During the days coming up to the vernal equinox – a day defined by “balance,” I suggest that we consider how we use the term in our lives. What is appropriately called “balance”, and what is really something else? Something less evocative of the moneychanger card in the Tarot, or of those others in the Temple Jesus freaked out on.
The sun shining straight at the equator, dividing light and day into halves certainly brings up the concept of balance, one half as much as the other. Harmony of a certain kind, but one that -like all things, cannot stay.
It’s Not Balance
For example, someone recently said to me that the apropos of “work-life balance,” balance is not the right word there. It’s not about having “work” and “life” as two sets of coins on a scale, a balance.
It’s not about “work” and “life” being in competition.
And yet, those of us who work more than we’d like to, say “I have no life.” No life? What does that mean? I think it means that we have less happiness than we’d like to, less time in relationships that matter to us, less vitality, and what the French (here, tautologically) call joie de vivre. When work feels like drudgery, we want something else so desperately. We call that thing, “life.”
Work and Life Live Together
First of all, work is part of our lives, however we define that work. Whether we go to work outside our homes or work within our homes, our work is work, and it matters as work (even when it isn’t paid and even when others don’t value it) and it is part of life.
Furthermore, life is part of work. The “professionalism” idea that “life” has no place in work is often classist, misogynist, and frankly just ridiculous.
So work and life aren’t to be “balanced.” All that we call work and all that we call life is part of time.
So what are we to do with our sense of time? Time we spend, take, make, or even kill. First of all, I suggest that we learn to inhabit time. I suggest that we embody the ways we allow time to change us.
So while we’re inhabiting time, let us consider our lives. Our whole lives, not just the part we have claimed as “life” and the part called “work.” Not just light and dark, day and night, balanced by Earth’s turning, revolving, turning Her equator to Sun.
Perhaps, rather than “work-life balance,” we might consider the blend of our time. How do we inhabit time and how would we like to? It’s not that balance can’t be beautiful—look at yoga, look at stone sculpture—it’s just that it’s not always the right metaphor for what will make us happy.
What’s Going Right?
I’m not claiming that we all quit our jobs and “just do what we love!” Talk about classist.
I am asking how we can inhabit time and create a blend, not a balance that makes us happier or more joyful than we had been previously.
What brings you joy?
It seems to me that that is the central question here. How can you maximize joy in your life? The joie in joie de vivre (literally, “joy of/from life”) is what is missing when we say we have no life. What we’re really saying is we have no joy (or not enough anyway), to sustain our hearts and souls.
What small things can you see that remind you of what is going right in your life? Similar to “gratitude list.” What has gone right to bring you where you are right now?
As I do this exercise, I turn away from those things that are making me upset and dissatisfied in my life. The awful pain in my knees, the lingering results of a staph infection/cellulitis/allergic reaction – all kinds of things anyone could complain about. I turn away from them, for at least the moment.
And so I think of my heart beating its steady, companionable, rhythmic song. I think of how my heart beat all night while I was asleep. How it keeps beating when I’m thinking of it, and won’t stop when I stop thinking of it.
I think of the way I was able to roll out of bed and put my feet on the floor, go down to breakfast with my brilliant wife.
I think of the ceramic cup out of which I am drinking, and the dear friend and potter who made it. I think of all the objects in my house that call beloveds to mind.
So many things have gone right to get me where I am at this moment. I take a deep breath and give thanks for breath. For the ruach – the breath God breathed over the waters at the beginning of Creation in Genesis. For the breath that sustains me. That, like the rhythm of my heart, goes on whether I think of it or not.
I am blessed.
And I am aware of what has gone right this morning. I am aware of my blessedness just to be.
This awareness, this calling to mind of what has gone right today—and it’s only 8:00 here!—contributes to my joy. It contributes to my hope, my sense of faith in the universe, and my awareness that I have so much to be grateful for.
What has gone right for you today? What has the universe given you through the 10,000 blessings of each day that allows you to do what you have to do?
I have spent the last 13 years working in large health system that in many ways is a consummate traditional workplace. Your comments about “work-life balance” really resonnate with me. My whole self goes wherever I am and I think that is inherently good. Here is a small memory that came to mind. 8 or 9 years ago I was slogging through a time of deep depression and using every tool I could summon the energy to embrace to get through the day. I brought my full spectrum light, aka happy light to work. All electrical gadgets have to be inspected, approved, and stickered. Fire safety is serious business in healthcare. Amazingly, I was the first person to request approval for such a device. The technician in training who came to inspect and sticker was incredulous and derisive when I answered his questions about the use of the light. His trainer apologized for his attitude when the trainee moved on to the next job. She also talked about her sister who struggled with SAD and wrote down the manufacturer name. An hour or two later the trainee came back and asked,”could I come and sit here with the light sometime?” The trainer and trainee both reinforced for me that bringing my whole self invites others to do the same which in turn deepens my sense of purpose and meaning.
That’s a great story. Thanks for the reminder that when we allow ourselves to be authentic and fully present, magic can happen. “Deepens my sense of purpose and meaning” is exactly it.