That’s my backyard, midday in midsummer. Just looking at those cool greens relaxes me (when I don’t let my eyes be distracted by the work that I can see needs to be done). But it’s also kind of… empty. The reason we have a big backyard is for children to play in. That baby swing? It’s there for the baby. But when I took this photo the kids were at school and the baby was in bed, and I was at peace.
And oh, I long for that peace. That no one touching me, no one speaking to me, no one demanding anything from me PEACE. Especially after a wearying school holidays–6 weeks with 4 kids at home, and more than once I found myself asking “why did I have all these children?”. Like, why would you do that to yourself? But I did, and I consciously chose it, I fought for it. If I didn’t have all this, I would be longing for it. But I’m too often feeding a discontent of the soul, shifting my gaze, looking for more, when really it would be better to let my eyes drink in all that I have before me already.
I’m not going to pretend that the juggle isn’t real–the struggle in the juggle even (I’ve been reading too much Hairy Maclary). I see so many ways I could be doing it better, and not just doing it better, but making it look effortless at the same time. But I’m wondering if perhaps we’ve got the metaphor all wrong here. Instead of juggling a million things, passing from one to the other, not pausing for a moment, and certainly not dropping an item… in fact, how about you chuck me another thing? I could take that on board too… it’s a flaming torch? Yeah I can handle that! Anything to up the performance value here, because I want you all to think that I am awesome. Or at least I want to be able to judge myself as AWESOME.
There’s a capacity to juggling though, at some point you reach your limit and everything falls to the ground. I’ve found my capacity in my life, in fact I’ve gone beyond it before, and now I think I’ve managed to pull back to just sustainable. But only JUST. The limit is right there. But “just sustainable” doesn’t describe the kind of life I want to lead. I don’t want to be on the edge of crazy; I’d prefer to keep crazy at a safe distance.
I don’t want to be on the edge of crazy; I’d prefer to keep crazy at a safe distance.
I’m thinking that instead of juggling all my loves and responsibilities, I want to embrace more closely and more tenderly that which my arms are full with. Because they are people and they are passions; they’re not a performance–even if I’m the only one watching. Embrace isn’t as frantic as juggling, but it’s still FULL.
I know that I’m the kind of person who is easily over-stimulated–all the things in my world and all the thoughts in my head overwhelm me, and my brain just stops. When there’s too much, I can’t see anything. And that’s when you have two options: hide in the corner with comfort food and your favourite form of escapism, OR put your head down and forge on with “just keep going” as your personal mantra. Neither of these work particularly well, speaking from personal experience.
There is a third option though: limit that input, quiet your thoughts, simplify your life, clear out some clutter–both physical and mental, and even the stuff that is good stuff. Something has gotta give! If I’m selective, about what I include in my life I leave enough room for white space.
White what? If you’re not familiar with the idea of white space from graphic design, you’ll probably understand it intuitively. A document, an image, a webpage, a room, whatever it is needs to be designed with empty space in mind. You don’t just cram everything in, because then you can’t see anything. A good designer will purposefully leave negative space around those elements which she wants to emphasise. The most important things have space around them. And it is something that is intentionally incorporated into the overall design; it doesn’t happen by accident. The clearer you want things to be (and the more pleasingly minimalist to my eye), the more white space you leave.
The most important things have space around them
That sounds a lot like the kind of life I want to lead. So I’m determining to build in margin, space around the edges that sets my life and my thinking at a distance from the edge of crazy. Because when there is space there is clarity, and clarity is what I so often need.