Battle for Balance

It’s a coolish winters day. The kind where the sky is a soft grey blanket and even the sun struggles to get going.

Hibernation seems to be the only acceptable thing to do and yet, like all things, the day must move forward.

Jobs to do, people to see, places to go and a brain that struggles to switch off.

There are moments when we all long for, yearn even, for a lull in our life. A break from the steady stream of jobs to do and the onslaught of information coming at us in a mobile world.

I dreamed the other day of a retreat into the wilderness; a cabin by myself, without WiFi, phone or television. Without a job to do, washing to clean, meals to make, kids to taxi about….oh I could go on!

The day was stiflingly standard in its course: wake, breaky, bundle kids out the door, work, meeting, pick up kids, dinner done, kids in bed, clean crap, stagger to shower and bed.

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

Lying in the darkness at the end of a day, with my free fleeting minutes of private thought, I even toyed with the idea of booking into a Buddhist sanctuary for some practice in soothing solitude.

Ah, to find some balance. To arrive at that place of contentment.

I’ve Arrived…Not!

We convince ourselves that a break away from the busyness of the everyday, is just around the corner; in our next lot of holidays or once this job is finished, but like all things in life, we never really ‘arrive’.

The holiday ended up being frenetic, the kids got sick and there is still a burgeoning pile of things to do upon our return.

That job ended, but now it’s on to the next one before I fall behind on things.

And of course in always trying to keep up, the lists grow long and time sensing this, seems to sink into the ethos.

I’m a hopeless optimist and without fail, at the end of a working week I convince myself that come the weekend, I’ll be able to catch up – ‘do it all!’.

As if by some curious magic, time will slow on a Saturday and Sunday and I’ll be at my most willing and able to perform any number of planned feats.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I will have caught up come Monday. Arrived!

But of course, it’s just a disaster on weekly repeat which only adds to that sense of failure in striking the illusive ‘balance’.

Planning fallacy I’ve discovered recently, is actually a semi-technical term given to this very real condition! It’s the tendency to underestimate the time needed to do things.

I reckon it’s indicative of how my brain works in also overestimating what actually needs to get done.

Is Balance Best?

So do we ever really get to that place of balance? A place of calm and contentment, where work and our private lives find some happy middle ground?

Do we ever really ‘arrive’?

There seems to exist (at least in my mind) a stubborn idea that life should never really be ‘go, go, go’ all the time.

And yet, THAT IS LIFE.

That is exactly its function: to be, to exists, to remain constant. The alternative is lifelessness. And, well….. that’s not going to work out!

So rather than wishing for it to all just slow down at times, it becomes this battle for balance – one

Photo by Maria Molinero on Unsplash

I fear we should never have attempted to engage in from the start.

It’s relatively unrealistic to imagine that ‘balance’ is something we could even hope to achieve, considering the nature of our lives today.

And yet we talk about ‘finding balance’ in our life like it’s the natural order of things. The right or best way to be.

Like our mental state, if we’re not of sound mind all the time, some thing’s wrong.

But of course, I’m yet to find anybody who’s all ‘there’, all the time. Each of us are just a little weird, up and down, unique entities in our own right.

Just so, our lives area a constant hum of activities that involve all aspects of us: our family life, our work, our relationships, our social interactions, all merging and melting into one.

The scales naturally are constantly shifting as we navigate our way through the myriad of roles we take on and stability remains illusive.

Just being OK with this, might lighten our load.

Perhaps like the seasons, we too should see this constant battle for balance, as our natural state.

The norm as it were.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Maybe then we could give up the futile fight for balance and our ambitions to ‘arrive’ in life and see the persistent tussle as the truest way to live.

4 Simple Ways To Make Life More Meaningful

In a crazy, busy world the ‘noise’ at times can seem overwhelming.

The barrage of responsibilities appear endless, the news non-stop and that voice inside your head just craves a willing ear.

It’s tempting to turn to distractions; a glass of wine at the end of the day, a scroll through Facebook, a mind-numbing evening in front of the TV. I do and it’s nice, but …..

As comforting as they are they’re momentary, band-aid solutions at best.

Another day awaits and the cycle of time propels us forward.

We ALL want to enjoy our life. We all want to find a sense of purpose and meaning, even if we don’t openly acknowledge it in words.

So how can we do this?

There’s got to be more than just noise and news and nonsense going on around us and in our heads.

How can we make sense of it all and find some focus? Some perspective? Some meaning and purpose?

Philosophy, my friends! The simple, ‘Backdoor’ basics kind.

It is the ultimate internal instruction manual and offers us a filter for our everyday experiences in life.

It gives us perspective, guidance, awareness and at the very least, reassurance that we’re all searching for the same thing – understanding.

I am no academic scholar of philosophy. I never studied it conventionally, and I am certainly not going to go all ‘old school’ on you here.

Philosophy has always been about helping us to understand who we are and how we should live, through the simple art of thinking and asking questions.

Just like a personal trainer who helps whip you into shape physically, philosophy is a the ultimate form of fitness for our minds and souls.

“Seneca … conceived of philosophy as a discipline to assist human beings in overcoming conflicts between their wishes and reality” (Alain de Botton, ‘Consolations of Philosophy’)

What philosophy is and is not

First, let’s be clear…

It’s NOT all ancient history, Aristotle, long-haired professors and stuffy institutions. It can be if you’re into that sort of thing.

Ancient names such as Plato, Socrates and Seneca might start to ring a bell, but cause you to yawn at the same time.

There are plenty of reasons to read these guys and more, but if the aim of the game is to get to the core basics, then the ‘backdoor’ approach does the job just as well.

The ‘backdoor’ philosophy basics (as I like to call them) are nothing revolutionary but simply the easiest way I’ve found to apply philosophy to our everyday lives.

It’s a way of tapping into what can be a convoluted concept and making it work in a busy, time-poor modern world.

For me it’s about learning through experiences (with kids in tow), asking questions, reading stuff, writing stuff and thinking… about stuff, amidst the madness of family life. All in an attempt to simply ‘live well’.

The 4 Backdoor Philosophy Basics
1. Admit that there is a lot we don’t know

Traditionally, philosophy has been considered a ‘love of wisdom’, but I find this paradoxical. In choosing to be wise, we’re really acknowledging first, ALL that we DON’T know!

Ouch!

But as soon as that’s done, we’re open to learning and taking something new from each experience.

2. THINK

I once heard an educationalists say that if our brains didn’t hurt at the end of each day, then we’re not using them for what they were designed to do.

This makes sense when I think of other muscles in our body, during and after a workout of some kind. Our brain, just like our muscles are designed for action, use, toil.

And overtime, waking a little wiser, day-by-day, each chance you have to think more has a cumulative effect. Use it (your mind) or lose it, as they say.

3. Start practicing the art of asking questions

All kinds; the 5 W’s and the H, with the sole purpose of encouraging thought, not necessarily answers.

So while Philosophy doesn’t offer answers, that’s exactly the beauty of it! (No need to be ‘wrong’ or annoyingly ‘right’).

Thinking and asking questions is what we were born to do.

To use our minds and bodies for thought and then action, but of the ‘best’ kind, has got to be what it’s all about.

4. Live, experience, act!

Philosophy ultimately requires those two most demanding of tasks: thought and action, both of which we’re often reluctant to add to our already growing list of ‘things to do’.

But French philosopher Montaigne believed “no matter how modest our lives, if we attended to our experiences properly and learned to consider ourselves as plausible candidates for an intellectual life, we could all arrive at insights no less profound than those in the great ancient books” (Alain de Botton, ‘Consolations of Philosophy’: p.165).

Philosophy then offers us a fresh lens through which we can gain greater

perspective of our lives; seeing how we can choose to ‘view’ our world, the people in it and the unique experiences on offer everyday, to ultimately learn from them.

If we take the valuable time to reflect and explore our everyday issues it can provide us with understanding, acceptance and the chance to simply be better individuals as a result.

A case for everyday Philosophy

As the pace of life speeds up, societies become increasingly complex and our lives controlled more by technology, it’s no surprise we’re feeling a little frazzled and maybe even losing sight of who we are, where we are going and what the point of it all is.

Yoga’s great, meditation too and there’s a burgeoning Self-help shelf in any book store these days, but philosophy is all-encompassing.

It can help us ‘to interpret our impulses, apply rationality and guide us to cures for our soul’ -Alain de Botton (p.55).

Our struggles with love, money, relationships, societal expectations, parenting, emotions, and the pursuit of happiness, can be soothed with Philosophy’s deft touch.

So while the world outside might be raging on, philosophy can help us find minimal disturbance within.

And when we step outside ourselves and view the bigger picture, we’re inevitably aware of our place and purpose.

Philosophy’s gift is that it might just set us free, in more ways than one. Or at the very least, open a few ‘doors’ for us.

 

 

Your Commonplace Book – Let’s Start!

It’s a busy world and we lead busy lives! So, naturally we want to do the ‘right’ things with the precious time we have; spend it with family and friends, chatting, reading and creating wonderful experiences.

And it’s just that, our experiences matter!

Whether we engage with people, places or ideas, our opportunities to take something special from them relies on us reflecting, recording and later retrieving those experiences.

Sure, we sometimes do this instinctively but more often than not we forget or fail to see the value in doing these three important acts.

We all read, view, listen and engage in conversations with others; taking in information of all kinds, from all around us, but how often do we actually DO something with all this? How often do we really learn from these experiences?

If we really want to make the most of our precious time, then reflecting on our experiences (both good and bad) is vital to our development as an individual.

“We do not learn from experience ….. we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

A Commonplace Book offers us a chance to do something with all this ‘information’.

The Commonplace Book

The purpose of a Commonplace Book is simply to record and organise your reflections, not least so that you might find some sense of order in your ideas, but also that you might learn more from the experiences of your life and from what you read.

My bedside table used to be covered in a myriad of colourful Post-it notes, scribblings on scraps of paper, books filled with dog-eared pages. I’d go to bed with a head full of ideas, only for them to be lost in the morning light.

We’ve all read books, viewed films and had some fascinating conversations with others and later thought about them somewhat, reflected on them, but never recorded those nuggets of wisdom, insights or just cool ideas.

But for centuries, the Commonplace Book or early versions of it, have been used as a way of recording, reflecting and retrieving information and ideas on any number of things.

And because of this, it’s really the best kind of tool for self-reflection, education, improvement and self-actualisation (if you want to go that far). Pretty cool hey?

So why should I use a Commonplace Book?

Traditionally used by writers, thinkers, politicians and the like, it now has widespread appeal. And for obvious reason.

Today, it’s become an awesome place where you can record your observations, reactions and own thoughts and feelings on the myriad of experiences you have.

A Commonplace Book becomes a personalised reference point of your own making; one that draws from books you’re reading, conversations you’re having, inspirational quotes you come across and random ideas and events that you happen to stumble across daily.

Most importantly, it’s written in a style that is simplified, straightforward and for YOU.

“It’s a Diary! It’s a Journal!” I hear you scream. And yes, it shares some common elements, but it is different.

Your Commonplace Book will have a bit more structure or organisation to it (although mine didn’t for some time!) It isn’t necessarily written in daily and its purpose is more focused on learning and educating ourselves.

Actually, it’s really all about learning and retaining ideas; if memory is the by-product of thinking and doing, then a Commonplace Book is a place to cultivate the habit of not just reflecting, but retaining more ideas.

The art of ‘writing it down’

In a digital age there are platforms which provide a similar template for a virtual Commonplace Book. Microsoft’s OneNote is pretty good and for the mobile device – Evernote or even Pinterest.

But for all the time we spend online or mobile, we still spend a large chunk of our time off-line; chatting with friends, reading newspapers or novels and watching tele.

To stop, without the temptations and distractions of online devices and physically write down our ideas, allows us to engage in a somewhat creative and familiar act.

It also has the added benefit of forcing us to remove ourselves from technology; something I think we all struggle to do at the end of a day.

Writing in a Commonplace Book also naturally lends itself as an activity associated with reading.

“Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.”–Robert Darnton, “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000

Reading requires thinking and reflecting and so your Commonplace Book allows you a space to record pertinent quotes, summaries and reflections on whatever you might be reading; be it a novel, a non-fiction text, a magazine or newspaper article.

But ancient philosopher Seneca duly noted “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application – not far-fetched or archaic expressions of extravagant metaphors and figures of speech – and learn them so well that words become works.”

Reading is beautiful, insightful and rewarding, but so are our own lives and our own thoughts. If we could ‘read’ ourselves the way we read a book, what things we could truly learn, about who we are.

French philosopher Montaigne, insisted that interesting ideas are to be found everywhere in everyday life and no matter how modest our personal lives are, we can gain greater insights of ourselves through self-reflection.

This kind of valuable knowledge about ourselves, turns up in the pages of our Commonplace Book.

How do I start my Commonplace Book?

Keeping it Simple is paramount when constructing a Commonplace Book, because much like our minds, it can have the tendency to become overloaded and messy.

So to help get you started, I’ve put together a really simple pamphlet which gives you a general template to organise your Commonplace Book into sections. You can download it here (Commonplace Template) or at the bottom of the page.

Without a doubt, you’ll come to develop your own preferred method and structure over time, but this is a good starting point and one that I’ve developed through trial and error.

The good news is you can use any type of book really. Whatever your budget or creative whims, it’ll work.

I have found an A5 size works best for me (at least 240 pages) because I can fit it into my handbag and yes, it pretty much goes everywhere with me.

Lines are good if you are a writer, but you might prefer the creative freedom of no lines, if you fancy adding sketches and graphic mind maps etc.

You’re only real preference might be for a book that has sections already dived up. This way you’ll have clear ‘parts’ allocated for specific fields, as you’ll see in my template. But if not, you can simply buy the sectioned tabs and add those in (like I did here).

The current set up I have cost me a total of $18 from Officeworks (book, sticky tabs, pen & creative stickers).

Now, while in my mind it would be nice to have one Commonplace Book per year, the reality is this may not happen…. and that’s OK. It isn’t a diary after all!

If you find you like more organisation than one book, you can always have another Book just for ‘Reading Reflections’ or another only for ‘Creative Offerings’.

It’s your project and a worthwhile one at that! A neat bundle of reflective pages that stay by your side like a trusted friend.

A book YOU have created and in the process, learnt more about yourself and the world around you.

So, now is as good a time as any to start your own Commonplace Book.

Download the Commonplace Template here and let me know how yours works out for you.