Year 2020, Skill #15: Practice Balance

photo credit: Michael Grab @ GravityGlue.com

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony. – Thomas Merton

What I tell my kids is, “I’m preparing you for college and for life.” So, having independence, know how to set your own boundaries, figuring out how to make that balance. We still have screen time rules. -Michelle Obama

Life is a balancing act. We’ve all heard that one. The picture in my head is one of those plate spinning performers. But to practice balance requires more than just keeping spinning plates from crashing down.

While it appears as though there are ways that life should be easier working at home, it’s been the rare person I hear saying that right now. What I DO hear from clients, friends, and colleagues is how tired everyone is. Many people say they’ve been busier at work than before the pandemic. Zoom meetings and overtime on computers has many of us feeling depleted and a little worn around the edges. Kind of like an existential fatigue.

Zoom meetings and overtime on computers has many of us feeling depleted and a little worn around the edges.

And then there are all those parents who are never getting a break! I also have a friend with a very ill parent. Only one person from her family has been allowed to enter her mother’s hospital room and my friend is the designated one. How exhausting that must be while working and parenting.

whew

We’re barely 3 paragraphs in this blog entry and it’s already time to stop and breathe! We are all managing the ongoing details of rarely leaving home PLUS work PLUS all of the sociopolitical noise in the world. And then there is the anticipation, the not knowing, the inability to plan more than a couple of weeks out…it’s just a lot. And I am tired. Are you?

How we feel.

I’ve written about balance before but it was different—much more about work and play; extroversion and introversion. This examination of balance is more about engaging vs. disengaging. Work vs. rest.

Rituals for a reset

This week marks my usual work trip to a camp high in the Santa Cruz mountains of California. Thursday I would have finished packing my cold weather clothes and Friday I would have flown west at the crack of dawn to arrive in the temperate climate of San Francisco by midday. The camp is for families and it was designed as a “personal growth community” in the late 1970s. This would have been my 15th year to camp in the glorious redwoods with these kind folks. The camp is completely off the grid. I have come to appreciate the nine days with no access to my phone which connects me to the outside world. In fact, that is one of the things I really look forward to now. It is really nine days in a bubble and it has become my 9 day reset button.

unplug

My unplugged tent life at camp.

My friends have repeatedly asked me why I pack up all this stuff and fly to California to sleep in a tent and work in the woods for over a week. Truth is, the work days are long—12 to 14 hours. The pay is nominal for the annual commitment. So WHY? My answer: I could stay here and sit in my chair and do the same thing like all the other 51 weeks in a year or I could work in a beautiful change of scenery and engage in very a different type of work. Plus, I love to camp. And if I’m honest, it also serves me–as a way for me to unplug from my usual life. In my free time, I write, reflect, read, and meditate on the trees.

The road in/out of camp.

I also tend to take a few days on either side of camp to stay in California. Especially on the back end. As I am shuttled out of the mountains, there is a point on the winding narrow road out at which everyone’s phones begin to go off. There are email notifications, long strands of text messages, and voice mail signals that pour in. I often just mute it and stash it in my bag. Returning to “civilization” again can be overwhelming: traffic, noise, signs, billboards, shopping strips, business complexes, crowds…it can be a bit much. We tend to check in to a hotel, take a shower AND a bath, keep the TV off, limit conversation, and wander the streets of San Fran in quiet awe.

When I settle back in at home, I am slow to return calls, emails, and I take my time reverting back to my typical daily life. I also notice that I am less inclined to pick up my phone for any reason. I intentionally spend more time in stillness.

How about a VACATION?

Of course, vacations are also a way to unplug–to exit our usual routine. Refocus our time and energy. For many people, these vacations are only a week. It ends up feeling like that by the time you’ve gotten unwound and are beginning to get into the groove of being away, it’s time to pack up and go home. My experience is that there is a significant difference in taking one week away versus two weeks. If you’ve been fortunate enough to take 3 weeks, well, WoW. It is remarkably different. Ten years ago, my daughters and I drove across the country to this camp and were gone for over 3 weeks. I think my face lost 10 years in that third week away.

But many of us will not be going on vacations this summer. We may have a hard time getting away for any length of time. Those big family beach trips may be limited to prevent the spread of the virus. Summertime trips to visit distant family may not be advisable. We are likely missing our vacation rituals this year like I am missing my camp– trying to figure out a new way to hit that reset button of no access to technology, living in nature, and self-reflection.

Take a break

I know people who take “social media” breaks. But for me this is more than that. I want to put my phone and computer in a drawer and not take them out for two weeks. But I can’t. I’m home and I’m working. Our world is in a state of unrest. I don’t want to be caught off-guard. Uninformed. But it’s more than that because in this world TODAY—exacerbated by the pandemic—it’s worse than ever. I shop on my phone; communicate with friends on my phone; run parts of my business on my phone; read the news on my phone; do research on my phone; and sometimes entertain or distract myself on my phone.

Have you checked your phone usage stats lately? 😬 Yikes! When I look at mine, I know I have a real problem. Clearly I need a detox like Amy wrote about last week. I find it hard. Very, very hard. It’s so much easier when the redwoods create that detox for me.

The antidote to this pandemic existential fatigue is to practice balance.

 

The careful work of a rock balancer on the Sausalito side of the SF bay.

The antidote to this pandemic existential fatigue is to practice balance. Balance is a spiritual practice. I believe it is worth noting that a “spiritual practice” is just that: a practice. We need to do it intentionally and regularly. A “spiritual practice” is more than an aspiration. Without action, it is rather meaningless. It changes nothing.

 

Balance is a spiritual practice. I believe it is worth noting that a “spiritual practice” is just that: a practice. We need to do it intentionally and regularly. Click To Tweet

real change comes from the heart

We are living in a time fraught with conflict. Socially, we are suffering, in part, because individuals are suffering. In turn, relationships suffer. At times, adding another voice to the throng means we only get louder and more chaotic if no one is listening. Real social and relational change occurs when we change our hearts. Balance leads us to find our heart as the centerpiece. Energy can be directed outward but the strength is grounded deep in our center. Like the midpoint of the see-saw. If the center–our heart–fails, we will fall.

How do dancers balance? By energetically reaching  outward with the strength that comes from their center. This is my beautiful niece, Lydia Sanders, currently with Ballet Spartanburg.

It’s OK to stop

I can’t necessarily unplug but I can moderate. It is important to intentionally engage in activities that allow us to put the phone or other technology away. It’s OK to CHOOSE to take a day off from pushing myself as an activist and advocate. I’m pretty sure the world will survive if I take a respite. Political issues will be there 48 hours from now and I don’t have to stay informed hour by hour. Heck, even God admitted to needing a day off!

Heart center

We NEED a daily practice that grounds our outward orientation inward at the heart center. But that takes space and quiet. It’s easy for me when I’m in those treasured redwoods. But without that sanctioned time and space, I’ll have to create my own reset daily by unplugging from the outside world of distractions. I’m going to have to find my own balance because our world is so uncertain right now that we are having a hard time seeing very far ahead. I believe that’s part of my exhaustion–always trying to recalculate and get my new course set.

How will you practice the necessary balance of staying engaged and disconnecting from routine? How will you practice turning toward your heart?

These are the things I am working on currently—why don’t you dream up your own and add to the list?

  • Choose “away” times: put the phone aside during evening hours or the better part of some days of the week
  • Get into nature—whether it is a hike, a day on the beach, a drive through the country, or enjoying your backyard sanctuary
  • Stay active—ride a bike, dig in the garden, dance in the living room, walk a bridge or dam for a change of scenery
  • Discover a “right brain” creative activity that allows you to get in “the zone” – a state of deep, uninterrupted absorption
  • Alternate “work” reading with pleasure reading
  • Establish regular quiet times for reflection, meditation, prayer
  • Allow yourself to truly rest

We’re still in the chaos stage of our changing world and many things are messy right now. Lots of our rituals are disrupted leaving us feeling off-kilter. How will you find your balance? Look toward your heart, marvelous friends, and practice.

Rhea

Rhea A. Merck, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist, persistent woman, mother of 2 amazing young women, writer, teacher, life-long learner, curious & creative human, lover of life, passionate about making life better every day…

visit my outdated website at ramphd.com or email me at [email protected]

1 thought on “Year 2020, Skill #15: Practice Balance”

  1. Pingback: Year 2020, Skill # 16: When Tired, Rest - Life Is Messy. Life Is Marvelous.

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