Lessons from a Monkey

Another holiday coming to a close and the exhaustion is setting in. It’s interesting, being the adult responsible for making magic through the holidays. Witnessing the wonder in your children is humbling and satisfying, and it thickens the fog of nostalgia. I see my childhood in them, and it feels like standing knee deep in the river of time. I think about my parents at my age, doing this magic dance for their children. And then I see all the families all over the world celebrating at this time and my muscles tighten and I don’t sleep well because in adult world there is no ‘winter break’: work goes on, shopping and laundry and bills go on, family drama goes on. There are no extra hours in the day at this time of year, but we insist on packing more into the space.

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And I’m thinking of all of this as I step onto the balance board with the giant monkey face we gave to our youngest son. This gift was my attempt to keep him distracted from riding down the banister and climbing up the kitchen cabinets while trapped indoors during the long northwest slog toward summer. The box also said it carried a weight limit much heavier than a 2 year old, so I decided to give it a try myself, and as I got my footing into place I began to think about the science of ‘balance’. Balance takes on such a sinister meaning in our world, becoming this unachievable thing we’re constantly striving for. We think once we reach balance we’ll find long, uninterrupted peace. We think creating balance between work and life and family and friends will ease tension. Standing on this monkey, it didn’t take me long to find my balance point, and then, nothing. It’s not much fun to be in perfect balance. You just stand there. You’re done playing the game. I began to grin: oh monkey. The fun comes from finding your balance, the back and forth wobble and then, aha!, balance. But once you’re there you long for a little wibble, a slight adjustment to your kilter as you once again discover your equilibrium. The tension between the two poles is the place where peace and chaos coexist. The opposing forces strengthen each other and provide integrity to the structure. Our problems arise when we make finding balance our goal, when our goal should be finding enjoyment in the action of balancing.

As we turn our sights to the possibilities of 2014, I like to think about my intentions for the year and focus on a handful of activities I value enough to give my sustained and joyful attention. These elements become my opposing forces and everything else merely the necessary distractions that add to the enjoyment of finding equilibrium. And this year, when I need a quick reminder of the lesson, I can jump on the monkey.

** I’ll be joining a panel discussion on work/life balance hosted by The Fund for Women and Girls on January 22nd at UW Tacoma. I hope you’ll come and contribute to the conversation!

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