There was a year in my teens when I spent much of my time looking down. Ah, (deep sigh) high school. I had moved back to Burlington after living for most of my childhood in Bermuda and England. I had a British accent and knew a sum total of two people in my school (from my kindergarten days) on the first day of Grade 9.
I remember looking down at the floor as I walked past the Grade 10’s and 11’s down the seemingly endless hallway to my locker. Looking down at my desk after I’d spoken out in my ‘funny’ accent when a teacher called on me to answer a question. Looking down at my tray as I made my way through the maze of tables at the cafeteria. Looking down at the ground as I walked past the ‘cool kids’ on the way to the bus stop.
Although I made fast friends with a group of girls who I am proud to still be very close to (so many years and marriages and babies later) and I loved my school but – like most teens – I was in that stage of feeling awkward, self-conscious and insecure. I was involved in sports and theatre and had no issue playing field hockey at Ivor Wynne Stadium or performing in the school plays, but when it came to simple tasks like walking down the hallway, it seemed easier and felt safer to look down and pretend I – and anyone else for that matter – wasn’t really there.
At some point during Grade 10, I simply decided to look up. It sounds like such a silly thing, but it was a huge deal for me. In my diary (yes, I was and still am a journal keeper), I made a decision to physically change the way I walked and see what it felt like to lift my head. To look up, to engage, whether it was with kids older than me, strangers, guys I had secret crushes on, girls I admired and looked up to, possible friends. To look up, despite my feelings of shyness and insecurity.
It was transformational. Sure, it was scary and took a while to get used to. But I think it did a lot for my confidence and my interactions with others. And let’s face it, the world of looking down is pretty limited to the ground, your feet, and the feet of others. Looking up opened up my world on so many levels. I still dreaded walking down the hallways but it got easier.
Why am I remembering this now? Recently, I’ve noticed so many people (myself included) walking down the street with their heads bent over their blackberries or their iPhones. Because we are able to do everything – grocery lists, meal-planning, text our pals, tweet, check email, surf our favourite sites, etc on our phones – it’s so tempting to be engaged with these little devices. All. The. Time. I know I’ve been guilty of getting sucked into Twitter while my husband is driving us all somewhere, and it’s taken him three tries to get my attention. Or I’ve been checking email quickly and been sidetracked by a message when I should be down on the floor playing with my kids. And that is not the person I want to be. I don’t want to look up one day from my iPhone or email to realize that my family has stopped trying to get my attention.
I rarely feel shy or awkward in my body anymore. I am confident and happy with who I am, so this habit of looking down is for entirely different reasons. But it seems my life has come full circle from 20 years ago, and I’m making the choice once again to look up. Because I don’t want to miss anything.
What are you missing out on by looking down?
Last weekend I was at the Yoga Conference in Toronto. In one of the workshops, the instructor spent a long time discussing the importance of cultivating awareness of the space and time in between the poses in our yoga practice. It’s quite easy to focus on your breathing, your muscles, and your body when you’re actually holding a yoga pose on the mat - when you’re still - but the challenge lies in keeping that awareness, that presence of mind and body as you shift your body from one pose to another. This concept is not a new one to me. In fact, most of my clients have heard me talk at length (or ad nauseum, they might argue!) about the danger of losing your awareness in between poses. It is during the transition between yoga postures that people most often hurt themselves.
But what has resonated with me so deeply in that class was that the instructor encouraged us to bring this concept "off the mat" and to think about how much of our life is spent in transition and how much we avoid being present in it: Whether it’s transition into or out of a relationship, transition out of or into a new career, transition between actual physical spaces or between spaces in our relationships. She encouraged us to look at the transitions in our life and to bring a deeper awareness to them.
I have to admit that, at first, I thought I already had this concept down pretty good. When I’m going through changes – whether they be physical, emotional, relationship-wise or career-wise - I try to stand right in the middle of them and experience the good, the bad and the ugly. Generally, when it comes to life's big transitions, I'd say I’m there almost one hundred per cent.
But then I began to break things down. I began to think about my typical day's routine: Wake up early, kids wake up and come into room for a cuddle, kiss husband goodbye, shower, get the kids' breakfast, pack my teaching/writing bag for the day, organize any stuff for my daughter’s school day, caregiver arrives, kiss the kids goodbye, head to client, head to another client, stop off at my second office (thank you, Starbucks). write an article, head to another client, meditate/do yoga or workout, write another pitch or draft or answer emails or have a meeting, head to another client, head home to pick up son, then pick up daughter from school, walk home, play, make dinner, run the bath, read stories, do bedtime ritual, tidy up house - then, most often - STOP.
And as I thought through this type of day, images began to crystallize in my mind. I can clearly see myself sitting on the mat with a client taking them through their yoga or Pilates session, I can visualize myself writing and working at the coffee shop, meditating or working out, I can picture the moments of play and interaction with my kids and family, but all of the moments in between are a blur. How do I get from home to my client’s house? Is my car (let alone my mind) on autopilot? Do I breathe as I leave one client’s house to head to my writing work? In that space between all of the places (physically and mentally) I travel to in a day, I can easily tune out. When I arrive, I’m there. But in between? Admittedly, it’s often a fog.
When I’m doing my own yoga practice, I find the transition between poses is where I often have the best discoveries. I notice things about my body that I don’t see when I’m still, and I observe my mind challenging me by trying spin off onto other thoughts. By not bringing my awareness to “the time and space in between” as I travel throughout my day, what amazing discoveries have I been missing out on?
One of my favourite definitions of balance is: “equipoise between contrasting, opposing, or interacting elements.” Personally, my idea of balance has changed drastically since I first became a mom.
At first, balance simply meant showering each day, getting outdoors, cultivating relationships with other moms, and adjusting my family to its new member. Since I’m self-employed, work entered into the equation slowly and I was able to integrate it on my terms. Nowadays, with two kids in tow, balance means remembering which activity is on which day, getting my meal plan done, meeting deadlines, monitoring whether I’m giving my work too much or too little energy, putting myself to bed early, and striving to find time for myself, my husband and our family and friends (oh right – don’t forget that!). But I’m also aware that what I need in order to feel balanced can be different from week to week.
When I reflect on it though - despite the fact that my idea of balance shifts and changes - what hasn’t changed are my core values. Think of these values as the centre of your soul and personality. My centre is what sits at the heart of everything I do – that voice inside that knows what feels right and what doesn’t, the instinct that screams out to be heard if I’m careening in the wrong direction, my morals, my ability to contemplate my life and know what is true and good.
As women, as moms - whether we work, stay at home, or a combination of both - there are a lot of pressures on us. How we are influenced by or react to these pressures can have a great effect on our happiness or our idea of balance. It’s so easy to look at the way “someone else” is doing things and think “if only … ”. But if we are aware of what lies at the heart of who we are - our core values - these external pressures become meaningless. Instead of following someone else’s model for balance, we can make our own. We can find our equipoise or our “centre” by taking the time to listen to our hearts, our intuition, our inner voices.
Because balance lies within each of us. And we already have all the answers we need.