Recipe for balance

Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” — Robert Fulghum

This year I’m trying to strike a healthy balance between living creatively and being consumed by creative work. All too often, when I’m immersed in an art project or engrossed in a piece of writing, it’s as if I’m living on another planet. I neglect other things I care about. I might forget to brush my teeth or return phone calls or feed my family.

When I first started writing weekly columns, for instance, everything was potential fodder for the newspaper. I couldn’t watch a new TV show or shop for toilet paper without thinking I should scribble some commentary about it. For weeks I carried a notebook everywhere, and would even jump out of the shower to jot down ideas for a column. Thankfully, that ridiculous phase was short-lived. As a photo-journalist friend reminded me: We need to ask ourselves if we’re living from the depth of our lives or merely documenting them.

Then there was the time I slaved for weeks on a book manuscript. I got into the habit of working until midnight, then rising at daybreak to revise or proofread what I’d typed the day before. My husband worked full-time then, so we grabbed most of our meals at local restaurants. Our son was away at college, and I was living the life I’d dreamed about for years — working 24/7 on my writing.

That’s when it hit me: My dream life wasn’t quite as satisfying as I’d imagined. I was exhausted and vaguely disappointed.  Something essential was missing. And it’s not that the work wasn’t going well. For the most part, my writing was getting published in places I was proud to list on my resume. With my nest was empty, I’d even found extra hours to teach writing.

And there was problem, hidden in plain sight. Given my newly won freedom from parenting responsibilities, I’d become a woman obsessed. My whole life was about writing, writing, and more writing. I’d become so one-dimensional that I bored myself.

Kitchen lessons

The thing is, I’ve always believed the “good life” is a balanced life. A richly textured, multifaceted life.

After my epiphany, I made a list of “ingredients” that remain as essential to my happiness and well-being as writing. The list includes long talks with my husband and friends; gardening; keeping house; reading for pleasure; volunteering in my community; making art; visiting museums, and more. Of course, I’ve always enjoyed cooking (and reading about food) but my love affair with my computer left little time for the sensual pleasures of the kitchen.

And so, after putting my book project aside for a few days, I spent my first free morning poring over my cookbooks. Shopping for groceries later, I found even more inspiration in the colorful produce aisles at the local market. I couldn’t wait to get home and start cooking again. My mood lifted as I chopped and sauteed onions and red peppers, crafting a simple but satisfying meal with my hands.

“Real nourishment involves our whole being,” writes Anne Scott in Serving Fire: Food for Thought, Body, and Soul (Celestial Arts). “The search for it takes us on a journey into ourselves, confronting us with our inner hunger.”

In other words, my soul had been starving for something more than words and ideas heaped on a page or a computer screen. I was tired of living in my head, and kitchen work provided the physicality I’d been missing. For me, the ordinary arts of daily living are not optional — and I try to remember that whenever I’m off-kilter or obsessed.

Even if cooking isn’t your thing, you have your own list of pleasures to draw from when you need to feel balanced and whole.

“Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance,” advised the philosopher Epicurus. In the Epicurean view, the hallmarks of the good life include tranquility, freedom from fear, a variety of experiences, and the pure enjoyment of simple pleasures.  Easier said than done, of course, but worth aspiring to. — Cindy La Ferle

— Kitchen photos (our kitchen in Royal Oak) by Cindy La Ferle–

17 thoughts on “Recipe for balance

  1. I’m wundering if the recipe for a balanced life, like “having it all”, is really just theoretical rather than practical.

    How many can truly say they have it all or their life is in balance?

    Personally, I’d bee happy with a recipe for a good cream puff.

  2. I had a similar experience when I began blogging — while I became more mindful in that I was noticing more and paying attention, I think everything I was living was, as you said, for commentary. Anyway, the frenzy of that has subsided and I feel better balanced, now. Thank you for a lovely post and photos!

  3. Isn’t it so ironic – The life you always wanted and dreamed of, full-time writing, almost swallowed up all the fun! This is such a great reminder of the need to balance between the drive to create/achieve and just living life. I believe there are seasons when you need to dive in and immerse yourself in projects, but hopefully they are only short-term rather than full-out obsessions.

    You have some great lines in this piece that I will be pondering all day.

  4. As someone who loves to cook… I appreciated this. Although I’ve become obsessed with all things food before too. Balance is the key. I think living where the seasons change in a very noticeable way sometimes helps.
    Great post Cindy. And was it a little over the top that I stayed up until the wee hours checking out one of the poets you mentioned, even though it meant staying up until almost dawn to finish the book I had going?

  5. Interesting thoughts, everyone — thanks for these comments! And Bradley, I am so happy to get to know your work; happy that you’ve left a comment, as it immediately inspired me to visit your site. (I’ve got to bookmark you.) Such engaging and inspiring talk there!

    As several of you point out, we all tend to get “obsessed” with creative things, including blogs, when we are starting out and learning more about them. I do think that’s part of the process, and that you DO have to immerse yourself in anything you want to master or improve upon. And if you’re trying to make a living from this work, well, sometimes you have NO choice but to immerse and obsess. The trick is knowing when to move on and flesh out the rest of your life. There was a time when I spent so much time online — building “online community” — that I began to neglect my 3-D friends in my real community. (One of them had to point that out to me, as I was living inside a computer screen for a while there. Scary.)

    Cafe Pasadena, you might be right — a life in balance might be theoretical. But I do find that some people are more “balanced” than others. Then again, I like the idea of being a Renaissance person, which is another term for “Jack of all trades and master of none,” I suppose. 🙂

    Deb — I’m so glad you are exploring the poets I mentioned, because your poetry often reminds me of things I’ve found in their work. Staying up all night to read, periodically, is a GOOD thing, altho I know you’ve got 5 kids to take care of, my friend!

    Anne, thanks for your sweet comment about the kitchen photos. Those are from this old house here in Royal Oak, not the Wright house.
    –Cindy La Ferle

  6. Glad you wrote these words. Sensuous pleasures have a bad rap, but enjoying life this way is what gives us the wherewithal to drip over and be generous. Thank you so much. And thanks Bradley for RT’ing this or I would have missed this.

  7. Oooo…love this! I find that I will get caught up in the busy-ness of life. I know I’m in that state when I start craving solitude and I have a strong desire to pull myself off the grid completely. It’s really serious when I start daydreaming about life in a monastery.

    Thank you so much for stopping by my place and leaving such a lovely, uplifting comment.


  8. Such a spot on post that touches my heart, Cindy. You have said what my heart would say too. For me it is about being in harmony. Cultivating that feeling of deep contentment with the many aspects of my life. It is not always easy, but well worth the intention and deep listening required….I love your photos. Another talent you are honing?

  9. Loved your post and the subject matter. While reading some of your thoughts I remembered what my Grandmother would always say, “be careful what you pray for.” As a younger child and young adult, I really didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, literally. As I grew older, not only in years on this planet, but also spiritually, I realize I have all I need or want right in front of me and I am grateful for it. Do I become obsessed over something, you betcha, but as you said above it is part of the process. Life is a great experience, easier said when things are going well but what is the alternative. Rambling but you were the one who “thought-provoked” me. Thank you. I needed that now for a good cup of coffee. LOL

  10. Wonderful points! I’ve noticed too that because I get so little time completely to myself that I do get out of balance when I am on my own. It’s a sees saw. Trying to live in balance needs core strength and awareness- sigh.

  11. Cindy, I enjoyed reading this…as relatively new empty nesters, kathy and I are re-balancing…and enjoying that job immensely!….but heck, I’m with CafePasadena….creampuffs are what it’s all about…I’m thinking about a Pronto croquembouche right this very minute!

  12. Wonderful post, Cindy, even if I am coming to it late. I know that feeling of “Is that all there is?” when we become consumed by the very endeavor so often bounded by others’ needs. And it takes courage and insight to realize how stepping away from a passion can rekindle it. My wise and wonderful friend, thank you.

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