Tag Archives: Coherence

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! }

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.

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.

Coherence: Asking of our Leaders only What We Work For Ourselves

I have been keeping abreast (as much as my poor heart can take it) of the horrific events in and around Syria. The photograph of the drowned little boy shocked me just like it did many others; the outcry following it made me initially quite happy; perhaps his sacrifice would mean that others wouldn’t have to follow suit.

But as I read article after article, post after post, tweet after tweet, another feeling kicked in: discomfort. The cries for governments to do more, to open borders, to take in refugees, to not be beset by prejudices and remember that most of these are innocent victims underserving of the label “terrorist”—for some kind of reason, they all bothered me.

And as you can imagine, it bothered me that it bothered me (bother-ception?) Had I become an individual so indifferent to the suffering of others that cries to help them bothered me?

Thankfully not; it took me a little time, but I finally realised that the reason for it is quite the contrary. It’s the lack of coherence between what we want our leaders to do on our behalf and what we do on a day to day basis that bothers me.

For example, how many of us who are pushing our governments to be more open and generous towards the refugees from Syria are practicing these virtues at the grassroots on a daily basis? While their suffering isn’t at the same scale, there are people in every city and town in North America who are suffering from a lack of daily necessities; there are even more who are lacking in warmth, care, and companionship. Are we reaching out to these people? And if not, can we blame our leaders for taking their cue from us and applying similar patterns of behavior at a macro level?

But perhaps if our calls to our governments were matched by equally as strong commitment and action to changing the patterns of behaviours at the micro level, we would be able to show rather than only tell our leaders what kind of world we want to live in: one in which we help each other to alleviate suffering, even the most basic one, not waiting for it to reach calamitous levels before wanting to act.

Picture courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 15 September 2015

Art as Service: The Importance of Leading a Coherent Life

A couple of my artist friends and I, concerned with the well-being of our communities, have been trying to figure out how to balance out a desire to create the kind of art that contributes to building a better world while at the same time making it a financially sustainable career path. In other words, how not to be a sell-out while at the same time making a decent, modest living.

The tendency nowadays seems to be to create art mired in dichotomies. The song “Sweet Sixteen” by Destiny’s Child popped up on a friend’s playlist recently. It discusses the issue of teenage pregnancy, telling sixteen-year-old girls that they should “slow down” because “there’s so much ahead” of them. I completely agree with this message, but the song always rubbed me the wrong way. Because of the 17 tracks on the album it is featured on, The Writing’s On The Wall, eight are promoting sexual behavior of some kind, either through suggestive lyrics (“Confessions”; “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”; “She Can’t Love You”; “Stay”) or through video clips featuring provocative outfits and dance moves (“Bills, Bills, Bills”; “Bug A Boo”; “Get On The Bus”; “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”; “Say My Name”). No wonder, then, that “Sweet Sixteen” bothers me so much. It’s a demonstration of lack of coherence, kind of like a Public Service Announcement about conserving energy recorded by someone who drives a Hummer.

Coherence lends authenticity that makes an artistic creation resonate with so many for long periods of time. One thing my friends and I have come to realise is that our art has to be coherent with the message we are sharing and the life we are leading; if not the message we want to share with the best of intentions will be forever tainted, like a glass of pure water would be with but one drop of poison. In short, would you be able to take a post of mine on the importance of chastity seriously if I wrote an erotic novel?

It’s a lot more difficult to stay on the straight path than the beginning of this post makes it seem. There are so many temptations that shirk the line just a little bit, little enough that it might it wouldn’t hurt to shirk. I know for example that when it comes to writing, my posts on more serious matters such as this one do not attract nearly as much as those on fashion and beauty, nor as those on flying through a tornado. This means that I don’t get as much traffic because of the choice that I made. Which means less possibilities for me to monetize my blog.

And it’s not like I have to completely go to the dark side for the sake of monetization. When it comes to writing for example, it is very tempting to dip into that which will attract readers, even if it doesn’t convey the purpose that first inspired me to put pen to paper. Fashion doesn’t go against my personal values; neither does beauty. So writing about fashion as a form of beauty isn’t at all something that goes against my personal values.

But what door do I open if I start writing about fashion and beauty? There are a lot of readers who would much rather read about fashion and beauty; will I be able to resist the temptation of consistently getting hundreds of hits a post a day if the feedback that I get is “fashion and beauty trumps all”? There are also a lot of opportunities for fashion and beauty bloggers; what is to say that I won’t slowly slip into the fold and wake up one day in 10 years only to realise that my blog has completely morphed from its original purpose?

This might seem like a drastic approach, but I think the forces of society are very strong; we only have to look into research in the effects of violence in the media on our behavior and of the effects of viewing beauty photoshoots on our self-image. It’s all the more important to be careful of these forces as there are so many we don’t understand. Strict avoidance is neither needed nor wise; but careful examination of every step seems to be vital in ensuring that art remains coherent with the rest of an artist’s beliefs. And it is even more vital for consumers of art to support such artists.

Image courtesy of Death to Stock.

The False Choice We Have to Make Between Helping Ourselves and Helping Others

It’s interesting how each person’s life struggles seem to distil to just a handful of challenges that occur again and again in various shapes and forms. A personal struggle of mine, which I blogged about previously (and one post of which will be reposted later on today), is the injustice that operates within so many relationships, in which one person gives a lot more to others than they receive. This injustice struck me yet again when I recently met with an exhausted and overwhelmed friend for coffee. Concerned at first that the exhaustion was health-related, I realised that it was a case of helping everyone else and not getting much help when she needed it.

The solution that always comes immediately to mind seems both simple and impossible to people like her: she needs to stop helping others so much and take the time to help herself. But unfortunately, she—and other selfless people like her—not only can’t stop helping others, but refuse to do so; what would the world become if we all stopped helping one another? she challenged me.

It feels like many around me—and myself—are caught in the same dilemma: our own affairs often stagnate as we put them on hold to help others, and when ask for help, no one seems to ever be available to help us.

I’ve been stuck on this idea until a couple of days ago, when another idea suddenly occurred to me as I was washing the dishes: that the above conversation in itself seems wrong, that it is, in fact, a false choice. For one, it creates a dichotomy between helping others and helping oneself. Surely there is a way of presenting this state of affairs in a non-contradictory way. Surely we don’t have to choose between, in essence, our personal development and a life of service!

So what should the conversation be about? Perhaps a focus on balance and coherence would be more appropriate. How do I balance out the need to take care of my personal development with that of serving humanity? Is what I’m doing to take care of my personal development coherent with serving humanity, and vice-versa?

An example of this would be reading. Books are important to our personal development; they challenge our thinking and open our minds up to new possibilities. But if we spend seven hours a day reading, well, either we have the best job in the world (sign me up for it, pronto!) or we are not giving ourselves enough time to put what we are reading into practice in our life of service.

Similarly, if what I’m reading doesn’t have anything to do with my path of service—even remotely—then reading it will only serve to help me. Perhaps I could consider reading books that are both helpful to my personal development as well as contributing to a meaningful life of service. I’m thinking for example of the many works of fiction I’ve read recently that helped me understand aspects of my social reality I had never thought about.

Personal development and living a life of service are so intimately related that we have to figure out how to balance them. And all the more important is to remember two things. First, that things are bound to change with time. Today’s balance is tomorrow’s imbalance. Which ties into number two: it’s all about constant and consistent learning.

In other words, stay tuned for my next blog posts on the topic 😉