Sprout is getting ready to take his very first karate belt test. (There is much to love about his karate class, but I will save that for another post.) So the other day, while we were waiting for Sweetpea to get out of school, he was practicing his White Crane pose on one of those long, flat wood pilings that seem to be a staple of public school landscapes everywhere.
White Crane is the pose I'll bet we all remember from The Karate Kid: both arms up and bent like wings, one leg bent at the knee, balancing the body on the remaining foot. As I watched Sprout struggle to stay even a few seconds in this challenging pose, waggling his arms and airborne foot for balance, I made a simple suggestion: "Just focus on your tummy, kiddo."
The effect was dramatic and immediate. For about 5 seconds, my son was a perfectly still, stable White Crane.
I've been thinking about the question of balance a lot lately. I took this sabbatical, I thought, to correct a significant imbalance between my work and creative lives. It seemed pretty simple at the time.
Except my solution, going from one extreme to another, didn't work either. The days I spend deeply (obsessively) immersed in writing projects can bring on that same choking, drowning feeling that my job often did. I type frantically until the moment I absolutely have to leave to pick up the kids, then race out the door, distracted and mentally unprepared to be present for my family. Then, out of guilt, I will sometimes avoid writing for days, focusing entirely on home and family. Also no good. No--I'm learning that achieving balance is (sigh) far more complicated than I had thought.
Most recently, I'm learning how my lifestyle of the last 8 to 10 years has thrown every possible system of my physical body out of balance. The other day, a friend suggested I look at the Blood Type Diet as another way of understanding how best to restore my body to health. And because the Universe has, as I have mentioned, completely given up on subtle, here's what I found regarding my blood type: "B is for Balance."
As a Type B, you carry the genetic potential for great malleability and the ability to thrive in changeable conditions ... At the same time, it can be extremely challenging to balance two poles, and Type B's tend to be highly sensitive to the effects of slipping out of balance.
Sounds familiar. I don't exercise at all, or I push myself to (beyond) the limit. I swear off sugar completely for two weeks, then eat an entire candy bar in one sitting. I ignore my health entirely for years, then spend weeks exploring every natural remedy on the market. You get the picture.
So this morning, I was thinking of that image of my son in White Crane, still and stable. Wondering, what is my core? What is the muscle that, when I am reminded to use it, stops all of the flailing and restores me to balance?
The answer I hit on? Self-care. Sounds deceptively simple, perhaps. Maybe the rest of you figured this out years ago. But when I look at my own life, it's frightening to realize how easy it is to get distracted by old habits and motives. How rarely still the motive for my behavior is to take care of myself in a gentle, loving way. Even though I know from experience that the question, What's the most loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?, has never steered me wrong.
Self-care will graciously offer me a square or two of that delicious dark chocolate I'm craving, but it certainly won't allow me to eat the entire bar. It will nearly always get me off the couch and into my sneakers; it will never push me to run farther or faster than my body is willing to take me that day. It'll solve the endless riddles of social engagement ("Should I take on that responsibility? Keep that commitment? Go out with friends or stay home and rest?") with one simple question: "What do I need most, right now, today?"
Or, in simpler terms, this reminder: "Just focus on your tummy, kiddo."