Posts Tagged ‘Work-Life balance’

Tidying up

October 19th, 2007    -    16 Comments


Leaves have a way of falling. Scars have a way of healing. Babies have a way of sleeping, eventually. Fridays have a way of rolling around. All by themselves.

This week we started on a low note, were roused into an angry fright, and got entangled in a world of pure junk. What does any of this have to do with the other? Here on the Cheerio, how is Sunday related to Monday related to Thursday? By the courage to keep going, my friends, and by the power of truth, nobly told.

Everything we talked about this week illustrates Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. Of course, everything everywhere illustrates the Four Noble Truths. How life involves suffering, how suffering stems from attachment – to things, feelings and ideas – and how attachment can be overcome by ending our desperate clinging to things, feelings and ideas. Including, most importantly, the idea of who we are. These Four Truths are the one storage system, the one container, that truly simplifies your life. It organizes all there is to know and all there is to do. This is the way to true freedom, and it’s absolutely free. This weekend, if you have a chance, read the link. But don’t just read it, consume it. So that there’s only one thing left behind: trust.

And now that it’s appeared, all by itself, let’s make trust our topic for the week to come. I trust you’ll have something to say about it. I trust I will too.

The junk drawer

October 18th, 2007    -    7 Comments


How the search for a hammer can lead to a life of unmitigated suffering, or Look How Far We’ll Go to Stay in the Same Trouble We’re In:

Hammer – Last Sunday we went looking for a hammer to hang Halloween decorations. The hammer was last seen in our bottomless kitchen junk drawer. 16 oz. claw hammer with fiberglass handle $6.89 at Staples.

Storage Chest – A sturdy 4-drawer storage chest seems like it would solve our junk problem. $39.99 at The Container Store.

Container Store – Thirty-nine stores each with more than 10,000 products devoted to helping people simplify their lives. Projected 2007 sales of more than $600 million. Guess one storage chest is never simple enough.

Self Storage – At $22.6 billion in revenue each year, the self-storage business is the fastest-growing real estate segment in the US and perhaps the fastest-growing industry overall. This country now has 60,000 self-storage facilities totaling 2.2 billion square feet of space. Shoulder-to-shoulder, all 300 million Americans could fit inside these handy self-storage units now ranging across our homeland. But then, where would we put our stuff?

FlyLady – Looks like we have some de-cluttering to do! This online champion of household organization and tidiness sells $4 million a year in books, kitchen timers, license plate holders, ostrich-feather dusters, calendars, mouse pads, T-shirts, tote bags, sink stoppers, water bottles, and lapel pins. She does this by sending up to 15 emails each day to her flock of 400,000 subscribers reminding them to get out of bed, get dressed, make their beds, clean their sinks, cook dinner and buy more stuff. So much to do.

Get Things Done – This guru du jour has created the GTD® System for sorting excess stuff like paper, things, worries, thoughts and those hundreds of unwanted emails flooding your inbox every day. His sold-out, $600 per day seminars reveal the inner workings of his complex “decide-not-to-decide” system that includes a 20-point flowchart on how to process your thoughts so that you can free yourself from thinking.

Now do you know what to do with the hammer?

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week and throw it away for good.

Peace at last

October 11th, 2007    -    9 Comments

Jizo asked Hogen, “Where have you come from?” “I pilgrimage aimlessly,” replied Hogen. – Zen koan

You might have wondered where we were going to end up this week with this conversation of ours. Just so you know, I never have any idea. So much of the motion in my posts comes from you, from what you say here and what some of you say elsewhere. This aimlessness is a wonderful new practice for me; trust me when I say that it you are showing me amazing new worlds, opening a deeper level of trust and exhilaration in this life we share, because everything seems to come together in the end.

When I started posting on Sunday night about the question of whether parenthood, or motherhood in particular, was a job or a relationship, you might have noticed that I tagged every post “Mommy Wars.” That was intentional, even though I never seemed to touch on it in so many words. I certainly didn’t mean to imply there was a war between mothers or to incite one. We all know there is no such thing, the words being just another method the media use to pressure cook the news on an otherwise placid day.

I was referring to the other war: the war we have with ourselves anytime we divide our lives into opposing parcels, into either and or, this or that, which or what. We all, each of us, wages a ceaseless battle with ourselves, undermining our choices, ambushing our instincts, dreading that the wrong move made long ago has already set in motion our certain, future defeat. We are our own worst enemy; in most cases, we are our only enemy. And we’re all so tired of the fight.

Make peace. Be free. Call your life whatever you like. You own the world you occupy, and you’re doing a beautiful job. Remember, everything comes together in the end.

Tomorrow this week’s winner in the comment pool is revealed, along with a flurry of priceless consolations!

Somebody’s got to do it

October 10th, 2007    -    19 Comments


That’s how I feel whenever there’s a bag of chips in the house. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

We’re looking this week at our lives as parents and whether we call that a job or a relationship. Last weekend while I was on retreat, I did quite a bit of introspection on the ultimate truth of our existence (translation: wondering what’s for dinner) and what I came up with was this recipe:

Life is a Five Layer Bean Dip

Everything you do well requires these ingredients.

Attention – Giving undistracted attention to what appears in front of you. If you are only paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, that is fantasy. Fantasy is what is far away. Fantasy jobs and relationships are the easiest to maintain, because they don’t have the sticky stuff of:

Proximity – Showing up, shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand. This can be uncomfortable at times. And because a lot of the time we have a lot of reasons we’d rather be somewhere else, we have to make a:

Commitment – We can quit anything, and we will. There are even ways to opt-out of parenthood in one way or the other. To keep showing up requires:

Self-discipline – The will to get out of bed. To overcome inertia. To transcend self-interest and delay gratification, which isn’t delayed forever, but eventually comes in one of the many faces of:

Love – Sometimes it’s a direct deposit into your bank account, sometimes a pat on the back, sometimes a burp, a smile or a cuddle. Love is currency, the only currency in the universe. The more you give (at work, they don’t use the l-word, they call this passion), the more you receive in return. What I’ve noticed is that love is nothing but attention, and that brings us neatly back around to a bottomless bowl of bean dip.

Now when you take your tortilla chip and dive in, you don’t just scrape the sour cream off the top. Oh no, you don’t just extract the beans in the center. You can’t! You go for the whole thing at once. It’s all one thing: the flavors intermingled, the textures combined, the taste complete. You swallow it whole, or at least I do, in about 15 minutes.

Although there are many ingredients in your life, with many names, you only have one life. It’s you! Every relationship is you, every job is you, the salsa and cheese are you! Somebody lives your life, somebody eats every bit of it, and it can only be you. Your only job is to have an intimate relationship with yourself, and the more you do, the more you’ll enhance your life and everything in it. You’ll see that there is no separation between job and relationship. They are just words for you, who happens to be hungry right now.

A final desperate prod to elicit your erudite comment and thereby up your chance to own an as-yet unpublished dustcatcher volume that I will further adorn with the nib of my 99-cent Pilot finepoint before expressing to our lucky winner drawn at the end of the week!

The problem is

October 9th, 2007    -    9 Comments


So while I’m busily non-thinking about this question of whether motherhood is a job or a relationship during my silent meditation retreat last weekend, I remembered what my husband said recently as he glanced over my sagging shoulders:

“The problem is, you spend too much time doing things that don’t pay.” Meaning, I guess, teaching meditation and yoga, volunteering and writing the things I most love to write, including this blog. But not meaning, I presume, taking care of our house, yard, dog and daughter, because at least to him that is my job. (To be fair, he was being supportive, and given the source of my discouragement, accurate.)

“The problem is,” I think in quick retort, “you don’t.” Meaning his absence of hours, days, nights and vast distances, whether miles away or just on the computer at home, working, always only working apart from the rest of us. I’m reluctant to recognize even for a moment that his job also provides him with a whole world of companionable and rewarding relationships.

So where exactly does the distinction occur? Where, as Kathryn and Chris commented yesterday, is there a line drawn between jobs and relationships and how does it get there? This question matters, because most of the time, we see our life delineated into little sections. There’s a job over here, and a relationship over there. There’s work, and there’s family, and then there’s everything else, each with its own time, place, name, definition, merit and value. All these jillion pieces seem to jostle and compete with each other, confounding us, like a jigsaw puzzle that won’t fit.

And so then, completely immersed in the oceanic no-mind of deep, wordless meditation, I made a list in my head of the essential components of relationships, I mean jobs, I mean well, you know what I mean.

After investing hours in this invigorating internal debate with myself, recalling and reliving the discussions of days and even months earlier, I said to myself, admittedly self-satisfied, from the profound state of unutterable egolessness, “See Karen, meditation really works for you!”

I will share the list with you tomorrow when I hope to remember the darn thing.

And as a gentle reminder, every time you comment this week your name will be entered in a drawing to win a paperweight provocative prize. I promise you this prize is not something you have; it is not something anyone yet has, not even me, and I have grave doubts that anyone would even want it. Good luck!

Mom: are you a job or a relationship?

October 7th, 2007    -    14 Comments


I’ve just come from a weekend retreat so I’m feeling frisky and ready to mix things up.

The always energetic and informative Amy Tiemann of Mojo Mom had a post awhile back (waaay back in January) about whether motherhood was a job or a relationship. She came down convincingly on the side of relationship.

Now this is precisely the kind of thing that can set our heads to bobbling. Is it this way or is it that way? Are we one thing or the other? I want to take a look this week at how we deal with this question – how we see ourselves and the life that lies before us.

So tell me: is motherhood a job or a relationship? There are plenty of good arguments on either side. You don’t need to be a mother to have an opinion. Just tell me where you stand. Weigh in on any of our conversations this week, starting now, and you’ll be entered to win a doorstop an intriguing gift at week’s end. Keep the comments coming. I can be influenced by your effort, swayed by your attention, and romanced by having you near.

But wait – I reveal too much.

Let the bobbling begin.

The happiness question

October 1st, 2007    -    9 Comments


Last week the Times reported on a growing “happiness gap” between men and women. Women are increasingly unhappy. Then came the earful of opinions about the many reasons for this. Why are women unhappy?

I can think of three very persistent reasons right off the top of my head. My husband. My kid. My dog. And then, the neighbor’s dog, the neighbor, money, not enough money, my work, my lack of work, my belly, my age, my wrinkles, the dust, the pollen, dog hair, the shoes in the hallway, the cooking, the laundry, the kitchen sink, the race, the chase, the nights, the days, the fleetingness of days.

What interests me is not why women are unhappy, because we each have ample, intimate knowledge of the reasons. What interests me is why women say they are unhappy. What interests me is not the answer to the question but the question itself. Could the answer be rooted in the question? Do we say we are unhappy because we are asked? Do we grow unhappy by thinking about it? By hearing about it? Does unhappiness exist outside our ruminations about it? Where does it reside? And if it only resides in our minds, as it does, do “external” circumstances have anything to do with it?

We can rationalize that circumstances keep changing and growing worse for women. More work, less help, higher prices, fewer husbands, less time, more isolation, less community, more stress, fewer options, higher expectations. But I spent a summer reading each of the nine Little House on the Prairie books to my daughter at bedtime, and I had a glimpse of how hard life used to be. No money. No help. No heat. No food. No medicine. No roof. No floors. No windows. No water. No crops. Plus flood, fire and pestilence. And these were on the good days!

Or I can recall my grandmother’s life. Up at dawn. Feeding the sheep and the chickens. Making daily bread and breakfast by the heat of the stove. Laundry in the washhouse. Curing meat in the smokehouse. The trek to the outhouse. Sewing, baking, canning, cooking, cleaning and raising five kids in four rooms during the Great Depression.

Was grandma depressed? I don’t think anyone asked. I don’t think she asked.

This news article on declining happiness appeared about the same day that Georgia walked into the kitchen for breakfast, still tousle-haired and sleepy-eyed. “Mom,” she whined, “can I get my ears pierced before I’m 10?” (Our pre-existing agreement.)

“When did you have in mind?” I responded.

“Nine,” she said, and thinking faster, “THIS SATURDAY.”

We were both upset by this exchange. It happened again a day later. I could say that my daughter woke up unhappy. But she didn’t wake up unhappy. She just woke up, her eyes blinked in the glimmering light. She cast a glance around her world, her sumptuous pink kingdom, her cotton candy life, and looked about for something she didn’t have.

I’m going to write about happiness this week. I want to examine that split-second between the waking and the finding, between the question and the answer, between the hearing and the speaking, between the being and the thinking, between the little girl with everything, and the one without holes in her ears, and see what’s there. It could very well be the happiness that eludes us, the contentment the pollsters can’t find.

Here’s the 25th hour of your day

September 19th, 2007    -    4 Comments

Not one thought deserves a second thought. – Dogen Zenji

What if you had one extra hour in the day to use to your heart’s content? To have fun, relax, exercise. To write, run or sleep. To start a book; to finish a book. To plant a garden; to cook. To play with the kids. To do something big. To do nothing at all.

These are the things we think we would do with extra time. But in truth, this is how we’d probably use it, because this is how we use most of our time:

It’ll never work. I’m not good enough. I can’t do it. I don’t know how. I don’t have what it takes. I’ll never finish. It’s a big mistake.

And the classic:

I don’t have time.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you replace these self-critical thoughts with something else. I don’t peddle positive thinking. I peddle positive non-thinking. Not all thinking is a waste of time, just the non-stop negative self-judgments that occupy nearly every waking hour. Cutting back on that will open vast new frontiers of (get this) empty space and time.

Of course, learning to disengage from habitual, self-limiting thoughts takes practice. And who has time for that?!

This concludes my three-day treatise. About time.

I’m teaching a one-day Beginner’s Mind Retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 4. Is it time? Find out more.

Using what’s at hand

September 18th, 2007    -    5 Comments


Using what’s at hand, he finished up the yard. He could use it and know when to quit.

–Zen koan

In my aim to demystify time, I’m devoting today’s post to the magic of the plain, old, ordinary list.

1. Make a list every night before you go to bed.

2. Use whatever you have at hand: the back of an envelope, a scratch pad, even waste paper. You do not need a special system or calendar. You do not need technology. You only need discipline and a moment’s attention. Do not let anyone convince you this is more complicated than it appears, although many people are in the business of doing just that.

3. Keep your list simple.

4. Put the things on it you want to do tomorrow, even things you don’t need to list in order to remember. Scratching things off the list is a marvelous activity, and marvelous activities tend to be repeated. For instance, write “Do laundry.” Notice that I did not say, “Finish laundry” because that isn’t realistic and your reward would be too long delayed. See item 5.

5. Be realistic. For instance, do not write “Lose 10 pounds.” Write instead “Walk the dog.” Do not write “Become millionaire by 30.” Write instead: “Skip Starbucks.”

6. Do not list things to think about. Write only things to do. Contemplation is overrated.

7. Now the magic part. By writing things down, you take wandering thoughts and persistent anxieties out of your head and bring them out into the real world.

8. Things in the real world have form.

9. Things in the real world take place. You will be amazed at what you do simply because you wrote down that you would, even if you never look at the list again. But do yourself a favor and look at the list again. Keep it at hand and use it.

10. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you did, and make a new list.

Having the time of your life

September 17th, 2007    -    3 Comments


I often tell people they have all the time in the world. They look up from their frantic scramblings, their scattered minds, feeling overwhelmed and bogged down, and they think, to put it nicely, She’s insane.

So let’s say a word about time. But let’s not say what everyone else says. Let’s not say, for instance, that time flies, or time runs out, or that time waits for no man.

Time itself is being, and all being is time.

Time isn’t something we think we have. We think it escapes us. We think it flees. We think it sneaks up behind us and delivers a sucker punch. Time’s up! Time, it seems, always has the upper hand.

We see this front and center in our lives as parents. Even though our children change every day, we don’t always notice it. We don’t notice it until we clear out the baby clothes, then – snap – how did all that time disappear? What seemed like forever is now forever ago. And all of those special times we intended to have! All those precious moments we were counting on! We use most of our time feeling displaced and distraught, or even depressed.

Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

We think of time as being separate from us, an entity – no, an adversary – unto itself. A grandfather, robed and bearded, keeping score and exacting a toll; a swift second hand; a relentless march. What looks like time passing is actually evidence of the profound, true nature of life: impermanence. Everything changes. But time doesn’t change. It’s always the same time. It’s always now.

Life, we think, could be so much more, if only we had more time. When real life seems to detour us from happiness, it can seem like we’re held prisoner by time. We feel as though we’re held in place, only marking time, only serving time.

Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another.

These days, I can see too clearly what time it is. The broad canopy of my giant sycamores turns faintly yellow, and the leaves sail down. This would be a poetic image except that they fall into my ponds where they temporarily float and eventually sink until I hoist a net over my shoulder and scoop out the mucky yuck of wet leaves that would otherwise displace the pond itself. Someone has to do it. (Someone being me.) A part of every day from now until December finds me fretting and fuming at the simple sight of falling leaves. Then, I get on with it.

Tell me, while I’m scooping and hauling leaves ’til kingdom come, is it getting in the way of my life? Is it interfering with my life? Keeping me from my life? Only my imaginary life, that other life of what-ifs and how-comes: the life I wish and dream of.

I will be unable to accept my MacArthur Genius Award at the present moment because I am scooping leaves from the pond.
I missed the call from Oprah’s producer but at least the ponds are clean.

A sudden gust kept me from writing an international bestseller.


At the moment I’m in the muck, at the moment I’m doing anything, it is my life, it is all of time, and it is all of me.

We look for time the way we look for meaning, purpose and happiness. We never find it because it is already in the palm of our hands.

I am time. You are time. But this is getting long, and I don’t want to unduly occupy you. Come back tomorrow, same place, same time, for more timeless, wide-open secrets to mastering time.

You can spare the wait, because you have all the time in the world. And every moment is nothing but the time of your life.

All the quotes herein (other than those of the neurotic voice in my head) are from “Time-Being,” a teaching by the 13th century Zen master, Dogen Zenji. Please don’t confuse one for the other.

Dropping off

September 12th, 2007    -    4 Comments

Let go and make yourself independent and free, not being bound by things and not seeking to escape from things – Yuanwu

It’s remarkable how profoundly intense the first 90 minutes of the morning can be for a mother like me.

Gotta get up, gotta make coffee, gotta make breakfast. Gotta pack lunch, check homework, gotta get her dressed, hair combed. You’ve gotta brush your teeth! You’ve gotta change those shoes!

Oh!

Gotta feed the dog, gotta unload the dishwasher, make the beds. Gotta feed your fish!

Oooh!

Gotta jump in and out of the shower, gotta get myself dressed, gotta do something with this hair, gotta grab a hat!

We gotta go!

Gotta hurry, no time to walk, we gotta drive!

With minutes ticking toward the 7:40 a.m. school bell, the pace pounds.

Gotta find a place to park, gotta get out and walk her into the playground, gotta see her off and in line with her teacher, gotta be a good mom, gotta do it right, gotta do it all, gotta run because I’ve made us late, late again!

Then from the backseat, with the sagacious calm and steady poise of her eight years, with her serenely impeccable timing, she offers the morning’s benediction, the first sane words that have passed between my ears since I flew into action at dawn.

Mom, you can drop me off.

She turned a rosy cheek to me then, like a gift, a floral tribute. I kissed it, and that was that.

On balance

August 22nd, 2007    -    7 Comments


I gave a talk last week about Work-Life Balance at a corporate retreat. Truth be told, it was my first. The audience was politely attentive. Going in, I wasn’t sure that there was much to say about the topic. Going out, I don’t feel that much different. Perhaps you can illuminate the way better than I can.

You see, our lives are never out of balance. They can’t be out of balance. Where are the mountains toppling? Where is the sun sliding out of the sky? Of course we think our lives are out of balance nearly all the time. We think that way except for the split second every other year in which we feel–ahhhh!– okay.

So this work-life imbalance that we give such credence to is nothing other than the nature of human existence. It is what the Buddha termed in his First Noble Truth as “suffering.” Life is suffering. The word he used was dukkha, or unfulfillment.

Yes, we’re unfulfilled. Can’t be otherwise as long as we operate our lives in separation, in ignorance of reality. By that I mean operating from the egocentric mind, the dualistic mind, the mind of me that repeats over and over in hysterical crescendo “You, you over there! You’re driving me crazy! My job is driving me crazy! My kids are driving me crazy! My spouse is driving me crazy! And you, yes you, dear reader out there in readerland, you’re driving me crazy! All of you are asking too much of me!”

Because so little can be honestly said about how to fix this, this little syndrome that is nothing other than the eternal human condition, I boiled it all down to three little rules. Three rules to restore the balance you think you’ve lost.

3 Rules to Life Balance

1. There is no right way to do anything, only a right now way. Wherever we are, we think of someplace else. I should be over there. No, I should be back here. Here, there, here, there. What is the right thing to do? That kind of thinking is what really makes your head spin. Stop that. Be where you are. When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. When driving, drive; eating, eat; sleeping, sleep. Get out of your head and tell me, right now, where’s the problem?

2. You have all the time you need for what’s important to you. What is most important? Whatever is right in front of you. Why? Because that’s the only thing that exists! In truth, you already have ample time for what is important to you. It just might surprise you to see what that is. What do you keep putting in front of yourself? Food? Drink? Computer? The average adult spends 28 hours a week watching TV. The average woman spends 8 years of her life shopping. These probably aren’t things that you would consciously set as your priorities, so consciously set your real priorities. And when you do, you’ll see that Rule 3 proves itself.

3. How you do anything is how you do everything. I borrow this from writer/teacher Cheri Huber, who paraphrased my main man Dogen: “If you find one thing wearisome, you will find everything wearisome.” Pay attention, be present, cultivate focus in one facet of your life and you will enjoy it in all facets of your life. Because an attentive person is an attentive person! A happy person is a happy person! A balanced person is a balanced person!

So strap on your shoes and dance.

I can only hope that I have less to say on this topic in the future.

Worth it

August 5th, 2007    -    4 Comments

I made $318 on my garage sale on Saturday. All of it will go straight into my daughter’s savings account. Was it worth it?

I spent the better part of a week sorting out stuff, cleaning, hauling and pricing it. Was it worth it?

I spent $11 on a city license and $25 on a classified ad. Was it worth it?

I spent 30 minutes scraping petrified Elmo stickers off a hand-me-down Barbie SUV so I could sell it for $2. Was it worth it?

I spent 7 hours in 90 degree heat peddling piles of junk off the pavement. Was it worth it?

Of course it wasn’t worth it.

Is this man worth $252 million? Maybe today you think so.

Is this man even worth $400,000 a year? Hmmpf.

For that matter, is this woman really worth $260 million, no matter how much worthwhile work you might think she does?

Of course they aren’t worth it. Because nothing is worth it. Because worth doesn’t really exist. It’s just a figment. A fickle, fleeting, baseless phantasm of (usually) self-serving judgment. It’s an imaginary yardstick to measure the imaginary value of the imaginary differences between us. It’s one more way in which we separate ourselves, by a value judgment, from life as it is, from what we are.

Because there are no coincidences, today there was an article in the paper about a whole valley of impoverished millionaires, not one of them able to be satisfied, all of them blaming external circumstances for their relentless anxiety about not being worth enough. I’m afraid they’ll never find enough worth. They’ll never acquire satisfaction. It can’t be got.

That’s why all this talk about the worth of this versus that, child versus childless, working versus staying at home, work-life balance, the Mommy Wars (yeah, sure) and all the attitudes and platitudes about the various ways we live just wears me out. It’s simply another unwelcome invitation to kink up our wrinkles and knit up our britches, and that, dear readers, isn’t wor

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