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.
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.
It also assumes that our obligations outside of employment do not require work. (As the mother of a toddler, this is particularly irksome!)
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 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.
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.
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 .
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?
On this Inauguration Day I have been putting the final touches on my sign that I will carry in the Women’s March in Raleigh, NC tomorrow. It reads, “Love not hate will make America great.”
Though I’m regularly in DC, sometimes several times a month, I deliberately chose to stay home and participate in the local march because I firmly believe that the key to creating a more just, compassionate world is organizing in our local communities.
I say this as someone who has worked predominantly at the national level on issues like paid family leave, maternal health, and access to comprehensive reproductive health care. This focus on the national scene has meant I’ve had little involvement in my home state. We all have to make decisions about how and where we will spend our limited time and energy. But at this moment I feel strongly that I am called to serve and advocate alongside those closest (physically) to me.
Since November I have been in constant prayer for wisdom and discernment of where I am meant to be in this era of Trump. With so many causes pulling at all of us to step up, I have felt overwhelmed. But in the quiet and stillness the phrase that has emerged for me as a guiding value is catalyzing, not culminating.
What do I mean by that? Culminating moments are actions and events that are complete in and of themselves. They may require a lot of preparation, but little attention is paid to the follow-up and next steps. I have been involved–and directed–such activities, whether it was checking off a box for a funder or my own internal box of “things that make me feel good.” They do little to move us forward in the our mission for justice. They are often ego-driven.
On the other hand catalyzing moments are actions and events that spark us onward to the next action we will take together. They bring in new people who are searching for opportunities to be connected with our movements for justice. They are based in deep relationships in which each person is asked to share unique gifts and to value the expertise of others. At the center of a catalyzing moment is the commitment to the mission.
My prayer for the march in Raleigh–and for the marches and actions and events everywhere this weekend–is that they would catalyze us, ignite us, energize us for the marathon ahead of us. May it be so.
For the last year I have had the honor of serving as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). This leadership role often requires great personal and professional sacrifices and yet blesses me tenfold in return. At this moment in history I can think of no more important organization to offer my time and gifts than on behalf of RCRC.
Last week RCRC partnered with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington (PPMW) to hold an Interfaith Unity Ceremony to honor their brand new health center in southeast D.C. I had the privilege of joining more than sixty clergy, justice leaders, and clinic staff as were led by the Reverend Doctors Dennis and Christine Wiley, co-pastors of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, through an interfaith service of blessing. There was drumming from the all female percussion band Balatá, testimonies from providers and patients, poetry, liturgical dance, a Hindu chant, and a ritual of healing from the shame and stigma surrounding abortion.
This Advent I’ve been struggling for silence and stillness. My pursuit for calm isn’t new, but it has a newfound urgency. The cacophony that erupted early in the morning one month ago today has left me despondent most days. For a week straight after the Presidential election I absorbed as many of the noises as I could stomach, but I found that I couldn’t really hear much of anything. How was I to know what I ought to do if I didn’t find a better way to listen?
So, I started cutting down on the noise. I deleted Facebook on my phone. I limited social media consumption to no more than fifteen minutes a day. I pledged not to pick up a screen when I’m with my daughter. I read the news in the morning and otherwise let it be. And I increased my times of quiet. I resumed journaling on paper, and I started a short daily gratitude practice. I read more books.
I’m not certain that my strategy is the best one. Daily I ask myself, am I insulating myself too much? It’s possible that I’ve swung too far in the other direction. But in general I know that my tendency is to underestimate my need for restorative practices. I remember once telling a therapist that my only criterion for whether I agreed to do something was if I was physically able to do it. She responded, “You do know that isn’t sustainable, right?” Logically, I agree. But in this chaotic moment, I feel pulled to say yes to everything–to every donation, to every request for help, to every march or protest. That’s all mixed in with the noise.
I find myself (quietly) praying the same words over and over again, Show me where to show up. I’ve often thought of the verse in Proverbs, 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” If there has ever been a time when I have felt the limitations of my own understandings, it has been this past month.
This Advent I wonder if we might reflect on how God often shows up in ways we least expect and how that might lead us to new ways of serving others and standing for justice in the wake of this Presidential election. May we all find the quiet space we need to prepare for the unexpected.
In the face of the Zika epidemic the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new recommendations for individuals at risk of contracting the virus either through mosquito bites or through sexual contact with an infected person. If someone has traveled to an area where Zika is present, the WHO recommends abstinence or consistent condom use for at least eight weeks or up to six months if a partner shows symptoms. (Only 20% of people infected with the virus are symptomatic.) But for women of childbearing age living in areas affected by the virus, the WHO urges them to speak with their health providers about possibly delaying pregnancy, presumably indefinitely. The Zika virus has been linked to devastating birth defects including microcephaly.
After issuing the revised guidelines Nyka Alexander, spokesperson for the WHO, clarified that the purpose of them was not to discourage all at-risk couples from conceiving, but rather to ensure that they consider the Zika virus and its potential impacts on the timing of pregnancy. “Whether and when to become pregnant should be a personal choice made on the basis of information and access to affordable, quality health services,” said Alexander.
For pregnancy to be a personal choice, women and men must have access to the tools, information, and resources they need to prevent, delay, or plan it. Worldwide more than 220 million women want to avoid pregnancy but have an unmet need for reliable, safe contraceptive methods. The Zika virus has brought significant attention to what has been a public health crisis and an ethical tragedy for decades: that despite modern medical advances 85 million women experience unintended pregnancies each year.