I occasionally go on retreat or take off bushwalking by myself, as stepping back from my life really helps me recalibrate my energy, focus and enthusiasm. However, for me these activities are not about cultivating work-life ‘balance’, because I don’t think that is a useful paradigm for my life. Maybe it doesn’t work for you, either?
For me, it’s about choosing, in a more flexible way, day-to-day, to allocate time between the different parts of my life – client and research work, writing my new book, working on my volunteer gigs, family, friends, downtime. I used to think of it as making work-life ‘choices’, but now I’ve taken it a step further.
While I was on retreat a few years ago, I had a chat to a Buddhist nun I know, Venerable You. She is a most practical and also inspired teacher, a combination that appeals greatly to me (She is also very amusing…).
We were talking about fitting meditation and reflection into a busy life, and she mentioned that she saw it all as ‘just one pond’. A lightbulb moment. Just one pond. Not divvying up time between this compartment or that, finishing ‘work’ so you can move onto ‘life’. Just one pond. For me, a window opened somewhere, bringing a sense of flexibility I hadn’t had for a while.
In any moment, on any day, you can move fluidly from one area into another, and back again. You can respond as needed in any part of life. You can follow your sense of what needs to happen next, or what suits your frame of mind. So some days it’s all about my book, and on others the focus is on client needs, or cooking a new risotto, or preparing for a workshop, or going to a movie with a friend. But there’s no weighing it all up to find that perfect (mythical?) ‘balance’; whatever needs to happen on a given day, happens.
And if you are cultivating mindfulness, say, or patience, then you cultivate it in every part of your ‘work’ and your ‘life’, not just carve out 20 minutes for it each morning.
Of course, if you neglect one part of your pond for too long, it will stagnate and even get scum on the surface. And sometimes dealing with all the elements feels more like drowning. So, you do need to have an eye on the different parts of your life, over time. But it is a great deal more flexible than striving for a daily balance, which can quickly degenerate into a frantic (and unsuccessful) juggling act.
Just one pond. It works for me.
Joanna Maxwell


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