Over and over, almost like a mantra, so many of us are saying “I need to balance my life.” Toward that end we fill our calendars outside of work with quality time with loved ones, and commitments –sometimes against the grain—to meditate or do yoga, to take classes or to volunteer. So many of us find ourselves doing little bits of lots of things and not feeling good about much of what we do.
I realized this week that “Balance my life” is just another item on the big to-do list in my head, and it’s another thing nagging at me that I should do.
Well, I’ve decided that balance is overrated.
Think about it. People we admire, those who have made a difference or a contribution or who have a clear vocation lead remarkably unbalanced lives. Consider the greats in any field: Einstein? No balance at all; he was actually quite a weird guy. Thomas Edison? He never left the lab. Ditto for Marie Curie. Venus and Serena Williams? Tiger Woods? For serious athletes their entire family has to live on a tilt-a-whirl.
It’s true for creative types too. Emily Dickinson? Edna St. Vincent Millay? We love their poems, but look at their lives. And statesmen? Saints? You get the idea.
So while in early recovery we needed to get some balance—we were seriously unbalanced in a bad way—in later recovery we need to find the good unbalance that celebrates who we really are and what matters in our lives. It might be home and family or a big career, or our creative work—the things we could never have done when we were using, or in early recovery when we were unbalanced in favor of learning this new way of life. But now, with spiritual and psychological ground under our feet we get to find our true place.
The theologian Fredrick Buechner—who had a seriously unbalanced life—defines true vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the worlds deep need.” Now it doesn’t make sense that deep gladness will come from ticking off a long to-do list or that the world’s deep need is met by doing tiny bits of this and that like rote do-gooders.
But the idea of balance so appeals that we run faster and faster to balance our social and emotional portfolios; we take yoga and meditate, try to eat well, call friends, see the latest play, buy if not read the latest bestseller, attend the school play and send emails from the car and leave voice mail at midnight.
How much energy we waste striving to balance our lives. What if we celebrated a tilting life, one in which we gave a primary commitment to kids or a job we love or making art or seeking spirit? We do have to make choices but they are not for all time.
I don’t think it’s balance that we really want at all. What we want is to feel good and to have peace, and that mostly comes from feeling well used by life. That doesn’t happen when we are running around doing little bits of many things.
Here’s a radical idea as we move into spring: Give up balance; don’t go to any store, party, or event unless you really want to. Read what you like even if it’s not “good” books, and choose the couch over the gym, and the woods over the party if that is what your soul craves.
Stop and look into the world’s deep need that’s in your community. Find the source of your deep gladness that runs near by. Allow yourself to lose your balance. And just fall in.
For the next two weeks I’ll be traveling and falling into yoga. I’m sure I’ll be stretching my mind, body and spirit. I’ll be back here in early May to tell you all about it.
In the meantime you can read more about recovery and life “out of the woods” in my book: “Out of the Woods” published by Central Recovery Press.