Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

-Thomas Merton


I’ve been thinking a lot about balance recently…probably because it is not something that comes easily to me.  Perhaps my problem is the dangerous combination of a slightly obsessive personality with a well-defined streak of perfectionism; perhaps it is the fact that my life has been such a whirlwind of change over the past several years that I can’t seem to slow down long enough to think before something else spirals out of control.

Or maybe balance is just difficult.  I tend to think of it in big, sweeping terms–as in, I need to balance my life.  I need to organize my home.  I need to structure my son’s schedule.  I need to build my marriage.  I need to create a life plan and stick to it.

Sometimes, I get started on one of these projects and make excellent headway–for five minutes, or maybe five days.  But then the UPS man knocks at the door and my dog has another two hour seizure and messes all over my kitchen floor, necessitating three baths and extensive cleaning.  Little Guy decides it’s the perfect time to take a trip to throw rocks in the river, instead of working puzzles and reading nursery rhymes as planned.  Then a tornado hits (like last week), making it impossible to go to the river after all, and said Little Guy promptly has a meltdown.  My husband leaves town for two months, and I have a choice between keeping a perfect house, or having a happy child and maintaining my sanity.  I cook a lovely, multi-course,  gluten-free meal, but run out of time to write; or I accomplish my writing goal and forget to eat.  A family member passes away.  Another family member goes through crisis and needs hours of reassurance over the phone.  Little Guy gets sick and I have to cancel a meeting.  I catch it from him and have to cancel another meeting.  The lawn needs to be mowed, but I am afraid of waking up Little Guy when he’s sleeping, and he needs constant supervision while awake.  The dishes need to be done.  The hardwood floors need to be swept. There are toys on the stairs.  There are chalk scribblings all over the deck.  There are three stacks of books on the piano bench, and when I need to practice, I end up just moving them to the floor.  Little Guy screams because I am practicing and didn’t hear his question.  The phone rings and is a wrong number.  And then I remember…oh yes, we’re moving in just over three weeks, and have not yet found a place to live.

In short, life happens. All of my perfect plans are distorted beyond recognition.  Schedules fail.  Balance vanishes.  Relationships strain.  And I am left alone and tired at the end of the day,  screaming silently at a blank computer screen.

If there is anything I have learned over the past several years, it is this: dealing with change is not my strong point.  There is a reason my blood pressure has been volatile, my migraines have returned in force, and my ability to focus for long periods has at times vanished completely.

So I’m having to rethink my idea of balance.  I am learning that trying to balance on a grand scale doesn’t work for me.  Maybe it works for some, whose lives are less crazy or who are naturally better at organization than I am.  But I must learn to find balance in the very, very small things.

Like the choice to cut myself some slack on dinner and serve up leftovers so that we can go have a pleasant evening at the park afterward.  Or the realization that maybe I need to just take a few minutes out to pet Merlin; after all, the passing yesterday of the neighbor’s elderly Husky is a sad reminder that Merlin may not be with us too much longer.  Vacuuming his fur off the rug can wait a few more minutes.

I cut down on the amount of makeup I wear (which has been a lifelong source of stress to me anyway), and gain a precious five minutes in the morning.  Then I spend all of that recovered five minutes smelling the wild roses on the back hill–and consider the time well spent.

I talk to my husband for two hours in the evening and don’t fret over the fact that Little Guy’s bedtime is pushed back by thirty minutes.

I take five minutes to clear away one stack of papers, and don’t beat myself up over the other stack that’s still sitting there when I leave for Little Guy’s much-anticipated library trip.

I cook a simple meal with an extravagant dessert, and watch my family’s eager faces as they bite into something special.

Instead of eating out alone for lunch and stressing over the crowds, I pack a solo picnic and eat it with my feet dangling over the riverbank.

And somehow, if I am conscious of as many minutes as I can manage in this way, I come out in the end with a vague sense of a day well-ordered, even if the car still hasn’t been cleaned, I have a thousand words left to write to meet my goal, and I forgot to deposit that check. Those things can wait. Life can’t.


Published in: on May 30, 2011 at 5:55 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Did I write this?? This sounds so familiar! Being a perfectionist adds stress to your life in so many ways. And when your husband is gone, the dog has problems, and you have Ludwig any age, why add that stress? The world will not implode if you eat leftovers for dinner! Enjoy your life, it’s better than looking back years later only to realize how much of real living you’ve missed. Can’t get that time back.

    • “The world will not implode if you eat leftovers for dinner!” I love it…how true. You and I are more similar than I realized, I think. My perfectionism is this huge obstacle sometimes that, because I nurtured it for so many years, is one of my biggest barriers to happiness at times. It’s been hard for me to realize that, like any other personality trait, it is a neutral thing that can either help or hinder, depending on the circumstance.

      And by the way…can I say I think you do a GREAT job at this? You’re an awesome mom and handle the pressure of being a military wife (with TWO kids, not one!) amazingly.

  2. Good stuff…we’ve come to this realization ourselves. We sat here the other day, silently lamenting the fact that there’s a lot of grass that needs cutting; a lot of fenceline that needs either putting up or cleaned up; a lot of housework that needs done, and the like.

    The next day, as we sat there, a friend of ours remarked “You know, I just love this house.” When we asked for clarification, she said “It just looks lived in, you know, by actual people.” She spoke about how so many people have houses that they won’t allow people to enter unless a minor ritual is completed.

    That, to me, meant the world…other people saw our clutter and semi-disorganization as LIFE, and that was awesome.

    • What a great thing for your friend to have said…an awesome reminder of a truth I’m just now trying to learn. I love the idea of clutter and semi-disorganization as life (conceptually, at least…still working on loving the actuality…:) )

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