A colleague of mine told me at lunch that she thought I looked so zen about life in general that she thought she should adopt my attitude towards everything. Which sounded quite flattering, up to the point where she said she thought I was simply not thinking about certain problems (that she does/others do worry about) – which sounded as if my attitude was a bit silly and at best mildly irresponsible. But, in any case, if I did worry about the same things, then the zen was just a facade and her image of me was ruined 🙂 .
Luckily, I trust her and, generally, people around me, therefore I didn’t get sucked into any kind of spiral of suspicion about what kind of implied judgment her comments may have contained. I just realised how differently people can value things. Because balance, to my mind, is not made of ignoring any kind of stimulus that might throw you off balance. And therefore ignoring stimuli doesn’t bestow any value upon one’s state of balance. Balance is taking in all the stimuli, thinking about what makes them powerful and choosing, in an as informed as possible manner (insert ten-line disclaimer here), which ones you allow to change your behaviours and which ones you stop fretting about. (Because, as far as I am concerned, balance is about managing comfort, angst, guilt and perhaps other little runaround cousins of theirs.)
Some decisions are easy: apparently worrying that somebody else makes less of an effort than yourself in a commonly run process is really time and energy-consuming for many people – I hardly ever bother thinking about it, except maybe when I fold a mountain of laundry – again. I realise though that it’s a matter of trust in the process partners and that trust works like a market force (I’ll have to think about this in more detail at some point – apparently people write whole dissertations about this 🙂 ).
Worrying that you will get ill or that you should eat very healthy food so that you live longer is, again, something that doesn’t keep me on my toes. I’ll go with the mainstream in maintaining my body in functioning order, check everything regularly and take action when there are repairs to be done, just as I maintain the house, but, although I might feel guilty about things I eat for ecological reasons, I refuse to feel guilty about `feeding my body poison`. Foods will keep being processed, ingredients will change with the years, either I’ll get cancer or I won’t. But I’m not going to pay for the insurance daily and get it anyway, I don’t think it’s worth it.
Some decisions are hard: motherhood decisions are hard. Do I adopt an all-healthy diet for the kids? No. Am I irresponsible for not doing so? Do I cut the tv completely? No. Are they going to develop attention disorders from it? Do I teach them schooly stuff early? Not really. Aren’t they going to miss the headstart I had when I went to school reading fluently? Do I try to dam in the pink spree of my four-year old? No. Shouldn’t I stand at least a little bit more feministically in the matter? (all right, the last one is already discarded to the non-issues bin.)
Also, womanhood decisions are sometimes hard. Do I work at how I look or do I try to accept myself, my age and my body as they are and be happy with that? Do I like who I have become or do I want to change as a person? Is this point in my life determined more by comfort or more by fulfilment (and then again, who says they can be told apart?)?
Political decisions are horribly hard. There is so much information to take in, so little time to deal with it before there’s more information, so many voices that should be listened to properly before dismissing, joining or splitting their message into usable and unusable bricks… Am I guilty for being partly an economic migrant? Do I have the right to protect myself by not reading the garbage or should I know it all in detail?
All these decisions, taken on a daily basis (do you use two or three sheets of toilet paper?) or for life, entail a plethora of feelings about who you are based on those decisions and about your human worth. The most common of these, in my case, is guilt. Which seems to never stop pouring from everywhere, even with so-called zen. I remembered twenty things, I forgot one birthday (guilt). The children who came to my daughter’s birtday party didn’t actually eat sweets – ever (doubt and guilt). Guilt for consuming, guilt for ecological gestures that you couldn’t afford or simply didn’t have the time for, guilt for non-bio food, guilt for your economic status, guilt for the age of the car’s engine, guilt for ever watching tv, guilt for being broken by the time you get home and not feeling like a good roll over the floor with the kids, guilt about fishsticks, guilt about the fact that you felt good about doing a nice thing, therefore it’s not nice anymre, because it’s not selfless – and it spirals slowly into the absurd.
Balance is being a witch from Discworld (I really loved this image): you learn to balance the pain (or guilt) into a big ball and pour it into something else. One day at a time. And this is why trying to achieve balance is, to me, more valuable than many other things – because you get to live and experience and learn from all the shit, but you do your best not to put it on others.