Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spinning Plates

Often when people speak about the many competing demands on their time, they use the metaphor of juggling. For me, I prefer the image of the Chinese acrobat troupe spinning plates atop long poles. It always seems amazing that they are able to get one plate or bowl spinning, let alone seven or twelve. Watching these performers as they add more and more plates, I laugh to myself and reflect on my life. I love the challenge of adding a new plate while keeping the already spinning plates spinning. This usually remains possible. And when it isn’t possible, I have learned (and continue to learn) that it is okay to put down one plate before getting another one going. And sometimes it is even okay to put them all down for a while, walk off stage, and leave the theatre altogether for a while. There are other acrobats in the troupe, others who will keep the audience entertained while I do what I need to do to take care of myself.  During these past few months, this blog was a plate I decided to stop spinning while my gaze turned elsewhere. Today, I am happy to pick it up again and rejoin you in this dialogue.  How DO we care well for ourselves while focusing our efforts on taking good care of others? 

I am someone who keeps myself pretty busy.  Professionally, I like to do a lot of different things and therefore am usually involved in several different work projects simultaneously. I lead a supervision group for those seeking LPC Licensure. I facilitate a women’s personal growth group. Working with couples, I help them learn communication and conflict resolution skills, change non-productive ways of relating, and help them develop greater intimacy and compassion for one another. As an individual therapist, I help people heal unresolved traumas so that they can experience greater joy in their lives. I provide consultation to other therapists seeking certification in EMDR (a comprehensive, trauma-informed therapy model). I teach workshops on practice-building to other practitioners in healthcare and healing arts. I have my hands in many different activities simultaneously, and I love it.

Socially, I enjoy staying in touch and sharing time with many colleagues, friends, and family members. I have remained connected to friends since high school, college, and graduate school. I have friends who are artists and writers, friends who are in the helping professions like me, friends in corporate jobs, friends who are entrepreneurs, close girlfriends, couples friends with whom my husband and I enjoy socializing, and fellow travelers on a spiritual path.

In addition to time in connection with others, I also love seeing live music, attending interesting cultural events, reading, and pursuing a range of hobbies from painting to hiking to photography and whatever else strikes my fancy in the moment.

I cherish and celebrate the diversity in my life. It is difficult for me to imagine “streamlining” my life, or simplifying it, such that I would focus only on one aspect of my work or one type of leisure activity at a time. The way I live my life brings me tremendous reward and joy and really fuels my curiosity and thirst for variety. However, for people who are enthusiastic about life in the ways that I am (if you know the Enneagram, my “type” is “The Enthusiast”), we run the risk of burning the candle at both ends and, ultimately, burning ourselves out if we don’t learn to say “no” to some things, set limits, and prioritize balance and health.

This is an ever-present challenge for me. There is always something new and shiny on the horizon pulling me towards it, enticing me with promises of how fascinating or fun it will be.

I have learned, over time, that the two most important practices that support mindful discernment and balance in my life are sleep and meditation.  When I get at least seven and a half hours of sleep, I think more clearly. My choices are more likely to be in harmony with my long-term goals and my current-day well-being.  Meditation – and mindfulness practices in general – help me to slow down, and slowing down is absolutely essential for someone like me. When I slow down, I remember what is most important. I am able to filter through all the many choices that appeal to me in a given moment and see the big picture of my life.  I am able to pause before saying “yes” to the new gleaming possibility on the horizon and consider how saying “yes” would really impact my life in the short term and the long term.

Even with these practices in place, sometimes my life begins to feel like a locomotive going one hundred and twenty down the tracks with no station in sight. I have committed to too many things at once, and it requires more than sleep and daily quiet reflection to get myself back in balance.  I begin to feel depleted only half way through my day, and I lose the spark, the joy, for my work, my play, and my relationships.  At these times, a walk in nature provides the solace and connection I seek. Remembering the metaphor of the plate-spinning acrobat, I make a choice to walk off stage and devote an hour, a day, a weekend, or even longer to time with myself doing whatever most feeds me in the moment. This time in retreat offers the rest and replenishment I need to re-enter my life feeling replenished, curious, and juicy once again.

If you are a plate-spinning caregiver like me, what do you do that most sustains and nourishes you? How do you keep your feet firmly planted on the ground as you spin plates in your own life?