When I signed on four years ago to write this column, my intent was to discuss the constant quest for a work-life balance. I imagined sharing my best productivity tips as well as commiserating about the days when those tips inevitably failed. Over time, I also began sharing how my definitions of "work" and "life" were evolving . But while the balls changed in shape and color, the desire to keep them aloft always remained. Recently, however, I’ve begun to question my understanding of balance itself.
I’ve been following along online with a 21-day meditation course hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra . On Day 2, Deepak talked about our inherent need for growth and progress. Our minds and our bodies, he explained, need forward motion. However, as Deepak pointed out, they also need to have that motion tempered with periods of rest.
It struck me that this was a new way of describing balance, one that was less about figuring out how to do all the things and more about alternating between doing and not doing.
I notice that my body insists on creating this dichotomy for me. If I go too hard and for too long, I crash hard into a pile of napping and carb binging. After periods of fantastic productivity and creativity, I often find myself lost in a daze of TV gorging and spectacular laziness. Of course, I hate this, and I lament that it interferes with my attempts at balance.
I want to be amazingly productive at work and then balance that with perfect productivity around the house. I imagine creating revolutionary messages during the day, and then countering that by connecting profoundly with my family and friends. Work, life, family, friends, balance has always meant moving around the pie chart so that every piece is sampled.
Being out of balance, I’ve assumed and have been advised, come from leaving important sectors neglected.
Connect more with your husband.
Spend more time on self care.
Get out of the office more and into the community.
Do more of something different, the prevailing wisdom suggests, and you’ll find yourself better aligned.
But maybe the answer isn’t doing more of something supposedly better for us. Perhaps, instead, the only way to counter all this doing is to not do anything . To rest. Really. Not to rest from work by engaging more at home, but to actually and truly rest. To step away from the ever splintering pie chart completely, just for a bit.
Deepak said that our body gives us clues to when we need rest and when we need motion, and in the reflections that follow the guided meditation we’re asked to consider how we feel when we eat different types of foods. I instantly thought about how I feel like crap when I eat tons of carbs and how I feel ready to go when I eat healthy foods. I’ve alway thought it was a bit counterintuitive, then, that my body craves junk when I am feeling the most rundown. Why, I’ve thought, do I instinctively reach for foods that make me lethargic when I am most desperately in need of a refueling?
Perhaps my body isn’t as stupid as I’ve always thought. Maybe it reaches for carbs because they make me crash, and because it knows better than I that a crash is sometimes the best medicine. It might be my body’s way of forcing me to do nothing when my own convoluted definition of balance is insisting on just doing something different.
Doing and not doing. Going and resting. Growing and being dormant. Something about this version of balance sounds right to me, and more achievable even than the frenetic one I’ve been chasing forever. I’m going to try making room in my planner for nothing.