“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B. White
I have been thinking a lot about values lately.
I am deeply committed to the values of social-justice, environmentalism and feminism. I also very much value mindfulness, awareness, and ahimsa or non-violence.
One tension that I personally confront is that my practice of those two sets of values are sometimes in conflict.
I can run myself ragged in pursuit of virtuous ends. Sometimes, my righteous anger is expressed in a harmful way, even if the harm is only to my own psyche. Sometimes, in my striving, I am not at all mindful.
So, I’m looking for balance and I suspect I will keep looking for it for the rest of my life. When I find that balance, it feels very much like home.
Parenting, Values and Balance
My children are getting old enough to start asking more probing questions about the world around them. I very much want my value system to be both an implicit and explicit part of their childhood. This desire has, in part, led me and my husband to live in a very liberal community, to join a social-justice oriented Unitarian Universalist church, and to initiate all manner of conversations with our children about inequality and politics.
These liberal values are, in some ways, much easier to articulate than other values that I hold dear. For example, it’s fairly straightforward to talk to my child about racial injustice. It may not be easy and I may not have adequate answers, but I at least know how to start the conversation. It is harder for me is to impart the importance of being present and unattached.
I hope my children will go boldly into the world and make positive change fighting for justice, equality, and the environment. I also want them to be kind to themselves, to take time to rest, and to emphasize relationships over material things.
I worry sometimes that my attempts at mindfulness are invisible to them – conducted so privately and so quietly so as not to be noticed. Although, I was snuggling the other day with my daughter and my son came into to ask her to play. She responded, “not right now, I’m sooooo in the moment.” So, who knows, maybe it’s seeping in?
One thing that helps me is to remind myself that children are very intuitive. When I am striking the right balance between being and doing, they know.
Balance and Making an Impact
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – The Talmud
It’s not just about striking the right balance as a model for my kids, it’s also about striking the right balance in order to have a positive impact on the world.
Part of the reason that I started a blog about mindfulness is that it is something that I feel the need to consciously emphasize. It doesn’t come easily to me. I intuitively know how to express other values. Raise some money! Volunteer! March! Achieve!
And, when I feel overwhelmed, my instinct is to go all-in the other direction and retreat entirely into myself.
But most of life isn’t lived at the extremes. And it is not enough to take a retreat or go the mountain every once in a while. I must find that place every day.
When I was in my twenties, I really could muscle through it. I could work myself ragged without getting sick or breaking down. As I age, my body is a teacher telling me to slow down, check-in, and be kind to myself and, by extension, others.
I am learning that quality is so much more important than quantity. Give me one day at work where I’m well rested and fed and feeling positive over two or three days of frenetic stress-filled mania. The same principle applies to my family, political, and spiritual lives. I don’t need to do everything, I just need to do some things with great deal presence and intentionality.
So, in my quest to have an impact – as a mother, as a wife, as an activist, as a leader – I am going to focus on quality over quality and express my values through both action and mindfulness.
How do you find the balance between being and doing?