Living a Coherent Life

Image Courtesy of Seafaring Woman

Image by Seafaringwoman (Flickr)

Have you ever thought about all the different spheres of your life? Like most people you probably have work, family, friends, and if you are a Baha’i, your Baha’i life. How do these different parts fit together?

Last year while reading the Baha’i World News service, I came across the idea of “a coherent life”. The idea that these different parts of your life – work, family, friends, your beliefs and your ideals – should all make sense together.

Like most good ideas, a coherent life makes sense intuitively. In fact once you start to think about it, not living your life in this manner seems hypocritical. How can you be one person in one part of your life, and another somewhere else? Yet doing just this is surprisingly easy to do.

Compartmentalising Your Life

Naturally, different parts of your life warrant different sorts of behaviour. While it might be acceptable to dress sloppily at home with your family, trying that at the office may not go down so well. Similarly you might be comfortable beginning every Baha’i meeting with a prayer, but if you start doing that at your social outings with non-religious friends you’re probably going to be in for a world of awkwardness.

Some level of compartmentalisation makes sense so that you can be professional at work, sociable with your friends, relaxed at home, and reverential at a Baha’i event.

For me, compartmentalisation goes wrong when you completely cordon off these spheres so that they never meet. So for example, you might feel that being a Baha’i defines who you are and yet never find yourself mentioning your faith at work or to friends. Or perhaps you are extremely thoughtful and courteous with friends but don’t give as much thought as to how you treat certain members of your own family. Or you might espouse high-minded Baha’i principles within your family but then neglect them entirely in your work life.

While modifying your behaviour to a certain situation is probably a good idea at times, completely compartmentalising your way of being will begin to feel like it’s just not an honest way to be.

Letting One Sphere Consume All

If compartmentalising is on one end of the spectrum, on the other end would be to let one sphere of your life consume all the others. This certainly becomes very coherent, but not very healthy and probably not very fulfilling.

In modern society it’s relatively common to find people who let work overrun everything in their lives. In such cases, work life can dominate priorities to such an extent that all sorts of other things – including health and family – get sacrificed in its wake.

As a Baha’i, I certainly also feel it’s possible to let Baha’i life consume everything. While service and active involvement is a great thing, taken to the extreme it’s easy to let your evenings and weekends get totally overrun with Baha’i activity to the point where you have little time for anything else.

Working hard and achieving success at work is important. Similarly being a Baha’i is something that will bring an incredible amount of depth to your life. But taking either to the extreme means letting the balance of your life tip out. Usually, in the long run, not having balance comes back to bite the very thing you are trying to focus on. The result is too often a burn out, and a need to escape.

Coherence: Balance and Consistency

A coherent life is all about balance and consistency. The different aspects of life should be balanced with each other, and the ‘you’ that you present to the world should be consistent through all of them.

In particular, if you have beliefs and ideals that define you spiritually, they should inform how you behave in day-to-day life. For me, this is the essence of a coherent Baha’i life.

I like to think of my life as a house where all the walls are glass and there are doors everywhere. Sure there are rooms and compartments to me, but I don’t need to hide one part from another, and there is space for compartments to blend. If my friend comes to work in the same office as me, they aren’t going to be surprised at my actions. If I am asked about my thoughts on a subject, no-one I know should feel it odd if I mention how my religious views inform my ideas on things. And if my colleagues were to observe me at home with my family, I hope it wouldn’t change anything about how they see me at work.

That’s the theory, at least! Of course, I’m still working on achieving this level of coherence in my life. From time to time, I lose my balance or behave inconsistently. But over time, I feel like my life is becoming more coherent.

What are your thoughts? How do you achieve a coherent Baha’i life? And do you see coherence in the same way?

About the Author

Collis is a designer, entrepreneur, writer and Baha’i. He is the CEO of Australian tech company Envato, and cofounder of Baha’i Blog / Half Light Media.

Visit Author's Website

Share This Post With the World

Discussion 8 Comments

  1. Loved this article, Collis! I’m currently finding myself guilty of letting one (or two) sphere(s) consume all and am trying to rectify that, so this article has been really really helpful.

    I came across a quote by Baha’u’llah about moderation: “Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence”. It’s so important to keep that in mind, because often we get caught up in something and throw all our energy into it (at the expense of everything else) because we’re working towards something that we think is important. But this quote reminds us that not remaining conscious of keeping that balance will ultimately backfire and, like you’ve said, prevent us from achieving the very thing we’ve been working so hard to achieve.

  2. As mentioned on fb (thought I’d add it here too) that I really enjoyed this post Collis. It has crossed my mind several times since reading it (before you posted) and I have brought it up in a number of conversations. Great job!

  3. Ahhhh, such a timely post!

    It seems to me that fragmentation, polarization and contradictions abound in our social environment. It becomes dizzying at times to gain one’s own bearings while trying to reach that coherence.

    I work to achieve this by making reflection a weekly personal ritual. I consider my work, service, family, social interactions among many other things(and how they overlap) to see where I can be more attentive and focused as well as identifying contradictions. One can be materially prosperous and yet make unhealthy nutritional choices, be spiritually focused and not attentive enough to one’s own family needs… All a balancing act!

  4. “From time to time, I lose my balance or behave inconsistently. But over time, I feel like my life is becoming more coherent.”
    Nice spoken Collis!

  5. The more we live life true to being a Bahai’ the happier we will be-it is in the simple acts of prayer,meditation,convening with others who hold our beliefs we find the most true happiness.If we trust in the Bab,Bahaullah’,and Abdul Baha’ and live our days and nights in the way of their teachings and obediance to God we are doing right.In this era it is easy to lose ourselves a little to the wrong behavior but we should not-what was right in the time of Bahullahs teachings is still right even though the society of Earth has progressed.Also it is very hard to seperate work and homelife sometimes and even though it is important to stay with a stable job in this time,if you work with people who continually extinguish the light of you’re spirit by their behavior,it is right to seek a differant work environment if or when you are able.It is good if we are able to instill better qualities in people but sometimes not possible.Many Blessings!

  6. Very helpful article Collis
    It’s tricky too. As we come across the Writings, we found Balance, Balance, Balance. In another passage we found Moderation. I found it facinating when Ruhiyyih Khanum gave an analogy of the Aeroplane. She said “As long as the plane is on the ground it receives the earthly advice, once its wing fold and rise to the sky and when one asked what about moderation. When we arise above this earthly plane we nevermind the earthly advice, we forget about moderation, we are in a different sphere in the arena of service. It reminds me of the Dawn-Breakers, Letters of the Living, they left behind moderation, balance, they went beyond. My personal opinion is this, This is a wise admonition, advice to take if we ask what is the best course to take, but does not mean to stop us from going beyond. There is minimum and maximum. Take for example from ‘Abdul-Baha – two types of Baha’is, one is compare to a garden and the other one is a ray of the sun. The garden says “I am a garden in the Faith of God, I love this garden, I want to be always in this, I will die in this garden. I belong to this garden. The other type rays say the same thing as the garden. I come from the sun, I belong to the sun, so on so forth. The difference is: If the flower of the garden can speak it will say, give me rain, give me sunshine, give me fertilizer, give me this give me that. The ray of the sun does not say anything like this, it only gives, give out light, give out warmth, give out life. This is the type/category that ‘Abdul-Baha wishes or prefers us to be in. (two types of Baha’is – refer to Ali Nakhjavani talks).
    Love to all

  7. Thank you so much Collins,

    I Believe that our society is falling towards a less cohesive and excessive behavior. This we can see around us, and being a bahai doesn’t mean we are free from the influence of it.
    I like the analogy of the airplaine which I connect to inspiration and confirmation.
    I believe another indicator of cohesion and moderation is happiness.
    That is the one thing I could find consistently on all shinning examples of service. Maybe, to think more of how happy we are and less on how many hours have we spent for such an activity might guide us better on service to Humanity.
    Best regards and thank you for the great article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *