Responsibilities competing for my attention are a major source of stress for me. I hope to raise my children well and to enjoy it. The duties of work and keeping up with household organization (bills, laundry, meals, etc.) often scream loudly at me. I find myself getting swept up in completing the more tangible tasks and feeling disengaged from what I really want to enjoy. Not to mention the need for self-care, a healthy marriage, and other important relationships, and exploring what I need to learn from my personal circumstances as well as my role in the collective happenings in the world. All require attention and time.
I feel this battle not only in my responsibilities but also in the duality of the inner and outer life. Spirituality and what lies beyond the seen has always fascinated me. I could spend many hours exploring these concepts and experiences. I also feel responsible to meet the roles and duties I have in life. These two concepts war for my attention. Focusing on life’s tasks and circumstances feel full, busy, and often rewarding. But it quickly turns into a “running on empty” feeling. My life (like many other people’s lives in modern times) does not allow for me to spend much time meditating, reflecting, or being alone. However, a little goes a long way, especially with proper training on how to meditate. Both the inner and outer life is needed for me to truly feel fulfilled.
I know both aspects are necessary, but why must it feel like a battle? Part of raising my children well is providing meals, maintaining a quality home environment, paying bills, earning a living to pay those bills, and having healthy relationships and a self-care routine. But…how do I fit it all in and not lose the essence of why I am doing all of these tasks? The quality of my children’s existence is highly important to me. And regarding the balance of my inner and outer life, I have come to believe that both are essential, but the inner life is the essence that supplies the outer life. It is what fuels and gives direction to the outer life. This is truly fulfilling…having the inner life energy to meet the outer life tasks with success.
Listen to your Intuition?
The Indian guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, is known as the father of Yoga in the West and developed a “how to live” lesson series on living a truly spiritual life. “A balance must be struck between the medieval idea of wholly depending on God and the modern way of sole reliance on the ego.” This statement from Yogananda provides a solution to my battle between the inner and outer lives…as well as my battle with very meaningful and less meaningful responsibilities in my life. Retreating within and taking no outward action will not create the progress I want…no matter how elevating that inward spiritual experience is. Complete reliance on my spiritual source does not get things done in the physical world. Relying entirely on myself is burdensome and only goes so far…and so often takes me in the wrong direction!
I must do both. I must quiet my mind enough to listen to and trust my intuition. I must act on my intuitions.
Things are not just going to happen. I must make the changes happen but in stages. I cannot do everything at once. I must start somewhere and build from there.
It seems like a lot to do, the work of honing the intuition, then going about the business of carrying out that intuitive guidance in our lives. So often I do not know where to place my focus, whether I need to sit and be still, tune into my intuition…or move on what I believe I have received from intuition. Fear of making a mistake makes carrying on with an intuitive nudge very difficult. Oftentimes, there is not much evidence that comes with intuitive guidance.
The balance required for a healthy life reminds me of the contraction-relaxation combination of the birthing process. There is a rhythm, contraction followed by relaxation, again and again. Over time the combination of these two opposites moves the baby through the birth canal. If the pressure of contraction were constant it would be unbearable. The partnership and “taking turns” of contraction and relaxation allows for movement.
The contract-relax combination is a wonderful metaphor for progression through life’s lessons and changes. Relaxation is part of progress and we often forget that. Relaxation is not giving up or having an “I don’t care” attitude as long as we do not sit back too long and become unmotivated for the work required in meeting our goal.
I used to handle life by pushing through things, completely missing that partnership of contraction and relaxation…outer and inner life… reliance on a spiritual source and myself. I have given birth twice. I had two very different deliveries. My first delivery was all contraction, no relaxation. I am not referring to a metaphor here; I literally had no breaks between contractions. As a first time mom, I had difficulty relaxing and trusting in the process. I had a lot of “stuff” to release about trusting, allowing, being present, and letting go. My second delivery was very different. I was able to embrace the process.
I was able to trust. I leaned into the process and I accepted each contraction. I was not afraid of them. I was able to be with each one because I knew it was only a contraction. It would not last forever. It would pass. Each one was bringing my baby closer to me. I went with it. And I was so relieved when each contraction passed. I was able to relax after each contraction because I was fully present with each one. The second birth had balance. It equally had the forward push of progress and the relaxation of rest. Each birth seems symbolic of where I was spiritually at that time. For the first, I knew how to push forward; I did not know how to relax, let go, and rest.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, a lot of the same “stuff” came up. It was challenging to meet everyone’s needs and my own in the absence of our regular routine and outlets. Getting through the day was a challenge. The days that felt good were broken up into parts. When the time was up I moved onto or expect more from myself. I accepted what I could do in that area of life for that particular day. Some days I felt like I did well in being present and having fun with the kids. Some days I felt successful in keeping my house clean and making good meals. Some days I felt accomplished in paying all the bills and getting good work done. Some days I did a little of everything. Other days I felt discouraged, infringed upon, craving time alone, unaccomplished, and frustrated with everyone and everything. But that time made me see that I could leave those tangible outward tasks undone and nothing would crumble. It would be ok for me to leave it there until tomorrow or next week.
Everything in moderation…
Yogananda, the above-mentioned spiritual teacher, spoke about these five things being essential for a happy, balanced life:
- Serving others
Serving others feels more genuine and joyful when I give myself rest and recreation In the past, I rarely purposefully sought out recreation for myself. I would do recreational things with others…but not for myself, not things that specifically brought me joy. It took a while to learn what recreation was for me. Being in the simplicity of nature is a big one for me. I need extended periods of time. And I need short periods daily. Often watering the plants or a walk during the dramatic colors after sunset will do it for me, although some nights I only have time for a quick peek at the colors, as this is the busy time of getting everyone ready for bed. Spending time with others socially is an important part of our culture here. The warmth of human connection is a wonderful thing. The quarantine made me appreciate that even more. Sometimes my soul the next most necessary thing. I did not linger need the stillness and peace of nature instead of communion with others. The simplicity and quietude of nature help me follow suit within myself. I have a lot of noise within. Spending time in nature allows me to follow nature’s footsteps and attune with the simplicity that nature offers.
I habitually tend to focus on outer circumstances…problems and solutions to those problems…what I should do. I lose balance this way. Pushing onward without rest is futile and often the mark is greatly missed. When I realize this and attempt to draw inward there is resistance, a fear of not tending to the outer needs and everything falling apart. Continually redirecting myself inward eventually leads to the resistance fading and a sense of renewal. Then solutions appear, without obsessive over-thinking. Then work can be done in an outward way that is efficient and productive. Sometimes the work to be done is difficult, it’s not always an easy solution that comes, but there is either direction or a sense of peace, often both. The renewed life force within moves outward into my life.
Allison Saltzman, LPC is a psychotherapist whose passion is rooted in helping her clients cultivate joy and practice the art of being fully present in their lives.
She founded Connected Counseling, a group counseling practice in Lafayette, LA, which provides services to children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families.
Connected Counseling is about living well in all areas of life, offering Cognitive Behavior Therapy, mind-body techniques, Play Therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions.