It’s a constant litany I hear in my practice, from moms and non-moms working and trying to make it all make sense in an ever-accelerating world.
“I need to find balance!” “There’s just too much to do.” “I feel like just as I am catching up, something happens and I’m back buried by the next wave.”
You would think I’d have this down. I’m actually quite good at helping others figure out how to balance things more effectively, how to make meaning in the bustle, how to create islands of quiet in the fray. Still, in my own life, I am always a few steps behind on the different fronts I am working…and never feel like I can do enough for my five and a half year old son whose dad is continents away. Many nights, I find myself on the edge of emptiness, with a mountain of urgent To Dos and no petrol in the tank.
I was struck this quote, which the Interaction Institute for Social Change posted today:
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. -Thomas Merton
Wow. While ‘finding balance’ sounds good and I’ve realized it’s necessary to keep up with all I am doing, could allowing mental ‘frenzy’ really be to
succumb to the violence of our times?
Yet Fr. Merton’s words ring true. This year, I set the New Years intention to move toward a life that is more sustainable in the long-term. I started by signing up to participate in the Courage to Lead retreat series for Nonprofit leaders which is all about taking time to reconnect with one’s most closely held values and knowledge in ways that are restoring and regenerative. I highly recommend the Courage and Renewal® retreat for anyone feeling burnt out. Not a nonprofit leader? There are retreats all over the world.
Here in Southern California, Courage and Renewal retreats are held at a beautiful conference center in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. Retreats for me so far have meant great conversation, lots of hiking, and active reflection and planning for my life. When I joined the Fall retreat last month, though, I was forced to slow down. I was sick and trying not to get sicker. So, instead of taking up every opportunity to hike, I did more sitting and drinking tea, or laying quietly by the pool.
As a part of our more structured activities, there was a reflection on Sabbath and the value of rest and something clicked. I set the intention of carving out more time to do absolutely nothing – especially on Sundays. Toward the end of the retreat, the facilitators gave us each a small box that, when opened, was empty. We were invited to take some small things to remind us of our retreat time, something we wanted to remember when we went back into the activity of ordinary life. I thought about it a bit. Then, I went to the mound of art supplies (that are always available at the retreat – we are encouraged to write a lot but also can paint/draw/collage/do nothing if it suits us). I took some sheets of paper and cut them into strips about one inch wide and folded them into the empty box, which I brought home and put on my nightstand.
Yesterday, on Sunday, my mind was crowded and worried with all that had been undone. Thoughts of the nonprofit, private practice clients, house purchase, and mounds of unsorted personal business swirled around my head. My son had no school last Friday, today and is off again this coming Thursday AND my mom (who pinch hits on child care) is out of town. How was I going to do it all?
He was a bit under the weather and we had decided to stay in out of the heat and watch movies. At one point, he said, “MOM, come WATCH with me.” I realized that I was allowing myself to be “be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns” and missing this precious time with this precious person who, soon enough, won’t be begging me to sit and watch movies with him.
So, I took one of the strips of paper out of the box and wrote the date then quickly listed of all of the worries flying around my brain on it. I folded the paper and put it back in the box, mentally locking it up for the day.
Then, I cuddled up with my little guy and watched what may be the worst Disney movie ever made. It involved courageous appliances. Really.