Much of our stress, according to Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, is “determined by the distance between our authentic values and how we live our lives.” When we are not living in alignment, the streetcar of our lives starts to slide off the tracks, and the consequences can be terrible. Periods of great di-stress or dis-ease sometimes reveal the split between the two, and help us find “the courage to bring our lives into alignment with…what is most important.”*
For six years I served as a chaplain in a Texas hospital, which meant being on-call for emergencies in addition to the usual work week. Those calls would come in the night and on weekends and I would hate leaving my family, (and losing sleep), to answer emergencies in other’s lives. Finally, when I was being called out for the third time on a Saturday, my young son said, “Do you have to go to the hospital again daddy?” That cut me to the heart. The following Monday I resigned from that job and started negotiating a job that left me free to be with my family in the evening and on weekends. I had to finally align my value of family time with how I worked.
For ten years I was employed in a psychiatric hospital, hiding my true values from a board member who wanted to cut my spirituality program to improve the hospital’s bottom line. When I finally resigned to avoid being fired, despite great fear and trembling, I began to breathe deeply for the first time in a decade. A psychologist peer at the hospital later asked how it was going, as I launched my private counseling practice. I answered with relief and joy, “I am poor but free.” The pressure to work excessive hours and produce income for the hospital was gone, and I was beginning to learn to treasure the free time to set my own schedule and take more vacations with the family.
For a year after Hurricane Katrina, I fell back into a self-imposed life of overwork. When I awakened to the insanity of working two full-time jobs, I realized I had to get my lifestyle back in alignment with my true values. Nine years later I am in right alignment most of my days, living a mindful and heartful life. I am blessed to be sourcing my life as much as I am serving. I am committed to sourcing before and during my service each day, to living on the liminal threshold, and to practicing the Great Walkaway as needed.
These five principles help me stay in alignment, and have become a bedrock of my life. (You can read more about them in my book: Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture). When I start falling into compulsions, which isn’t unusual, God’s Spirit starts waving a red flag to call me back to center. The longer I wait to obey, the worse the consequences. (For instance, irritable curse words start flying at whoever is in my way. It is not pretty!)
Sourcing is at the heart of my alignment with my values of mindful living and heartful service. Sourcing is settling down into my inner sanctuary, home of the living God, and resting in the stillness that feeds and fills my soul. I breathe in the Breath of Life for a little while, and then bring that presence of God with me as I serve the world. This seems to work better than cursing whoever gets in my way! And most days I still can’t believe I get paid to live the life I love and share it with others. Amazing!
Check it out with your own life: Are your living in alignment with your authentic values? If not, you don’t have to wait until your kid tugs at your heart, or you get fired, or a natural disaster hits. Today is always a good day to begin again.
- Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings, 177.