I wish I had read this book earlier.
Because now that I am reading it, I can’t put it down. I will write more about my feelings of ‘connections’ with the book later on in another post, but in this one, I just want to simply reflect upon the art of balancing and managing our busy selves, as addressed in many parts of the book.
For me, it all started with a twit from Is, which I have been following:
i realise pple like to be busy for e sake of bein so n boasting abt being busy.
Which I found to be true, especially in the rat-race back in my hometown. My gainfully employed mates, boast with great pride almost daily about how ‘busy‘ they are– doing this and that (craftily doing it on the pretext of whining and fretting. Nevertheless, the tinge of pride is not invisible, even to my oblivious self) . And Is went on to say in another twit
work life balance is a myth.if u want 2 be very good at something,there is no such thing as balance.else we just be good enuff/mediocre
To that, well–maybe.
And which she followed with a very eloquent entry on balance.
In the book above, the writer– Liz quoted from my favourite Sufi poet-Jalaluddin Rumi in which he asked his students to list 3 things they want most in life. If any item on the list clashes with another, then you are destined for unhappiness.
So really, can we serve our time on this earth being in total balance, having it all and yet excel in it, while not being too busy to have time for ourselves? Is that state of optimum equilibrium remotely possible?
I can’t say that I am an example because I am mediocre in everything (except eating. that one, I win hands down. Champion to say the least).
Just like Is, in the beginning part of my career, I struggled really, really hard as in worked really, really hard and many times, I didn’t know what it was for. I mean, teachers can’t claim overtime pay so it was not for the money. And I was not the Mother Theresa of the teaching industry to do it all for the holistic ‘i-sell-my-soul-for-education‘ kind of teacher. Heck, it was not even my first choice of career to begin with.
But I worked too hard, had too little time for myself and my family/friends. Once, for some reason, I only had to report to school later in the afternoon. So I came out of my room early enough to catch breakfast with my father before he left for work. He took one look at me at the dining table, turned to my mother and sheepishly asked ‘ Is this our new tenant?’
That was how hard I worked.
Now looking back, I realised that it was not for the money, it was not for the passion of it, it was just because everyone else was doing it and it was expected of me to do so. It was imperative for me to jump into the bandwagon because everyone else was busy. It would be weird if I idle, ain’t it?
So at that time–yes, I had to agree with Is that work/life balance is a myth.
But now, as I am typing this down, I no longer think so. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I would like to quote, from the teacher of someone whom I had a crush on a very, very long time ago ( Karate Kid), and I think many remember him as Sensei Miyagi. Heh 😛
Miyagi: You remember lesson about balance?
Miyagi: Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?
I had my own taste of this with my own sensei.Last Sunday, during training, I was sparring with my sensei as he was teaching the ki extension in the shihonage technique. I was chided, in the midst of it and had him knocking down my hands a few times with ‘You are too busy!‘ and ‘Stop being busy! Be here!’ But I am here!!– I thought. I’m right in front of you, sweaty, tired and exasperated and trying to do the shihonage right in front of you because I am here!– I felt like telling him but he’s my sensei so I just kept my mouth shut.
He then scolded me by saying I was too busy thinking about what to do for the following step in the technique, without concentrating on the present step I was doing. I was multi-tasking, my mind- thinking and planning on the next step (future) without paying attention to what I was doing in the present (step). And because of that, my center was not balanced, it was easy for him to topple me down and I was down and out before I knew it.
Call it a bizarre flashback but I actually had the twit from Is about balancing being a myth crossing my mind in a cartoon text bubble ( I did say I have a hyperactive imagination,no?). And at that moment, I knew that I am on side of the camp that says that life can be balanced, if we want it to be. And the key, as I learnt in martial arts– is about being focused in one’s center.
The concept of center in martial arts is not easily explainable in one paragraph of a martial rookie’s blog. But my understanding of it is that in life, our centre is our inner spirit which wills what we do and how we do things.
If we say that achieving balance in life is all impossible, then Prophet Muhammad is a myth. He was a political leader, a warrior fighting side by side his army, a teacher, a spiritual leader, a husband who did housework, a father, a grandfather who had time to play with his grandchildren Hasan and Husin and a father-in-law who churned out advices for marital problems. And he had time to also look after stray cats?! Oh my, what a busy body he was! Were all those possible?
Well, he was as human as us in flesh and blood. A man like any other. Ok granted,he was a messenger chosen by the One up there, but then again, he was not a wizard or an angel. A person. A person whose life was so balanced he became an example to us. And he excelled in all his roles, so much so that even ancient and contemporary academicians/scholars from the world over, wrote volumes of academic papers on his ability to do everything excellently, based on facts and historical records. Not myths or old wive’s tales.
So in relating my lesson on balancing our center in martial arts and applying it to our lives like some figures history had showed us, I do think life balance is not unattainable. It has already been depicted by successful personalities in history. I learnt that we can actually get that balance which we need when we focus on what we are doing at that present moment. Plan for the future but leave the future to the future when focusing on the present. Learn from the past but leave the past in their places while concentrating on what we are doing now. Leave out distractions and do one thing at a time in accordance to our priorities. The myth in question here is not balance, but the habitual multi-tasking.
When I was doing that technique with my sensei, I was busy thinking of the next step and the next step, while looking if anyone else was attacking me. I failed to focus on the fact that he was attacking me because I was not 100% there with him and he off set my balance too easily. Not only my techniques came out mediocre, I was easily brought down. Just like the Malay proverb which says ‘ Apa yang dikejar tak dapat, yang digendong, keciciran’.