Arguing with what is.
Possibly the most fruitless endeavor in the world.
Yet many of us consistently argue with how we are, how others are, and how the world is.
Arguing with what is is like living in an unending war. Clinging to a story inconsistent with what is requires constant vigilance. Our lives begin to revolve around the fear that the truth we refuse to acknowledge will escape or be exposed.
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We cannot allow that to happen, so we put all our energy into convincing ourselves that what is isn’t. Then we start trying to persuade others to validate our particular reality because God speaks to us, or we’re especially victimized, marginalized, enlightened, rich or powerful. If we can’t persuade others, we try to create and enforce rules requiring them to fall into line, to agree, at least tacitly, with our point of view and belief system. We scorn critical thinking, science and evidence-based data. We discourage questioning, careful definitions and nuances. We create jargon, acronyms, blacklists and smear campaigns. We enlist the sympathy, empathy, kindness and compassion of well-meaning but naïve people. We set up zero sum games, use gaslighting, violence, abuse, projection, deflection, sweeping and inaccurate generalizations and distortions. We hurt ourselves, and we hurt others.
Arguing with what is is a full-time job.
My particular version of arguing with what is takes place mostly in my head. For example:
I don’t feel loved.
What? How can you say that? Remember that one kiss at the beginning, the most passionate kiss of your life? You know you want that again! Think of how funny he can be, how charming, how much fun! If you don’t feel loved it’s because you’re not trying hard enough. You’re ungrateful. You’re disloyal. You’re a bad partner. You don’t deserve him. You want too much. You’re needy and demanding. Of course he loves you, he’s just not comfortable saying it! You are happy and loved. Get a grip!
I don’t feel happy or loved.
I had this ding-dong conversation with myself for years. I desperately and repeatedly tried to convince myself I was both happy and loved, but I could never quite silence that deep internal voice that went right on saying, “I don’t feel loved.” It wouldn’t shut up. After years of this nonsense, I finally got so exhausted I stopped arguing with my true feelings and ended the relationship. Then, one day I came across narcsite dot com and immediately recognized the narcissist-empath dynamic.
You know what? I was right. I didn’t feel loved because I wasn’t, in fact, loved.
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Arguing with what is means fear and self-doubt are my constant companions.
So what’s the other side of the coin? What’s the fix for arguing with what is?
This magical phrase: However this needs to be, it’s okay with me.
Say it aloud: However this needs to be, it’s okay with me. Is it a lie? It usually is a lie for me when I first apply it to any given situation. I want things to be predictable, controlled and adhere to my expectations and standards. I expect that of myself, of others and of the world.
I haven’t had great luck with that expectation. The rebellious world is chaotic, unpredictable and unexpected. I’m not in charge of anyone but myself, and my feelings (along with the rest of me) are disobedient and refuse to be controlled.
My need for control and predictability are rooted in fear and lack of trust in myself. If, at any moment in any day, however things need to be is not okay with me, I know I’m dealing with fear or lack of self-trust, and those are both places where I have all the power. That instant refocus from avoiding, denying or refusing an inconvenient or unexpected truth or reality over which I have no power to the very center of my power clears away anxiety, confusion and fear. What happens in me, in a day, or in the world is not really the problem. The problem is in the way I manage my power and my choices. Addressing my own power and choices allows me to say, with perfect truth, that however this needs to be, it’s okay with me.
Being okay with the ways things are doesn’t mean endless love, light and turning the other cheek. It doesn’t mean I accept boundary violations, bullying, coercion, violence or any other kind of power-over games. It doesn’t mean I tip-toe through life pleasing others, following rules and keeping silent. It doesn’t mean toadying to the political correctness police. It doesn’t mean I feel no frustration or disappointment, or that the status quo should remain unchallenged and unchanged. It means clarity about where my power is.
Nobody wants a flat tire, herpes, an unwanted pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, mental illness, the flu or to lose a loved one. We don’t want superstorms that wipe out our homes, the uncertainties and anxiety of climate change or food and water shortages. Nobody voted for lead in their drinking water, or to experience genocide. Nobody wants to be silenced, attacked, abused, marginalized, shot or scapegoated.
Yet all these things are. They’re real, along with many magical, wonderful things, and I can’t change the way things are.
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I can only change the way I am. I can decide when and how to speak. I can decide how I interact with others. I can listen, learn, research, ask questions, think critically and decide where I stand on important issues. I can speak up for those without voices. I can pay attention to my own integrity and operate within it. I can disengage, refuse to pick up poisoned bait, move away from where the blow is going to land (sometimes) and learn self-defense.
I can say no.
I can learn to trust my own courage, willingness to love, intelligence, feelings and ability to adjust and adapt to whatever happens. I can choose confidence and curiosity as companions.
I can make sure that however I need to be, it’s okay with me.
I can surrender to others in all their strengths and imperfections. Each one of us is however we need to be, sick or well, destroyer or hero, weak or strong, power-over or power-with. People in the world are okay with me, and I choose who I engage and connect with, who I support or hinder, who I share power with, who I collaborate and cooperate with and who I allow in my life.
However this minute, this hour, this day needs to be, it’s okay with me. If I catch the flu, it’s okay with me (Ugh). If I can’t get out of the icy driveway to go swimming, it’s okay with me (Rats!). If I reread the rough draft of this post and decide it needs to be rewritten before tomorrow when I post, it’s okay with me (what a pain in the neck!)
I can accept what is, deal with it, and go on.
Or I can argue with what is.
It’s a chocolate-or-vanilla choice, and we make it a hundred times a day.
Whatever you choose, it’s okay with me.
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And so, after all, it was no use,
That desperate determination to please.
In the end a hidden, untamed thing
Always looked out of my eyes,
Beseeching for freedom,
And none of us could beat it down.
Now all the rigid outlines of my life
Have fallen around my feet in graceful folds.
I’ve counted silver threads and lines
And granted freedom.
If there’s no lover for what I am
I can kiss my own shoulders.
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except where otherwise noted
I’m getting ready to turn over the manuscript of my first book to a developmental editor. Getting ready means I’m doing one final read through and combing out overused words and phrases using the search (and destroy) feature in my word processor. Over the months and years I’ve been working with my book and mastering the mechanics of writing, I’ve learned a lot about language and my own personal tics and patterns. The biggest problem I’ve found in my writing is unconsciously using passive voice.
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On the face of it, the process of cleaning up a manuscript is straightforward and occasionally mind-numbingly tedious. Looking at 4000 plus occurrences of the word ‘was’ throughout 1000 plus pages is not filled with giggles and takes a long time. I entertain myself with battleship noises every time I eliminate ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘had’, or ‘have’. I also come up with amusing similes for the process. My favorite is that editing is like combing nits out of a child’s hair.
On the plus side, this practice opens up a lot of time in which to notice my unconscious language patterns and think about how word choice reflects my choices in every other aspect of life. Editing word by word in this way is also a great habit breaker. When I write ‘had’ or ‘have’ now I notice it.
In the past, I’ve also overused ‘gently’, ‘lightly’, ‘quietly’, ‘a little’, ‘went’ (that’s a common one), and ‘softly’. As these patterns become visible to me, I ask myself with some annoyance, why not ‘fiercely’, ‘loudly’, ‘a LOT’ or ‘strode, galloped or dashed’?
I’ll tell you why not. Because I’m female and my culture has successfully taught me to make myself small. That lesson is so central and ubiquitous I’ve only recently been able to identify it and organize resistance. The message is impossible to see until you see it, and then you can’t unsee it.
Do you know the old French fairy tale of Bluebeard? A serial wife killer instructs his latest victim to refrain from opening a door in his castle, the door a particular little key opens. Then he leaves her alone with his keys (of course). In his absence, Bluebeard’s young wife and her sisters explore the castle, opening every door, and (naturally) the wife is persuaded there’s no harm in just peeking behind that last forbidden locked door. In the room they discover a row of headless bodies and a pile of heads belonging to Bluebeard’s previous wives. They exit the room (as you might imagine) and conspire to pretend they never unlocked the door. The only problem is the little key that unlocked the door begins weeping drops of blood and nothing they can do makes it stop. Bluebeard returns, discovers the infraction, and … I won’t tell you what happens, because different versions of the story end differently. This fairy tale is embedded in my own book. The point is, once some things are understood and seen, they can’t be unseen. There is no going back.
So, consider this commandment with me: Make Yourself Small.
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- Adhere to the arbitrary cultural ideal of acceptable attractiveness. If you can’t, hate your body, torture it, starve it, distort it, color it, shave it and beat it into compliance. Make yourself conform.
- Let media, social media, experts, professionals, your favorite news channel or radio host, your religious leader, your parents, or the men in your life tell you what to believe and what to think. Don’t you bother your pretty little head trying to understand anything.
- Make your sexuality, passion and lust small. In fact, make them invisible (you slut).
- Make your intelligence nonthreatening.
- Tame your creativity.
- Don’t ask questions. Don’t search for clarity and truth. Don’t do your own research. Restrain your curiosity.
- If you must have needs, make them as infinitesimal as possible. Your needs are dust in the wind compared to the convenience, habits and preferences of others.
- Be silent! You are disqualified from having an opinion. Don’t tell your truth. Others are speaking. Censor your voice. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable.
- Capture, restrain, cage, shackle, chain and abandon your dreams. Who do you think you are?
- Deny, belittle, smother and minimize your feelings. Control yourself!
- Shame on you! Cringe, cower, hide your head! You’re bad and wrong!
- Be self-contained. Be self-sufficient. Don’t take up too much space. Move lightly. Don’t spend too much money. Don’t be too dramatic. Don’t be too sensitive. Don’t order dessert. Don’t attract attention. Don’t breathe too much air. MAKE YOURSELF SMALL!
You get the idea, I’m sure. This list goes on and on. The message is everywhere, and we’re all affected. It cuts across social, racial, economic, political and gender divides. Failure to toe the line, whatever that line is, results in harsh social and professional consequences, up to and including death. Show me a headline and I’ll pick out this theme. I trip over it a dozen times a day in my own life. Spend five minutes on Facebook reading any thread on any subject and you’ll find this underlying message.
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The surrounding cultural mandate to make ourselves small is toxic, but it’s not the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is our internalization of the mandate before we’re even aware of it, and then it becomes so woven into the fabric of our experience we no longer discern it.
Ironically, stubbornly pursuing my passion for writing and my determination to be bigger is what reveals to me the outlines of my own self-sabotage. My habit of making myself small has trickled all the way down to the words I choose. Editing my manuscript has become editing my thoughts and choices, and noticing the words I write and think in helps me notice my feelings.
My feelings contain a lot of fury and a lot of rebellion, far more than I was aware of when I created this blog last summer. Minor friction with my partner about planning a day or how we utilize counter space taps into a deep vein of lifelong rage and pain about allowing and participating in my own repression and oppression. I have systematically colluded in my own erasure. I’ve agreed to make myself small. I’ve agreed to abdicate my power.
No more. I opened Bluebeard’s chamber, and saw what it contained. The key that unlocked the door was writing, and I’m deleting all the blood-stained words that make my art small. If I fail as a writer, I’m not going to do it softly, gently, lightly or a little. I’m going to do it thunderously, monumentally and profoundly.
It’s time to make myself big.
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except where otherwise noted
For many years, I’ve been a story teller. I’ve told stories in nursing homes, schools, at seasonal events and in women’s circles. I think of stories as medicine, as guidance, as blueprints for living. Old stories from cultures around the world contain information we’ve forgotten or lost about how to live well.
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It’s striking how often I share a familiar and oft-told story with an audience that suddenly turns out to be what I most need. Oral stories, if written on a page, look static and lifeless. They’re not. An oral story lives. It twists and turns and wriggles unexpectedly in the mouth. Every time I tell a story it’s a different telling than I’ve ever done before. Every time I tell a story I’m different than I was the last time I told it. Every audience is different.
I’ve discovered blogging is like that. As I blog, I think of the reader. I blog to make an external connection. As I create posts, though, I also discover deepened connection with myself. My writing reveals my truth to me, and shines a light on the places where I’m not living what I know is my truth.
Last week I posted about quitting. In essence, I gave permission to all of us to change, to grow, to seek happiness in our work and in our lives. Ever since I resigned from my job (last day will be Saturday) and wrote that post, I’ve noticed an internal feeling of rediscovery, freedom and fizzing joy.
I only worked 20 hours a week at that job, but the choice to force myself to do it, even though it didn’t make me happy or meet my needs, cast a shadow of apathy over the rest of my life. It dulled my response to my own distress. It fed all those powerful voices that tell us there’s no help for it. We have bills to pay. We have responsibilities, duties and obligations. The most sinister voice of all says this is the best we can hope for or deserve.
I was empowering fear, not love.
All of a sudden, I’m operating with new clarity, the kind of clarity that the right story at the right time brings. This week I’m acutely aware of what’s working well for me and what’s not. I feel my power to choose afresh. I’m not motivating out of fear. Somehow, fear is taking a vacation. I’m motivating out of curiosity, pleasure and the desire to actually be happy.
For me, this is a crime of immense proportions.
I want to be happy. It occurs to me this isn’t a childish pursuit. It’s the pursuit of real personal power.
I follow a blog by Dr. Sharon Blackie, who is a writer, psychologist and mythologist. I’m reading one of her books, The Long Delirious Burning Blue, which has a passionate delicacy I haven’t experienced in a new read for a long time.
Dr. Blackie recently returned to the place she calls home in Connemara, Ireland, and her last couple of blog posts are about taking a walk with her dogs on the land that she loves.
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That’s all. Taking walks. She posts pictures of the lochs, a stream, the bog and the mountain. There are pictures of her dogs, and I imagined wet, muddy paws and soft black and white coats tangled with leaves and stems. I think these posts are among the most joyful and powerful things I’ve ever read, not because Dr. Blackie is an extraordinary scholar and writer, which she is, but because she writes as a woman who’s come home to the place she belongs after a long time away. Her delight and reverence for the land and the life it supports radiate from every word and picture.
That’s how I feel this week, but my homecoming is internal rather than external.
I’m familiar with some of my terrain. Over the years, I’ve learned some of what I am. Always, though, there have been caverns, edges and deep forest I haven’t explored. Perhaps I knew all of myself before my memory in this lifetime begins, but if so, I’ve forgotten.
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This week I’m a wanderer, an explorer, a solitary traveler in my own psyche. I leave my well-worn internal paths to roam under trees. I follow the sound of water. I read my own spoor and run my hands over moss-covered rocks. I hunt in vernal pools for singing frogs the size of my toes. I wade through bogs of memory, getting my feet muddy and losing my shoes.
I’ve found old, abandoned structures smelling of rot and damp where birds nest and bats cluster. I’ve stumbled upon shallow graves where, once upon a time, I discarded and abandoned parts of myself. I’ve tripped over fallen idols, are now covered in a lacy blanket of ferns, found forgotten altars and pulled mats of dead leaves out of fountains I haven’t seen in years so clear water can flow again.
I’ve found shed skins whispering and rustling with memory, nearly invisible overgrown paths, and ruts and scars from old burns, floods and landslides.
I suddenly remember the happy feeling of waking early in the morning and going straight outside. I release myself from the expectation that I’ll work well in the last third of the day, a thing I’ve never in my life been able to pull off. I listen to music I love. I read what interests and moves me. I write lists and journal entries, blog posts and edits for my book.
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Like Dr. Blackie’s dogs, I follow what catches my attention. I move along scent trails, noting the passage of all my selves, spiraling from what I’ve been to what I’ll become and back again. I dance from thought to thought, from word to word, from dream to dream. I cast myself into a wider pattern of life.
It’s not that I don’t want to do anything. On the contrary, I want to do a hundred things. I want to do much more than I did when I was structuring my time and energy around my job. I can hardly wait to get out of bed and see what the day brings. I want to play outside, take care of tasks inside, read, write, watch the birds at the feeders, stretch, dance, swim, listen to music, make a list and check things off, be present in my relationships, make new friends, pursue intriguing new connections, earn money joyfully, and see how much I can want and how gloriously I can dream.
I’ve written about leaving home before, and in that post I wrote that in some counterintuitive way leaving my old external home in Colorado allowed me to begin to finally come home to myself internally and reclaim my power. I’ll never think of home solely as a one-dimensional place in the world again. Home is not just a house, not just a beloved landscape, but the place where my dearest friend, my most passionate lover and my most loyal companion reside, along with my deepest power. Home is my own wide-flung arms, my own pulse and breath, my own joy. Home is me, myself.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot that the most important things are also the simplest. There’s great power in being happy. If happy is missing, life is muted and apathetic at best. This is when the power of boredom and the power to quit come to our aid. This is when choice becomes something we must fight to reclaim as if our lives depend on it … because they do.
Claiming the power of happy. My daily crime.
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except where otherwise noted
Walking on our 26 acres, my path winds around open fields and keeps me out of heavy woods and brush, where ticks are waking. It’s grey and overcast, not raw but damp, a combination of snow and rain coming down and turning my already wild hair into a mad woman’s wig. The surface of the snow is glazed hard in most places, but when I get close to the tree line or streams that trickle down to the river, I punch through it and sink. Walking on the thick layer of leaves under and among the trees is like walking on a sopping sponge. My socks are sodden inside my winter boots.
I see thickets where the deer have slept, melting the snow with their warm bodies, lying out of the wind in the shelter of trunk and branch. I imagine them rising to their feet, squatting in their awkward way to leave pellets and a splash of urine, and then stepping away through the snow with those delicate hooves and legs. Their spoor is everywhere.
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The medical transcription business is wildly unpredictable. One seesaws between frantic pleas from supervisors for overtime because of a sudden flood of work and the dreaded “no jobs available” message upon logging in. As I’m paid by production, no work means no money. Since the new year, work has been slow in the company and transcriptionists and supervisors alike are feeling the stress.
I’ve been thinking about my fear of not enough these days, and how small it makes me and my experience of life. One of the reasons I like to go out and walk is because it pushes against my tendency to curl up in corners and play hours of solitaire while I make up stories about living under bridges and berate myself for NOT PULLING MY WEIGHT and WASTING TIME.
The river is still ice covered, the edges yellowish and slushy. I see animal prints in the snow over the ice, but I wouldn’t dare try to walk on it. As I lean against a tree and look down at the ice-bound river, I hear a nesting pair of barred owls calling to each other, though it’s still early afternoon.
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The truth is my medical transcription job is nothing more than a means to an end. It’s all about the paycheck. I take some modest pride in my ability to do an accurate, fast job, but I’m just a pair of skilled hands and ears. One day, when the job and I are finished with one another, I’ll leave no remnants of myself, no track, no scent, no spoor. It irritates me that it has so much power in my life when it means so little.
Water drops tremble on bare twigs and tree branches. The pussy willows are beginning to bud. Cloudy light washes the willow buds and water drops the same silvery grey and I have to draw near to tell the difference.
We’ve lately found a local lawyer to help us update our wills and take care of end-of-life paperwork. It’s made me think about all the fragments I’ll leave behind me, the furniture I’ve loved and polished; the mirror I’ve looked in since I was a child; the books I’ve handled and read in cars, in bathtubs, at tables, in beds and chairs and waiting rooms. All these things will be sifted through, separated, sold, passed on. What money there is will be divided and wind up in other bank accounts or hidey holes or cast back into the flow somehow. Perhaps whispers of me will cling to a few objects, but for the most part no one will ever know I passed this way.
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We have an old shed on the land and snow slide off the roof has blocked the door and partially pushed it open. I’m just able to squeeze in over a thick layer of ice on the threshold, formed by melting snow dripping off the roof.
We cleaned out and swept the shed last fall, but I find pages of paper blown all over the floor, pages of the first draft of my book manuscript. Last summer we had visitors who used the shed, and I’d hoped they would read and give me some feedback. They didn’t, and I’d never found the manuscript when I looked for it after they left, but the winter currents and drafts discovered its hiding place. Perhaps the wind read it as it ruffled through the pages with chill fingers.
It’s odd to see those scattered pages on the cold, splintered floor. The sight of them gives me a desolate clarity. Those written words are the most important thing I have. Working or not working, large paycheck or vanishingly small paycheck, all the objects I love and use and call mine — none of that is really who I am. None of it really matters, though it takes up space in my life. None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do. It’s as though it’s me lying there, discarded, damp and wind strewn, unseen, unread, unwanted. It hurts me.
As I gather up pages, I note where the snow has drifted through gaps in corners. Wrinkled beech leaves lie on a discarded futon, whirled in through the broken window above it. I open a ramshackle cupboard and find a roll of shredded toilet paper and evidence of mice at work, making the most of an unexpected bonanza of nesting material.
I find a bottle cap and cigarette butts on a window sill. More leavings. I know who stood there, smoking, looking out the window. I stood where he’d stood and picked up the butts, knowing his lips were around them, his long-fingered hand had carried them from pack to mouth and then stubbed them out in the bottle cap, a tiny ashtray. I wish for the nose of a wild creature so I could search for the cold, lonely ghost of his scent.
He was here. I am here. Deer crisscross this land we call ours. Mice go about the business of ensuring more mice, and the barred owls carry on their early spring conversation about mating, nesting, eggs and all those mice. We are so caught up in jobs and money and things. We give them so much meaning. The days go by and we alternately struggle and dance through them. But one day we’ll be gone, and we’ll all leave spoor behind, a scent or sign or footprint uniquely and simply ours.
These words are my footprints, my scent, my lingering warmth in the places I came to rest, my spoor. They are signs of my passage and the truest things I have to leave behind when I’m gone.
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except where otherwise noted
This week I’m turning my attention to reciprocity. Again, this subject is much bigger than one post, so I’m breaking it into smaller pieces, just as I did with boundaries. For me, reciprocity describes a specific aspect of a larger subject: Balance.
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Balance is, according to a quick internet search, “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” I’m constantly running into articles, blogs, books, opinions and speakers who talk about balance. It’s an important concept these days: Balancing family and jobs, balancing creative life with paying-the-bills-life, balancing technology with face-to-face connection, balancing our diet (and our bathroom scales), balancing our exercise, balancing our time and our checkbooks. With so much discussion out there, I wonder why many of us are so remarkably bad at it.
I think finding balance requires two things. The first is clarity — the willingness to look honestly at our lives and our choices. The second is taking responsibility for the fact that we do make choices.
I don’t know a soul who finds either one of these easy, and I also don’t know anyone who always feels great about the balance in their lives, in spite of what they may say.
Note in the definition above the language “correct proportions.” What are the correct proportions? You tell me. Are you happy? Are you healthy? Do you find your life meaningful? Do you enjoy your home, your relationships, your work, a good night’s sleep? If the answer is no, and you want things to be different, I suggest you work with the idea of balance.
It so happens I came across a great exercise for this years ago in a book called Home Sanctuary by Nicole Marcelis. I was just out of an abusive marriage and this book became an important part of reclaiming myself, my life and my home. In it, there’s a chapter on balance.
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The exercise asks you to make a pie chart and consider each piece of your life, calculating how much of the pie that piece takes up. Yes, you include sleep. You can make a pie chart for a day, a week, a month, or any increment of time you choose. Then, if you like, you can take each piece of that first pie chart and make another pie chart. If one of your pieces is parenting, for example, you might break parenting down into playtime, laundry time, cooking and food time, taking walks, reading aloud, visiting doctors, etc.
This exercise has absolutely no value (except to let you play with big pieces of paper and crayons) if you’re not willing to do it honestly. I, for example, am a solitaire junkie. I can play solitaire on this laptop for hours. Literally. Whenever I’m upset, or bored, or trying to regulate my feelings, I play solitaire. I feel like it soothes my anxiety when all the cards fall into neat little piles. I tell myself (and others) I’m planning what to write, or making a grocery list or writing an email, but that’s just bullshit. I’m playing solitaire and I’m feeling numb.
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A game or two of solitaire is not a problem. I don’t feel ashamed. An hour or two is getting out of control. Three or four hours and I’m hiding it from my family. I do feel ashamed. I have a partner, a blog, a job, and I’m writing a book. I live in a beautiful place and love to be outdoors. What’s up with sitting for hours playing solitaire? Something is wrong. I’m out of balance.
Don’t be a weasel with this. Watching TV with your mate does not count as quality relationship time. Watching TV with your kids is not great parenting time. Don’t lie to yourself about your relationships. Connection time has to be connecting for everyone involved. Family mealtime is nothing but a sham if someone spends it on their tech device or you’re glued to the TV. (No, news isn’t different than a sitcom!) That goes in your tech or TV slice of the pie. You have to come clean with yourself in order to make real changes.
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The thing about balance is it’s dynamic. What’s balance for this day won’t be the same for another day. As we stand upright we’re using countless muscles, nerves and our senses to maintain our balance and proprioception. Balance in our lives is the same way. It’s so easy to get off balance, but the good news is one can regain it nearly as quickly.
But only if you’re willing to be honest and claim your power to make choices.
This exercise is fascinating. What I realized was I didn’t really know what I was doing with my time. When you actually count the hours you spend doing whatever you’re doing, it can be a real eye opener. When you’re finished playing with paper and crayons and you look at your life through the lens of these pie charts, then it’s time for some hard questions. Does the way you choose to spend your time reflect your priorities? If you say your family is your priority and 80% of your pie chart is spent working (yes, commuting counts!), then you’re out of balance and you’re also not being honest. If you love the outdoors and want to be exercising more but you don’t because you’re couch locked in front of the TV, you’re out of balance. (Watching Planet Earth doesn’t count.)
The exercise is entirely flexible. It works with any resource, not just time. For example, you can do it with energy. Is there a connection or relationship in your life that demands all your energy? Are you getting as much as you’re giving? Are there other relationships that nurture and reward you that you’d rather be spending time in, but you can’t because you’ve got this vampire attached to your jugular vein?
How about money? Most of us have budgeted at one time or another. Tell me, friend, how much money do you spend on cigarettes? On drugs? On beer? On shoes? Cable TV? Can you buy food? Are your bills paid? Are you working at a job you hate because you need the money in order to support your habits — and are those habits making you happy and healthy?
We all have the same 24 hours in any given day, and we all choose what to do with those hours. This is not so much about making “right” or “wrong” choices as it is about realizing we are making choices. Nobody makes us watch four hours of TV every evening. If we’re longing to do creative work and we tell ourselves and the world we haven’t time for it, all we’re really saying is we lack the will to make it so. Why not be honest and say we’re too afraid to try, or we’ve given our power to someone else, and they say we can’t, or we’re an addict and our addiction has our power?
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
If you made a pie chart of the kind of life you want to have, with the perfect balance for your needs, how different would it be from what your life is now? What needs to happen to make changes? What can you excise from your present chart in order to free up time/energy/money/life?
Make no mistake, this exercise takes an enormous amount of courage, but the payoff is powerful. I revisit it now and then, just because I like to keep track of what I’m up to, and I want to know my choices are reflecting my priorities. I also note I’ve told people about this exercise, two of whom seemed to have no life outside of work and unhappy partners, and one who spent hours of screen time every day, both TV and computer, but talked about doing all kinds of fun things in the real world. I even loaned my book to one of them. None of them had time for clarity, change or choices.
(This is the first post in a series of 4. See also Parts 2, 3, and 4.)
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