Saturday, April 16, 2016

In Defense of an Unbalanced Life

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.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Running Yellow Lights

Last week I heard this great line: “Running yellow lights is not accepting life on life’s terms.” It’s so funny—and perfectly true.

It got me thinking about all the ways that Twelve-step recovery is trying, trying, trying to teach us how to live life as it is—and on its terms –both to limit our own pain, and the pain
we inflict on others.

Think about our sayings and slogans: One Day at a Time, Be Here Now and 
“Look down at your feet and stay where they are”.

I think about all the kinds of discomfort that I struggle with, and how much it’s almost always because I want to be somewhere other than right here where I am. Yesterday I had to walk several blocks from my office to another business location and I realized that the whole time I was walking that I wanted to be a block ahead of where I was. Even though it was a beautiful day I wanted to be there rather than here.

And, of course as soon as I got there, I wanted the next there not the here. I heard my mind doing this—and I realized it’s a constant state of mind. 

And its not just when I am walking. It’s also when I’m driving: When I stop at an intersection I want to be on the other side of it, not on this side. When I read a book I want to know what going to happen instead of enjoying what the writer is showing me now. When I am listening to a CD I want to be on the next track or the next disc—not this one. No matter the form or place or idea, I want to be there. But when I get there I’m not really there at all; I’m still longing for the next there. 

I do this with things too. I can long for a pair of new boots or handbag or coat, but shockingly soon after I get it, I’m thinking about some other thing that I imagine I’ll like a lot. That thing will be the next right thing. It’s just another way of trying to get there instead of fully experiencing being here.

As active addicts we were all about grasping and craving and clinging, and now in recovery we have softened our behavior and changed our medium. But still. When I drive through an intersection and think, “Here I go,” or when I want to be over there and not here, or when I want a different dress or purse or necklace--I’m not living life on life’s terms.

Maybe, just maybe, I could let that next yellow light be my clear signal.