: Stars and Galaxies”, and Roger Cooke’s “The History of Mathematics”—states that a dichotomy is “any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts. It is a partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets) that are jointly exhaustive (everything must belong to one part or the other) and mutually exclusive (nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts.)”

As a Bahá’í, I choose to strive to achieve a certain level of excellence.  However, this excellent comes in sharp contrast with what the discourse currently is around me about what excellence should mean.  I struggled for example between my understanding of a Bahá’í-inspired excellence at work versus excellence at work as was expected from me by my office.  My understanding of the latter is that I work to serve, which means that I work in order not just to make a living, but to contribute to the betterment of society.  So my focus was on doing the work with excellence, contributing to making my work environment a joyful and united one, and taking as good care of my patients as I could (I work in health).  But I was soon labelled as lacking ambition because I didn’t pursue better opportunities in administration; I wanted to solidify my experience working directly with patients before heading up that path, so that if/when I chose to do so, I would be able to continue serving my patients and not just create policies and procedures that looked good on paper.

When the Light Shone and I Finally Clicked

I am now at peace with the feedback I still get from my work environment and the choices that I make.  But for the longest time, I felt like I had to choose between the two: either “suffer” the consequences of trying to apply Bahá’í principles the way I understood them and never be appreciated, or engage fully in the discourse of being promoted as the highest form of appreciation.  I understand now that the two come hand-in-hand, albeit in a different and slower way.  I can continue striving for excellence in serving my patients while at the same time, consulting with those making promotion offers on how and when to take these offers in a way that is coherent with my personal objectives and with the needs of the company.  It’s a tougher path to walk in some ways, requiring a lot of courage in sharing sometimes very personal things, but one well-worth treading.

The Broader Perspective

“A false dichotomy is an informal fallacy consisting of a supposed dichotomy which fails one or both of the conditions: it is not jointly exhaustive and/or not mutually exclusive.  In its most common form, two entities are presented as if they are exhaustive, when in fact other alternatives are possible. In some cases, they may be presented as if they are mutually exclusive although there is a broad middle ground (see also undistributed middle).”  Thank you, Wikipedia!

What does this imply?  My experience is that it makes us see things as being mutually exclusive and that this view of the world creates impossible-to-resolve scenarios.  However, because these dichotomies are false, they are well-worth pouring energy into figuring them out.  Because when we talk about work, school, and service, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather they live together. They can belong simultaneously to both parts.  Actually, even more: they feed one into the other, making each one better an better.

Comfort Generating Coherence

But as another friend said, coherence is not balance; dividing up your hours in a certain way is not coherence; learning to make them feed off each other is. So figuring out how your work can feed into your service which has been reinforced by your studies is coherence. Doing school work for a certain number of hours, service for another couple of hours, and work for another couple of hours, is balance.  Choosing school work that will inform your service, applying the spiritual insights gleaned during service to your studies and work, serving at school or at work (or both!)—that’s coherence.

An Often Confusing Learning Process

I have to admit that all of this is very difficult still for me to figure out, although I have been trying to do so for years.  I have been trying to write this post for a couple of months now, and as you can tell, there are still a lot of gaps in my understanding.  But I decided to upload it anyhow, rambling, confusing, and all, because it’s important to share not just the fruits of one’s reflections, but also the process of reflection itself.

And this in itself is quite exciting: that something is starting to emerge, however indistinct, and that little by little, coherence is built.  I personally find that, even if I have a very long way to go in creating a coherence life, the little bubbles of coherence that I manage to create are so comforting and encouraging that it makes the completely incoherent parts of my life easier to live through—because I know it’s only a matter of time before coherence starts bubbling there, too.

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