Friday, May 25, 2012

balance: it takes work

I believe a lot of us think of balance as letting go. To go with the flow more. And not work so hard. Stop striving towards the impossible goal of fitting it all in. Let go of perfectionism. (I too have been thinking in these terms). However, last week, I came to another conclusion. — Achieving and maintaining a sense of balance takes work. Real, hard work.

It's like in yoga. When you practice a challenging balance post, you have to muster all your core strength and mindfulness not to fall out of the pose. Balance is hard to attain and it's easy to fall out of. But in yoga, if you fall out of the pose, the idea is to always enter the balancing pose again before moving on to the next pose.

It's easy to blame the time crunch for the apparent impossibility of attaining a balance between all those things we're supposed to be doing, but now I've come to think that a sense of inertia can have more to do with it.

My tendency is to be a perfectionist and a workaholic. It's easiest for me to keep going, going, going. For ten years after grad school, I worked as an academic. Academics take pride in being overworked. It's like there's a competition between academics to be the one who's the most overworked. And since you're never really done — you could always course prep more or write another article to add to your growing CV to get that promotion and then another one, and so on and on — it can be hard to take a break without feeling uneasy. There's always something you should could be doing.

But there's inertia on the other end too. So you're on a vacation and after those first restless days, you're finally able to sort of be in the moment. And then you have to go back. Or on a lazy weekend morning and you really don't feel like cleaning the house or run those errands or plant in the garden. A part of me even strongly dislikes it when we are asked to go into child pose for rest in the middle of our yoga practice because I find it that much harder to get going again with the flow afterwards.

For me I realize it will take constant mindfulness and work to maintain some sense of balance or equilibrium in my life. Is work stressing me out or am I enjoying it? Am I spending enough time with Lilly or am I getting grumpy from the tedium of parenting? Am I liking my reduced hours of work or are things beginning to feel decadent? Is my unease with taking time off legitimate or is it caused by an inability to be mindful of my needs?

Since I'm on this healing journey and trying to be more mindful and kind to my needs, I realized last week that I needed to put the breaks on my working. I was reacting with undue stress at work and in my marriage when I really didn't need to.

So last week and this one too, I took a break from my writing work to focus on my mama work. Not a clear cut break, but some mornings spent doing yoga and seeing my bodyworker, and most afternoons spent not at the library with my laptop but with my daughter outside. It helped that we've been in the midst of an insanely nice string of sunny, warm summery days that we could enjoy gardening, biking, and exploring new parts of the Arboretum. Skinny dipping in the city fountain. Park hopping. Stocking up at Trader Joe's. Sipping margaritas in the afternoon sun. 

It's been good. It has helped me regain a sense of perspective and allowed me to see the roots of why it is that I respond so easily with stress to things that I really don't need to make such a big deal out of at all.

Striving to stay balanced, I've this week had to struggle with this irky feeling that I "should" be doing more. "Everyone else is." If I'm not writing or researching, I "should" at least do some long overdue housecleaning, shopping or cooking, right?? Resuming regular work hours would be an escape from feeling the weight of other (self- or culturally?) imposed "obligations." And there are some deadlines that are fast approaching. And really, shouldn't I spend this lull while waiting for my book to come out starting a new book or finishing my Sleep Question book? Am I avoiding work because of inertia and all the efforts it takes to get started with a new big writing project? Or am I just having these thoughts because we live in a culture that measures success in terms of how much you produce?

How interesting that it can be so difficult to savor rest and restoration. To put the breaks on my urge to work. In the end, I opted to work at silencing my unease and focus on enjoying this: our garden, our new patio set, yoga, stocking up on good food, being with Lilly, being with my family, enjoying being with them outside in the warmth of the sun.

trader joe's
I know I need to remain vigilantly mindful though to catch cues that this time off thing isn't turning into something that is too much of a good thing to be good for me anymore. How seriously am I craving computer time? Getting antsy? Feeling impatient? Avoidance? Stressed with approaching deadlines? Feeling too whatever?

The thing is, though, that I know that even when I will know that it'd be best for me to resume regular work hours, it will require effort. It will take fighting the inertia and the pleasure indulgence. Right now, we have a long holiday weekend ahead of us that promises more sunny lounging, perhaps a day at the beach and a relaxed day barbequing outside sipping margaritas. Who would want to give that up? I know it will be hard for me.

It's probably going to take my falling out of this enjoyable place for me to try to get back into the balancing pose. And it'll require that I muster all my strength and mindfulness and it won't be fun at first. Fighting inertia never is.

Holding a challenging balance pose doesn't necessarily feel "fun" or "great." But it can be immensely rewarding.

photo credit: fitsugar

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