Friday, January 8, 2016

No Resolutions. Only Balance.

Do you remember trying to balance on a narrow edge?  You may have done it fairly recently, when your children have asked you to follow them.  Mine, daredevils they are, are constantly looking for the edges of life—challenging each one, struggling to stay centered, not giving up once they fall but getting up again and again and again.  It is a taunt toward the fear.  More often than not, arms lifted, they stay steady on, not looking down.  Not even once.

Whether we admit it or not, we are constantly balancing.  And most often, in my case, falling.  But instead of wanting to get back up and try it again for myself, I do it for someone else.  Or an obligation.  And that always ends up tilting my world, bending my ankles and seeing a stumble.  Most often I cannot catch myself.  The lumps and bumps and bruises hurt dreadfully.  And they take a long time to fade.  In their wake is a reluctance to climb again to try.

I have written about why I don’t like resolutions.  They are motivation for failure.  Because the minute one is set, the internal countdown begins to when you will not see it through:  20 pounds in two months!  Drinking more water!  Reading a new book every 3 weeks!  Taking a pottery class!  Writing in my life planner!

The reality: I just ate a cookie.  I’ll just have a soda.  That’s due already at the library? Can I get a refund on it?  Where is my planner?

I know you get it.  I do.  Resolutions are great, but they aren’t realistic.  Change comes slowly in a day and age when you come dead last on any kind of list and your worries keep you bound in stasis.  The whole idea that it takes a month to create permanent change?  It’s a popular myth.  Consistency is key and small changes are easier to adapt to than large ones.  So resolutions help you pile on the guilt to make you feel worse about yourself than better.  I have found that if you want a clear case of self-hatred instead of love, make a resolution. 

We live in a cultural malaise where resolutions will not, cannot, work.  If they did, whole industries would fall apart.  So much of our media/print world is about shame.  The cosmetics industry is notorious for this, and through the dedicated work of Jean Kilbourne, that particular type of shaming has come into sharp and focused relief. 
Obesity has become entertainment.  Anger, strife, odd predilections, these are what we have become obsessed with watching.  While sitting on the couch and seeing Biggest Loser or My 600lb life, at least a small portion of the rationale for viewership is a desire to acknowledge that, while our own struggles are significant, we are at least so much better off than this person.  Making ourselves feel better seeing someone struggle.  Playground antics turned virtual voyeurism.  In fact, we now have so many channels dedicated to these kinds of programs it is no wonder that highly fictionalized, stylized shows about zombies or spies have become popular. 

It is a relief not to have to see yet another reality series cataloging personal failures.  This does not motivate us toward keeping resolutions, the wide-eyed dismay of another’s guilt, addiction, or folly only serves as another stumbling block on our way to regaining equilibrium. 

Instead of this then, there is balance.

The call to find balance is as old as the world itself.  We see it everywhere: the yin/yang.  The elements.  The soul.  We take helpful, motivational classes on it.  We try to remember it.  And we struggle right through it, falling, falling, falling.

When a dancer spins, beautifully and carefully.  It’s a marvel, so many pirouettes, turns.  Flashes of tulle and determination.  When I took ballet years and years ago, the teacher told us that you needed to focus on one spot on the wall every time you turned to stay centered.  In yoga, focus again on one
My beautiful friend and teacher demonstrating the tree pose.
Yoga and Wellness with Carolyn
particular spot while on one foot.  FOCUS ON ONE SPOT.  Any deviation, your other foot will drop, you will stumble.  My friend Carolyn, an exceptional yoga teacher, always asked us to look at our own eyes in the mirror as a focal point.  That was an interesting exercise; because beyond getting ready in the morning, that was something I was reluctant to do.  Being asked to locate and find balance in my own-eyed reflection was agonizing.  And surely, my tree pose would drop as I sought frantically to look anywhere but straight ahead.  My arms, never fully reached the sky. 

Christ understood the need for balance.  He enjoyed spending time with people, but knew when he needed to withdraw in prayer.  I can only imagine the dismay of his disciples when he would leave.  “Don’t you know how much you are needed” they might have murmured.  Saint Peter may have insisted on engagements that had already been promised.  And who can forget Martha and Mary’s sad statements that had only Jesus come when asked, their brother Lazarus would have lived (John 11:21,32).  I cannot contemplate that guilt, but Christ never wavered. 

There is not a verse I can recall where Christ apologizes for his time with God.  No more than he apologizes for healing, for hearing, for caring, for intervening.  He knew what was needed to retain his strength, his courage; he knew what he needed to maintain the balance necessary for his ministry.  He made no apologies, and he did not fall until Calvary when the weight of our sin brought him to his knees.

Here’s what I want to tell you: you are a good person.  You have grace and generosity in your soul.  You don’t want to hurt anyone.  You open doors, you compliment, you mind your manners, treat others well, you place the shopping cart back, you say a cheerful good morning, you remember to thank those who are otherwise invisible to the running of your days.  You correspond with teachers, and doctors assuming a position of deference you do not feel in order to appease those that hold answers.  You rejoice in shock when you are treated with dignity and not condescension.  In fact, you sacrifice any time in needing to focus or maintain your balance by doggedly pursuing tasks that highlight your willingness to do whatever is necessary to make another’s path easier. 

And it is that slippage, that constant negation of self that offers a misstep, a stumble, and you find yourself apologizing and second-guessing yourself whenever you see a strain in another’s negative gaze.  The exhaustion of it all is astonishing.

Part of my stumbles in retaining my balance is in the endless dance I perform in trying to understand what is required to interact with this other human being who may or may not be a friend—and there is a definitive distinction.  Sometimes I can’t help it.  The person in question may hold some key for a lock that can heal me or my child, give him an assessment that could mark his student career, or someone who may mark my own.  In these situations, balance is delicate, forced and the ledge is exceptionally narrow. 

These particular situations are universally trying.  The party in power may not even be aware of the heft in scale they have—but often they do.  If we are lucky, they are not constant, thank goodness.  Just usually enough to nick your day.  

The others, though, well these we have control over.  Someone who is privileged to be your friend makes you feel badly.  And this is never, ever, ever okay.  But how to retain balance? 

I want to introduce you to something I’ve discovered so recently, it’s as shiny as a cent.  I call it simply: the push-back.  To push-back is to say enough.  Politely and distinctly.  To retreat and even the scale with the things that matter, to forcibly move the things that don’t.  Because when you walk so carefully and with determination that you will leave your world happier as you move about it, it is devastating and tiresome to be given a stone of someone else’s unhappiness to negotiate.  I hate finding rocks to hop over when I get out of bed in the morning, prayed for balance, and entered the world. 

You need to push-back.  It doesn’t have to be extreme or angry.  Just let the person know that it hurt you.  It may give her great pause in how she decides to present herself.  Simply put, the question or statement that is worrying the part of your brain like the itch mid-back you can’t reach without help, will throw you off balance.  It will make you tired.  Because it is requiring that much more energy to stay centered.

The push-back allows me to move those rocks not of my making.  And it makes me feel a lot better for it. It makes me defiant enough to retain my self-respect and to ask another to consider it.  For example,
choose to help another  balance, everyone
needs a hand sometime
would like to be able to tell you that every word I say is done with thought and intention.  Usually it is, I try to do a universal scramble before I open my mouth and allow words that could alter someone else for a moment or a while, out.  For the most part I am successful, but I am working on it with my children.  (They are now learning the push-back with me to use directly on their mother when necessary.)

But I can say when I write, there is thought.  Careful thought.  And I have made the choice, in emails and even in comments on social media to present myself as I am—no varnish.  So when I say something to you…know that it is sincere.  It’s hurtful to be responded to with irritation—it’s a medium weight stone that has been thrown directly at my feet, it's a side-step that has challenged my path. 

One time when this happened to me, I decided enough.  I wanted to push-back.  I inquired why the choice had been made to respond to me that way.  I found it to be odd.  I am kind.  That’s who I am.  Once I pointed out that the world is always seeking to tear down in some fashion, so I was choosing to build up, to help you retain your balance.  Another time, I suggested, firmly, that there was no reason to speak to me in that manner, that I was just asking a question and that I understood it was a difficult day.  My own evolution is to be kind in the face of all this discord.  It represents who I am.  There’s no disingenuity there.   

Pushing-back in such a small way helped me stand straighter.  Your opinion and moreover your life is worth something.  If you’ve cultivated your mind and grace and kindness so that it is a part of how you walk in the world, you don’t need to apologize for it.  You should be proud of it. Do not allow these pebbles that hurt all the more because of their placement and who they belong to, throw you off.  Push-back and retain your footing.

In your path, the narrow one in which you have chosen to walk, the one where you are balancing so much that is not your own, some necessary, some not, you have to navigate around something else.  The numerous stones and rocks placed by people whose hurts are such that they are forcing you through them to get on with your life, hopping from one foot to another, over and around them.  It hurts your joints, your vision and your heart.  There’s not enough oxygen in the world to get you through it. 

We are hard wired to accept it.  Every stone, as small as a pebble, as large as a boulder, all delicately placed by people who have no business offering their rocks to you.  We spin, calculate and judge how best to surmount them.  And it never occurs to us to say, simply, “no.”

You have every right to move another’s stone from your path.  
Its weight and impenetrability is not yours to carry or fathom.  
Clear your way and retain your footing.  
Reclaim your balance.

No resolutions.  Only balance.  This is your year to reclaim it. 

Push off anything and everything unnecessary to reach the goal you seek.  For me it is writing time.  I have so many things that inhibit this long hoped for goal of a completed manuscript.  And it is time, it is time for me to sweep these away to that I can balance that desire against the necessary caretaking that cannot be moved. 

Here’s a final praise about balance.  It is the starting point to journeying.  Remember when you were learning to ride a bicycle?  To skate?  Remember when you watched a baby take his first steps?  Balance.  Until a bird learns to balance, it cannot move beyond its own security of nest and tree. 

Every story, your story, is an extraordinary one. 

No apologies are necessary for your right to live it and live it fully with joy and thanksgiving.  Stop seeking the people that weigh down your path, and spend more time with those that enhance it.  Stop apologizing for what you like to do.  Just do it and allow them to fret themselves into a frenzy.  Say no more often than yes to the rocks that weigh on you.  Your children will be fine with less activities and more time to be.  And so will you.  Say yes to who what why and when it matters the most.  (You’ll know.)  

Push back, push off and find what is like to look at your own eyes in the mirror and fly.  Happy New Year to you.  May your heart find exactly what it desires most, and may you fight for the courage to will it to action.  

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