About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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« A letter to my husband of nine years | Main | Is there such a thing as a work/life balance? »
Thursday
Apr102014

Dancing into the middle of the gap

 

 

Judith Warner (in the January issue of Real Simple magazine) says Balance, like dancer's pose in yoga, is all about the "pull of opposing forces; it's about DYNAMIC TENSION, and power and grace, NOT statis."

In my zeal to illustrate this concept through assuming dancer's pose, I chose to take my self-portrait with Photobooth while the kids were sleeping and Michael was at work, which meant I had a 3-2-1- countdown to run away from the computer, get on one leg, lift my other in the air behind me, pick a focal point, begin to bend and stretch, and hope I did not fall over before the picture snapped.

I have about thirty pictures of myself in mid-flight, in mid-fall, blurred out because I was still trying to balance, or just looking wonky.  

The irony is not lost on me.

 

Does this sound familiar...

"My daughter is at a friend's house and calls four times, increasingly panicked about my unreachability.  I'm behind schedule on three different work assignments. I need to write several condolence and thank-you notes. I owe e-mails to a dozen people. I haven't found time to exercise in a week. So I eat half a giant bag of Fun Size candy from Costco. As I chew, visions of a more balanced life ping wildly inside my skull: I long to master the clock, to be less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of others, more in charge of my own choices and destiny.  I want to feel that I'm on top of my responsibilities while still having room for spontaneity. I want to not fall apart when one element breaks down. I want the satisfaction that comes with managing the needs of others, of commerce, and of self. Is that too much to ask?!" (Marjorie Ingle, Real Simple January 2014)

Ah, balance. Wherefore art thou?  


Marjorie Ingle goes on a marathon research project of 2,330 pages of self-help to find her balance.

I read her magazine article in spits and spurts throughout last week: standing at the kitchen counter drying dishes, on the toilet while the kids take a bath, from the couch where I am folding laundry (yes, always multi-tasking...how balanced of me), and finally, with mono-focus in a sauna where the heat melts the glue and the magazine falls apart in my hands.

 

Most of us live with the conviction that we're always out of balance- too many competing demands, not enough time to address them all. Something always falls through the cracks. Someone always loses out.

We end the day minding the gap-rerunning in our minds the space between what we hoped the day would look like, and what the day actually looked like.


In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about how we live in a culture of scarcity.

Our first thought upon waking is, "I didn't get enough sleep."  Then we think, "I don't have enough time today to do what needs to get done."

We think, "If I just had more ________(time? energy? patience? help? sleep? money?), THEN I would be balanced."

 

What dancer's pose has taught me is that balance doesn't happen once we feel like we've got what it takes to BE BALANCED.

Tension creates balance.

The pull of opposing forces- not being enough/being enough- holds us in place.

 

My best dancer's poses, the ones where I've balanced indefinitely, continuing to arc my leg up behind my head while I stretch my opposing arm out in front of me, only happen when I give myself over to the tension, when I reconcile with feeling incapable and uncomfortable, and suddenly I discover that I am doing it. Dancer's pose is happening.  All the forces I cannot control are working upon me.

I am at their mercy, and it feels like dancing. 

 

My friend says that tension enlarges our capacity.

Tension stretches us into places we didn't think we could go. It hurts, just like stretching a muscle. We resist the pain.  We want to resolve into something that feels manageable, where we can pat ourselves on the back for having accomplished IT, so we can move on to the NEXT THING. "I touched my toes, now what's next on the list?"

But then, instead of stopping at what you can already DO WELL, you move into that precarious painful place, a little BEYOND what you thought you wanted; you breath into those tight muscles; you find yourself stretching farther than you'd ever stretched before. You move into the tension and you stay there, and you let it work upon you.

 

My hunch is that when most of us say we want to live balanced lives, what we actually mean is that we want to live successful lives. Not necessarily a measurable success, but a sense of "I've got this. I can DO this."

That place is actually called ENTROPY. It's when we stop growing, and we start dying.

 

The writer Jennifer Senior, who wrote All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, says,

"I think life balance is worth striving for, but it's a pretty high-class problem.  If you have the luxury of thinking about balance, you're ahead of the game almost by definition.  It probably means that you're not working two jobs, for instance.  This is also, I think, largely a question for cultures where we feel entitled to be happy, not just clothed and fed. So it's a historical phenomenon."  

I read that, and felt like a shitty person.

What the hell is my suburban problem, walking around moaning about life balance because I can't figure out how to go to yoga and cook good meals and try to write, and keep my house clean and read to my kids and have date nights with my husband and call everyone back who leaves me messages and respond to all my emails and plant flowers in my garden and get my kids to soccer practice and Cub Scouts, all while maintaining a sense of direction and joy and connection to something bigger than myself? 

I mean, there are worse things in life than being unbalanced.

But then I recognized that the biting and critical voice, is not MY voice, it's the voice of shame.  

Shame sounds like a bitter old woman who blames everyone else for everything that's wrong with the world. But I'm learning what her creaky voice sounds like, and I'm learning how to shut her up.

I moved into grace.  It's ok that some of these things are my balance issues. This is where the boundary lines fall for me. I AM a suburban mom. I DO live in America's middle-class.  I DO have choices (often, more than I need or can possibly navigate).


I feel imbalanced because I do not feel capable of accomplishing my life the way I think it needs to look. Fabulous!  Now I can give myself permission to surrender into all I do not know; I don't HAVE to be capable to live a beautiful, rich life.

I feel imbalanced because I am loved by many people and I want to love ALL of them back at once. I feel imbalanced because I have many dreams and I want to accomplish them ALL at once.

The tension of my life is a GIFT.

It means I am loved and I am hopeful. 

It means I have choices and options.

 

I can make peace with never being enough/being enough, and balance right on that little dividing line between the two.

 

At the end of her article, Marjorie Ingle suggests that instead of minding the gap between what we thought our day (or our year or our life) would look like, and what it actually looked like, we could instead make a VICTORY LOG, "a list of everything you've accomplished that day, including small acts of kindness and good choices."

Recognize that your desire to live a balanced life means you are ALREADY THERE.  

You already CARE about how you treat people, about the difference you make in the world, about what you do with your one wild and precious life.  

Instead of minding the gap, you are dancing right into the middle of it.