Where is the Life we have lost through living ?

I was recently invited to give a ten minute presentation on the topic Work Life Balance at a conference hosted by 3rd Year BA students at JCU. Finding Work Life balance is a challenge to many of the students I see in my work as Learning Adviser.

It is also something I have struggled with for a number of years.

Several days earlier I had been reading through an article by William Shannon on the teachings of the great Christian thinker Thomas Merton. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who did much to raise awareness of the power and importance of contemplation. He was also outspoken in his opposition to the Vietnam War and a great support to many Christians in the US who were opposed to the war.

In the article Shannon quotes from TS Eliot’s poem “Choruses from the Rock” (1934)

“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information”

These words are very pertinent to us who live in what has been called the Information Age. There is a lot of information out there and some have estimated that it is doubling every two years. I came across one suggestion that in several years data will be doubling every 11 hours!

But are we any wiser? I do not think so. I decided to make the topic of my conference presentation “Work life balance for what?”

We might be striving for Work/Life balance but for what purpose? Michael Shannon, reflecting on the work of Merton, suggests that wisdom should be our life goal and that what we need most is that wisdom which puts us in touch with the deepest Reality.

Merton said the fact that an idea is new and exciting does not make it true. He believed truth to be important and saw the whole purpose of thinking to be able to tell the difference between what is true and what only looks good.

I wanted to be able to offer the graduating students a way or seeing life/work balance in a wider context – to remind them that striving for wisdom should not be lost in the pressures of establishing careers, family etc etc.

In my own striving for a work/life balance I have been helped by the ideas of Stephen R Covey in his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”. Covey draws on age-old wisdom and modern insights to suggest 7 habits that are important for people to develop if they are to lead effective lives.

Covey suggests that it is important that we keep in balance the four dimensions of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental and social emotional.

It is the spiritual that is sometimes easy to forget. And it is the spiritual dimension that Thomas Merton reminds us is so important if we are to find the wisdom that helps us discover what is real in our lives and not lose Life through our living.


About peterhanley1

Peter Hanley has lived in North Queensland for more than 30 years. His interests include human rights, social justice, sustainability and community development. True North explores issues in these areas.
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3 Responses to Where is the Life we have lost through living ?

  1. John maskell says:

    Thank you. Peter getting the country into our life balance at present, I think it is a bit spiritual getting the time to spend. In country, a bit of time under canvas and seeing the stars as well as the sunsets, appreciate your writing, John M

  2. Dan Clark says:

    I heard an excellent presentation on this topic by Dr. Michael Naughton (University of St.Thomas (Minnesota, USA) where he talks about the levels of leisure. Stage 1: Getting (work to get money for amusement); Stage 2: Taking (work as power and self actualization…); Stage 3: Giving (Vocation) I would also recommend Peiper’s “Leisure The Basis of Culture” I saw your reference to Thomas Merton and it reminded me of something he said in “No Man is An Island” in the reflection on Being and Doing. ” Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it:without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm.”

  3. Linda Devereux says:

    I’ve been reading about the contemplative traditions recently too, and so I found your reference to Merton interesting. I am convinced of the importance of stillness and silence to work life balance in our busy, noisy lives, but your comment about what the balance is actually for takes the argument in an interesting direction. Many people see work life balance as being about having enough time away from paid work to do the ‘things we enjoy’, but sometimes these ‘things’, can be just as much of a distraction, or source of disquiet, as the work! They can add to a sense of being overcommitted rather than relieving it. Finding a way to put stillness and silence into the balance can be a real challenge!

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