Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Be here now: the path to finding balance

Balance"If you can think it, you can do it, you can be it. But you gotta be here now. [emphasis added]" - Willy Porter, Musician

When applying for jobs recently, a phrase that came up a few times in interviews was "work/life balance." I'll admit to being a little confused by the phrase, because work is really an integral part of life that few, if any, of us can escape. I hear the term balance used with regard to athletic training and family as well, and I think the only way I can really understand the idea of balance of this type is that it's between something we want to do and something we are obligated to do. When we draw distinctions like this between work and life, training and family time, etc., I think in some ways there is an implied value judgment involved. On one side of the scale, we have something we do because we want to do it, while on the other side of the scale is something we are obligated to do. As we tend to enjoy things we want to do, we may have to fight to make sure we focus enough on our obligations to keep life in balance.

The fact that we enjoy one thing or another, whether that be our training or our family activities, can lead us to value judgments about those things that affect our motivation and overall satisfaction with life. If what we really want to do is get out and run great distances, we may attach the value "good" to that activity. Although it sounds harsh, if our family activities then interfere, we may attach the value "bad" to it. We may, of course, make our value judgment the opposite way. We may really find the family activities reward, while the training is a difficult chore we struggle to motivate ourselves for.

I think when we recognize that we are beginning to avoid things we know are god for use, and which we know must enhance our life experience, like working to get or remain fit or pursue our passions, or participating fully in our family life, we should really take a step back and ask ourselves what is happening.  Is our obsession with training preventing us from being fully present and joyful during family activities, so that while we're at dinner with our spouse, or sitting in the stands at our children's sporting events, we are thinking instead about how we are missing a training run or ride? Or, if we feel obligated to train for one reason or another, do we fail to do so as effectively as possible because we are filled with regret at how much it's cutting into our family life?

I've experienced this from both sides, myself. I find both what I want to do and what I am have to do to be largely positive, enriching activities that at times can interfere with one another. I think many people do. It's part of what leads so many of us to adopt unusual workout schedules, or to sacrifice some of what we would like to do in order to accomodate the things we are obligated to do. If we don't practice living more mindfully in each moment, it can also lead us to a lot of dissatisfaction, if we end up being distracted by each type of activity while doing the other.

I am not one to advise people on how to achieve a balance in either how they schedule their activities, or in how they experience them, but I do know that we can make situations that are far less than ideal imminently more tolerable if we can manage to remain more fully present, with our minds and senses involved in the experiences that are at hand in each moment, rather than focused on activities or emotions attached to events that are not at hand, and which we have no real, immediate way to address.

In my book, scheduling issues are the least of our problems when it comes to creating balance between work and life, or training and family, or any other set of competing demands we might face in life. The real problem is learning to be fully present in the reality of each moment, during whatever activity is at hand, rather than ruminating about what we'd rather be doing during activities that we are obligated to, or ruminating about what we are going to have to do, while we're doing something we want to do.

I find balance to be less a scheduling issue than psychological or even spiritual one. In the end, real balances comes from mental practice, not logistics and careful scheduling, although the latter can certainly help.

A recent post on another blog on the subject of balance: Predawn Runner

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