I’ve had two amazing experiences lately for all the wrong reasons.
I went to a parent orientation for the school year at our church. Our amazing DRE led us in a meditative prayer, as she does every year. Those few minutes of quiet consciousness redirected my night, restored my energy, and calmed me.
And I went to an exercise class a friend started. It ended up being a blast! Fun friends, fun music, and dancing! I laughed so much and I left feeling energized, restored, loose. (Yes, this is the Cize class I mentioned in my last blog!)
Looking at my mindset before and after both these intensely positive experiences, I got a bit of a reality check. I went to both because of obligations I felt—taking care of my kids’ activities, helping out a friend. I left realizing I’d been missing something from life, something I didn’t know I missed until a little came back to me. I went as a duty and found a pleasure I’ve lost.
Of course, it reminded me of this quote that goes around the internet periodically. I have no earthly idea if it’s correctly attributed. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s just call it part of our collective wisdom. So I’ve danced a little lately (at exercise class) and I felt some sweet silence recently (at the meeting). I’ve even sung a bit (as I drive to pick up the kids).
So, out of duty, I’ve stumbled across a bit of the joy of life. I realize I miss it. Why did I have to find it by force? Why don’t meditation, singing, and dancing make it on my list of things to do?*
I blame the Puritans. Sort of. As much as I blame anybody, because I’m not really into that. In all honesty, though, I think we Americans have taken a good thing too far. The principles that made America great are fantastic. Hard work, perseverance, and thrift will get things done. Self-sacrifice can accomplish amazing feats. Those means have brought about some amazing ends over the course of history.
When we work hard and sacrifice everything as an end unto itself, however, we’ve gone off the rails.
I can remember my friends comparing how much time they spent on homework in high school and college. “I spent four hours on that!” or “I was up until three this morning!” It sounded like complaining, but also like an accomplishment. Now I hear adults doing the adult equivalent. “I didn’t leave work until eight!” or “I’ve barely seen my husband this week.”
And, yes, I do it, too. And if I ask myself why—and answer honestly—I’d say that I do it because it’s respected. If I say no to something because I’m swamped or overworked or exhausted, people give it credence. Even…status. Would I get as much respect if I say, “No, thanks. I need a lazy Saturday” or “Not today. I plan to have dinner with my family and dance around to eighties music afterward”? I’ve never had the guts to find out!
If others’ experiences track with mine, then we have to ask why we, as a society, give more status to working ourselves to death than to enjoying life. C. S. Lewis said that “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Do we just want to prove that we have lots of what it takes to survive or do we want to live a life with value?
I’d like to add some enjoyment back into my life. Maybe I can start with a simple, concrete talisman. Maybe my “To Do” list should become a “To Enjoy” list. Maybe then those truly valuable experiences will find their way back into my days.
*Notice that I didn’t mention being enchanted by stories recently. That’s kind of tragic for me, since losing myself in the world of a story has always been my greatest pleasure. It restores and revives me like nothing else can. It’s also an entirely solitary pleasure and therefore even harder for me to “justify” compared to singing, dancing, and silence. It’s definitely on my list of things “To Enjoy.”