The Shifting Dance of Balance

 

The Shifting Dance of

What’s your reaction to the phrase work-life balance? Does the idea of balance seem aspirational to you, or does it seem utterly impossible? If you’re like me, it feels more like the latter.

There are several major problems with the concept of work-life balance in the ways that I have heard it described.

  1. The phrasing falsely segregates “work” and “life” from one another as if the two never touch. Activism, among many other professions, is often a blend of both.
  2. It also assumes that our obligations outside of employment do not require work. (As the mother of a toddler, this is particularly irksome!)
  3. Most troubling is the underlying mythology that we ought to be able to shift our responsibilities into a harmonious state of balance through sheer determination.

A decade ago I was sitting in a seminary professor’s office when I said, “I want to scales-308063_640 (1)give equally to all of the pieces of my life.” My concept of work-life balance at that time was an equal distribution of weight. I pictured my life as a balance scale. If I could fill both the “life” and “work” sides with the same amount of effort, they would eventually even out.

After years of failures and frustrations with this model, here is what I’ve learned.

Balance is not static. Balance is a dance

If you are able, try standing up with your eyes closed for 10-15 seconds. For an extra challenge, try this while standing on one foot. What do you notice about your body? You feel your weight shifting from side to side and from front to back. Your body may move in a circular motion. You may feel trembling, shaking, and even some faltering. These physical efforts, even the uncomfortable ones, are part of what helps us maintain balance.

In yoga class when I am practicing one-legged postures, the teacher will often remind us, “Fix your eyes on something that isn’t moving.”  While we need our muscles to work in order to hold us upright, our ability to balance is linked with our focus on what is constant.

As the circumstances of our lives shift and change, we can still find the dance of balance within ourselves.

Last month I wrote about different self-care practices that we can use to restore ourselves. One new resource I want to share are these free guided meditations by Tara Brach. Although I still struggle to make space daily for quiet, I have found these 20-minute meditations to be a source of light and love. I hope they are for you as well.

When a Methodist Turns Baptist

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Nearly a year ago, almost to the day, I entered the sanctuary of an historic church in downtown Raleigh for the first time. Visiting a new faith community is nearly always at least a slightly uncomfortable social experience. In my case I’d grown quite accustomed to feeling like an outsider in these spaces as a significant portion of my work included traveling to congregations around the country. This particular Sunday, however, had me a more on edge than usual.

The church, as it turns out, was Baptist. I was Methodist. Sitting down in a Baptist Church for worship felt something akin to rooting for a rival sports team. It was simply not done.

I recall on several occasion the pastor of my hometown Methodist church, a soft-spoken and generally mild mannered man, would poke fun at Baptist preachers from the pulpit. If a worship service ran long as it often did on the Sundays we celebrated communion, my mother and I would half-jokingly lament that our favorite lunch spot would be filled with Baptists by the time we got there. One could argue it was all in good fun like any hometown rivalry. But even well-meaning jokes, if they are repeated enough, have a poisoning effect over time.

You can read the rest of my post on Feminism and Religion. 

Bridging Across Difference

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Like millions of others around the United States and the world, I participated in one of the women’s marches held in January. At a time when I felt discouraged and disheartened about the future of our movements for social justice, the march was a life-giving, inspiring moment that catalyzed my commitment to resist oppression in all its forms. As a person of faith this is the work to which I have been called, and the women’s march helped bring me back to my purpose with renewed focus and vision.

Since November I have been seeking wisdom in discerning what particular part I am being asked to play in this moment in history. What has emerged for me over these past several months is a commitment to building authentic relationships across theological and political differences. That does not mean I am willing to abandon my own religious convictions. To the contrary this moment demands that I cling to them even more tightly. If I am to enter into conversations with those who disagree with me, however, I must also abandon any spirit of hopelessness within myself and adopt a wholehearted, open-minded approach.

As a religious person who supports women’s reproductive decision-making I spend much of my time shedding light on the diversity of religious understandings around women, contraception, and abortion. What I have grown increasingly aware of is my need to deconstruct the misconceptions I have of those who identify as pro-life.

You can read the rest of my post over at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice blog. 

Coexist or Contradict?

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While stopped at a red light on my way home one day I noticed that the two cars immediately in front of me had the same “Coexist” bumper sticker. You’ve probably seen one like it. Each of the letters of is a symbol representing a major religious or spiritual ideology. For example, the “C” is a crescent moon symbolizing Islam, and the “X” is a Star of David symbolizing Judaism.

This was a particularly long traffic light, which gave me time to realize that I was mistaken. In actuality the bumper sticker on the car just ahead of me did not read “Coexist” but “Contradict.” Underneath that it read, “They can’t all be true-John 14:6.” Despite my early days of earnest scripture memorization I couldn’t recall this particular passage, but I had a hunch it was the verse in which Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I was right.

Please head on over to Feminism and Religion to read the rest of this post. 

Demystifying Self-Care

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The first time I heard the phrase “self-care” was in a workshop for first-year students at my divinity school. I had no idea what it meant, much less how to practice it, but I was too embarrassed to say anything.

This week I visited Duke Divinity School to deliver the Jill Raitt workshop for their annual Women’s Week. The theme was “Women Flourishing,” and together we unpacked the language of “self-care” and strategized ways to create more space for it in our lives.

From the beginning I confessed to the group that while I advocate strongly for the well-being of women and girls, I often deprioritize my own needs. I knew from the nods in the room that this is a common experience for graduate students, ministers, activists and other justice-seekers striving for a better world.

Self-Care

In 1988 Audre Lorde wrote, “Self-care is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” How do we best preserve ourselves in these challenging political times, so that we can continue our work of compassion and justice?

I did a lot of research on best self-care practices for my presentation at Duke, and now I want to share with you my top three resources for activists in search of more self-care.

  • Healers of Color on Why Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence. Miriam Zoila Pérez, gender columnist for Colorlines, interviews self-care advocates from different traditions on how we can apply Lorde’s words to today’s struggles. I love this quote from La Sarminento: “Know that in any given moment, our comrades are working for causes that matter. For one of us to take a break for a few minutes or a few days is totally OK.”
  • Write a Wellness Prescription. Rosie Molinary, a radical self-acceptance champion, leads us through assessing the different aspects of our personal wellness–spiritual, mental, physical, emotional–and developing strategies and practices to meet our specific needs. Since I work from home one of the elements of my prescription is making social plans with a friend or colleague once a week. Instead of grabbing lunch or coffee I’ve started inviting people to do “walk and talks” when the weather is nice.
  • A Deep Breathing Exercise to Do Anytime. This simple visualization can help us slow down and deepen our breathing. When I practice this I like to repeat to myself the mantra “I am enough” on in the inhale and on the exhale say “I am not all things.” I encouraged the students at Duke to try this next time they are in a group setting and tensions are high. Pausing business for a moment to take some communal deep breaths can help reset the energy in the room.

And here’s one last BONUS TIP from me Try making a “not-to-do” list of things that you won’t spend time on that day or week. For me so much of self-care is about creating space for less effort. Having a “not-to-do” list helps .

What are your most important self-care practices?

Parenting and Politics: How I’m Showing Up

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When I was ten weeks pregnant I gave an impassioned speech in front of the Supreme Court during the Hobby Lobby hearings about why universal access to contraception was part of my own religious understanding. I’d wanted to share about my own planned pregnancy, but at that point I wasn’t far enough along to feel comfortable telling that in a public way.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last protest for almost three years. After the birth of my daughter I cut my travel significantly. I spent most of my weekends in the cocoon–or what sometimes felt more like the prison–of our home rather than out in the public square.  As someone deeply ensconced in the activism world this turning inward felt like I was betraying the causes and the people for whom I cared deeply. How could I be an effective advocate if I couldn’t show up?

Read the rest of my post over at Feminism and Religion