Balance: Is Less More?

By Barb Grady

            I imagine parents everywhere yearn for balance.  What drives the sense of frenzy and overextension that so many of us are experiencing?  I recognize that going to school, teaching, counseling, and being a single parent creates challenges concerning living a balanced life.  If part of the problem is a cultural norm that sets no limits, part of the solution is a deep consciousness about our true wants.  What do we want…more time with our families and friends, more time alone, more fun?  More experiences or more fulfillment? More contacts or deep relationships?  More personal activities or daily practices that reflect our deepest values?  Part of the art of living is finding the balance, the rhythm between solitude and belonging, and to give time to each of them. In healthy families, all members have the opportunity to get their needs met. So, how does this happen and what kind of living are we modeling for our children?

            On average Americans are working longer hours than our European and Asian counterparts, racking up more debt, developing more stress-induced health problems, and experiencing depression in record numbers (ten times the pre-World War II level).  What gives?  I believe that the “more is better” hyper-individualism may be a root cause of the problem.  Do you ever feel that if you’re not doing it all, or having it all, that you’re inadequate and fear that you’re missing the party?  Sadly, this pursuit of more leaves many of us feeling spent rather than uplifted, anxious rather than contented.

A Distorted American Dream

                The American dream once focused on greater security (a recently threatened concept), and happiness.  Increasingly, that dream has been supplanted by an extraordinary emphasis on acquisition, which exerts a toll of the lives we lead and on our planet.  Our consumer lifestyles are taking a heavy toll on the environment.  Although we seldom see the impact, every product we consume comes from the earth and must return to the earth.  The American lifestyle is inadvertently jeopardizing our kids’ environmental future.

How To Unplug And Slow Down

What can we do to nurture our children’s values, foster healthy balanced lives, and protect the natural systems that we rely on for survival?  As parents, is it possible to reconcile our need for personal fulfillment, financial security, and our children’s emotional needs at the same time—in other words, to live in balance?  I don’t think anyone has the blueprint for good living, but there are some important steps we can take to live simpler, more satisfying lives.

  • Remember that being precedes doing.  Neale Donald Walsch presented a model of be, do, have in his Conversations with God books. He meant that what you experience yourself having or doing will spring from your being—not lead you to it.  For example, when you come from being “happiness,” you do certain things because you are happy—as opposed to the old paradigm in which you did things that you hoped would make you happy. You cannot “do” your way into “being.” Consciousness and “being” precede commitment and action. All effect is created by thought, and that manifestation is a result of intention.  By seeking to live in greater balance (consciously being balance and visualizing balance), you are taking the critical first step in making that a reality.  For starters, spend some time asking yourself and your family what your needs are.  Look at your core beliefs that are generated by those needs.  Sit down and ask, “What values do we (I) want our kids to have?”  “Are we doing things to make that a reality?”  Try to remember your happiest memories from your childhood.  Will your kids have similar memories?  What can you do to ensure that they have better memories?
  • Unplug.  Exposure to television is a major issue for millions of American families.  According to a leading expert on marketing to children, American kids see an average of 20,000 to 40,000 television commercials each year.  These advertisements not only play on kids’ insecurities, they put enormous pressure on parents to meet the demands created by an extremely savvy advertising industry.  Moreover, the passive nature of television watching inhibits creativity and stunts children’s natural curiosity about life.  You do have the power to turn off the tube, ignore the phone, and stay off your home computer.  Just do it.
  • Consciously work less.  This may sound like heresy in today’s work-and-spend society, but studies show that, if given the option, a significant number of Americans would work fewer hours if it meant less stress and more time with friends and family.  Most Americans don’t realize that this attractive alternative is increasingly available to them.  In this job market, more and more employers are agreeing to reduced hour workweeks and more flexible work schedules.  Ask yourself this: What stuff would I give up in exchange for more time?
  • The antidote to commercialism is community.  Spending time with your children and with members of your community who share your values significantly reduces the need to compete with those who don’t.  Often over consuming and overworking come from a sense of isolation and alienation from people around us.  Communities that truly interact are far less likely to compete against each other for status, and far more likely to support each other in common pursuits.
  • Be a conscious consumer.  Carefully consider your purchases.  First ask, do I really need and want this?  Second, is it worth the price?  How many hours will I have to work to pay for it?  Whenever possible, purchase products that are environmentally preferable, such as recycled paper products, and organic foods.  Children learn about spending and money from us.  What are we modeling?
  • Remember silence is golden.  This is a simple but extremely difficult thing to do.  The noise of our lives– televisions, video games, radios, computers—makes finding balance a true challenge.  Take five minutes a day to completely remove yourself from noise.  Use that time to center yourself, be peaceful, and breathe deeply.

These steps are just a beginning.  We are in the midst of social and technological currents that challenge our capacity to be deeply conscious.  We are living in a time of fear and the energy required to be love in this time is critical.  In case you think I have arrived at some perfect state of balance, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  The conflict between having a successful career, running my own business, finishing my Master of Counseling degree, trying to bring about social change, and the need to be an available and supportive mother has come into stark relief for me. I have eliminated extra counseling internship hours in order to create the time to write and prepare for my classes.  I have committed to reestablishing a regular exercise routine and place my needs and the needs of my children before all else.  We are all on this journey, seeking to live well, trying to find balance, wanting to make our lives count, and aching to make the world healthier and safer for all.  It’s a path.  Easy?  No.  Vital for our personal well-being, our kids, and our natural world?  Absolutely.

 

For More Information

Yearning for Balance: An Action Kit available for $10.00 from The Center for a New American Dream, 6930 Carrol Avenue, Suite 900, Takoma park, MD 20912, 301-891-3683; or e-mail them at newdream@newdream.org.

Books

Andrews, Cecile. The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. Harper Collins, 1997.

Burch, Mark. Simplicity Study Circles: A Step-By-Step Guide. New Society Publishers, 1996.

Engwicht, David. Street Reclaiming: Creating Livable Streets and Vibrant Communities. New Society Publishers, 1999.

St. James, Elaine. Simplify Your Life (One Hundred Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter). Hyperion, 1994.

Web Sites

Earth Save www.earthsave.org

New Ways to Work www.nww.org

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network’s Kids’ Stuff Page www.eren.doe.gov/kids.html