Building Balance into Life: Part Two
“The more in harmony with yourself you are, the more joyful you are and the more faithful you are. Faith is not to disconnect you from reality - it connects you to reality.” Author, Paolo Coehle
In part one of this two-part series, the focus was on paying attention to areas in our lives that were in and out of balance. In this article, we look at ways we can build greater balance into the way we live our lives, day by day.
One of my favorite inspirational writers is Alexandra Stoddard, author and interior designer. She reminds us to: “Be mindful of the very moment you are living. Start exactly this second. You don't wait until the children get out of the house or when the sun comes out. Create something better.” What I love about her books and outlook on life is the practical application of simple day to day actions. Author of Living a Beautiful Life, Stoddard recommends viewing our lives as a work in process. We create the life we live in the daily actions we take, the attitudes we have, and the way we use our time and energy. Once we begin being more mindful of different areas of our lives, we begin to recognize and respond to what we seek to create more of and what we seek to eliminate from our lives.
Create restful, healing, and inspiring spaces.
“You can't be a resource for others unless you nourish yourself.”
Architect, LouisSullivan admired rationalist thinkers including Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson and Melville, and he followed the ancient precepts set down by Roman architect, Marcus Vitruvious Pollio. Pollio stated that design must include three qualities-firmitas, utilitas, venustas-a piece of design must be solid, useful, and beautiful. The phrase that “form ever follows function” was coined by Sullivan who designed some of the first skyscrapers in the late 19th Century. When design follows the principles of form following function, what is created is a restful, nourishing, and appealing environment. Our homes and offices are the places where we spend much of our time, and where more and more people are using as a home base for their businesses. Our homes and work spaces need to be places where we can nourish ourselves, find rest and refreshment, and be inspired and regenerated from the rigors of our lives. How do we accomplish this?
Organize your kitchen and meals around a healthy, regular routine. Make preparing and sharing meals a main focus of your life rather than something to fit in between acts.
Create menus and shop according to the menus so that you have on hand, all you need for your basic meals and snacks. You can always change and vary the menu, but having some basic ingredients and recipes in mind helps anyone in the family figure out what to prepare and eat at the end of a busy day.
Post the menu and if possible, have some dishes prepared ahead of time. For example, you might prepare a big pot of soup that can be eaten over a period of a few days. Prepare the soup and divide into separate containers. Label the containers, and figure them into your menu.
Use leftovers to prepare new dishes. For example, if you serve sautéed mushrooms for a party, and have some leftovers, use the mushrooms in an omelette or soup. Avoid keeping a lot of leftovers in the refrigerator, unless you intend and do eat them within a day or so. Sometimes leftovers work beautifully for the next day’s lunch, but avoid keeping things longer than that.
Nourish your mind and soul as well as your body. Set aside some time and a special place in your home and office where you can refresh and take breaks throughout the day.
Start and end each with a special time for reflection, prayer, meditation, and movement. Make a practice of reading uplifting words, listening to uplifting music, or doing something that is calming and relaxing before going to sleep. In the morning, establish a few moments of time to reflect and set intentions for the day, again a moment or two of prayer, meditation, and perhaps an energizing yoga routine or an early morning walk or bike ride.
Use lists and journal writing to get ideas, issues, and intuitive hunches out of your head and one step closer to being acknowledged. Sometimes we are feeling upset, but we do not understand where are emotional responses are coming from. Other times, we have so much to do, we spend a lot of mental effort balancing balls in our minds. Bring your ideas and emotions into concrete awareness. Write down the list of things you need to do tomorrow before going to bed. That relieves your mind of having to continuously sort through those ideas. It also allows you to get more realistic about what you are doing with the time you have. If you are spending more time thinking about something you’re going to do than you actually spend doing that thing (for example, finishing a reading, completing a piece of work, or making a telephone call or an appointment), you are probably spinning your mental wheels too much. This can be draining and distractive.
Make notes, jot things down on a calendar, schedule time to take care of a task, or finish it before you go to sleep. For creative ideas and problem solving, jot ideas down when you have them.
Let your home reflect your own aesthetic of beauty.
“I feel very strongly we are spiritual beings in a physical body, and we should make our surroundings as beautiful and soulful as possible.”
A good friend just returned home after a month away with her family. The time away from her home and ordinary routine, gave her some perspective on what had become routine and normal. Upon returning home from living abroad for the summer, she saw her home in a new light. She had been in an environment where people made their homes and gardens sacred spaces, and when she came home, she decided that she needed to create more beauty and sacred space around her. Rather than worrying about cleaning and keeping house, she began to see her home as a sacred space that required the care, vigilance, and attention that you might give a great cathedral. While cleaning and clearing of clutter is part of the upkeep, the main focus is on seeing space a s sacred.
I recall when I decided the dining table and dining room were no longer simply dumping grounds for whatever work project was in process, but was to be space set aside for sharing meals, and for spending quiet and enjoyable time for meals and conversation. Now the table is kept clear is ready for me to meet with clients for tea, or as a place where I can sit and enjoy a meal in peace. We moved the office out of the dining room, and made a distinction between how the space was used. If the dining table is the only place where you can work, establish some routines for clearing the table for meals, and clearing up after meals so the space can serve both purposes. Some of my favorite memories are of sitting at the kitchen table talking with my Mother while doing my homework. To this day, the kitchen table is where we gather to talk about the day’s events, do homework or take care of tasks (letter writing, bill paying, list making). While there was only one table in my home growing up, I now have space set aside for different types of work, and i try to keep those spaces clear and set up for use. Occasionally, when I’ve had an art show or a book event, supplies, posters, marketing materials, and stacks of books, frames, or prints fill the surfaces. However, I ‘be learned to get things put away as soon after an event as possible. This allows me to rest between acts, and not be distracted by energy tied up in piles of ‘stuff’ that needs to be filed, stored, shipped, or put away.
Honor your own senses, feelings, and tastes.
“Style really comes down to what makes you feel good.”
Allow your home and office to appeal to your senses. Keep it clean, aired out, and fresh smelling. Use scented candles, sachet bags, or potpourri (a dish of lavender or rose petals, cedar shavings, or a bouquet of Sweet Peas, Roses, or sprigs of Rosemary).
Use attractive dishes, glasses, silverware, cooking utensils, and linens. Refresh your potholders and tea towels annually or seasonally. Visit Ross or some other discount store, and get some inexpensive, colorful replacements for the linens you use. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not sure, I have two sets of sheets I’ve had for over 30 years. both are beautiful and they have achieved that softening that can only happen to good linens that have been used for a long time. I occasionally rehem a pillow case or mend a small tear, but the sheets are still beautiful and comfortable. Other sheets of lower quality, are not as comfortable or durable, and need to be recycled or repurposed.
Be ruthless with your linen closet—keep what is beautiful, in good repair, and appealing to you, and give away the rest. Watch for linen sales once a year or so, and replace basic necessities (bedding, linens) on a regular basis. Use table cloths and place mats, and rotate according to the season.
I just looked at the long-range forecast for our area, and see a lot of cloud days and 60-degree days coming up. Autumn is slowly moving into view, and it’s time to use our seasonal changes to prepare for and adjust to the changes coming up. Now is a good time to go through your linens to see what needs to go, what needs to be refreshed, and what needs to be replaced. I hear a lot of people talking about loving the colors and feel of Autumn, and I think of a beautiful cotton table cloth I have filled with Autumn leaves. Time to bring it out, and get ready. My furniture is now draped with scarves and covers of oranges, reds, and golds—all in anticipation of Autumn, for I too love the change of seasons and the colors , smells, and sounds that signal its approach.
Decorate with Purpose and Meaning. A friend just made me a beautiful silk scarf using Eucalyptus leaves I brought back to her from San Francisco. She uses the leaves to make her own dyes, and she also used the leaves to imprint the scarf. Now is a great time to collect some leaves to make centerpieces, book marks, or block prints to be used for homemade stationery for thank you notes and special letters for friends.
Bring some of nature indoors or hang artwork and photography on your walls that inspires, soothes, and brings you pleasure. Get rid of anything that is just taking up space but holds no meaning. Replace it with space or with something you treasure.
Use artwork of local artists or of artist friends. Bringing art into your life that is created by someone you know, is a way to bring more meaning into your life. Most of the things I have in my home were given to me or were purchased from someone I know. Some of the furniture is not, but an equal amount is something passed on to me, and it holds so much more meaning for me than a piece of mass-produced furniture. Use art, objects, tapestries, or any other type of decor that has some meaning to you. You love the color, or texture, or the way something hangs or blows with the breezes. The curtains may remind you of your homeland or of a favorite place you visited or lived. White, cotton curtains remind me of summers in Portland, and a photograph of the pink succulents in bloom in Pacific Grove, remind me of many walks on the Monterey Bay. One friend is forever posting photographs of huge waves crashing on the shore and surfers shooting the curl—he’s reminded of growing up on the beaches of Southern California. Let your travels and good memories fill your home, reminding you of what makes your life fulfilling.
Allow yourself to visualize, dream up, and use your imagination.
“We can live closer to our dreams if we are willing to dream them. And we can create a life as we want it to be.”
Our living spaces are so important to our health, to our mental well being, and to our general sense of contentment and motivation. If we are living in a space that is uninspiring, we need to build in some inspiration. If we are dealing with very dysfunctional or unhealthy living conditions, we may need to make some changes. It is permissible for you to dream! And by dream, I refer to using our imaginations and desires to create images of what we want to bring into our lives. We are fortunate in that we live where we can be somewhat mobile. What are some things that need to be addressed in your home/office at this time? Decide if they are manageable or if conditions are so bad that you need to change spaces? Under extreme circumstances, change may require a move. If you rent space, this is easier than if you own your own property. However, issues with space that endanger your health and well being, need to be addressed.
Decide what your basic needs are, and then determine what makes you feel at home. Working from home or commuting to and from work? How much and what kind of space, equipment, access to resources, and other environmental factors do you require? Imagine the ideal home and working environment, and let your imagination and creativity to envision what you would like. When you go shopping for a new home, you visit the different homes available, scan through magazines or take online tours. Do the same thing in search of your ideal work or living environment. Draw up floor plans, make treasure map collages, or simply list your needs and desires for a new space. An important aspect of envisioning is your thinking. Our thoughts are energy, and thoughts have power. When we spend so much time thinking about what we don’t want, we are actually giving energy to that. Focus instead on what you want. For example, I would like a home with apace for an office and a studio. Or I would like a studio with good storage and display space. With a home, determine what your bottom line requirements are. You might want a home with a modern kitchen with updated appliances, or a kitchen that has windows with a view. There are all kinds of possibilities, so allow for those possibilities to be available to you. Also, avoid setting limits on your dreams. Making plans that define the limits of your expectations, for instance, in 3 years I’m going to have a kitchen with a view and a new refrigerator, places unnecessary limits. Avoid setting time limits or money limits. Money, time, creativity, and thoughts are all forms of energy, and when we limit ourselves in these areas, we effectively block movement. It is not your job to make things happen; create the vision, and then let it unfold. It may not, and probably won’t turn out exactly as you envision it, but it often unfolds in an even better way than you imagined. Trust that you deserve something good, as all people do. Know what you want, and then get out of the way, and let it happen. Sometimes the hardest part is believing we deserve to have something we want.
Keep the energy of your home and life flowing.
“The home is the center of your soul; it's a total reflection of your inner life. If you have a dreary home, it means you are dark inside.”
How does your home/office/studio reflect your inner beauty? What in your environment reflects the parts of you that are difficult, blocked, or challenging? What can you do to clear these spaces up, and to lift your energy? In my columns on Feng Shui, I provide a great deal of information about how to keep the energy flowing and in balance in your home and life. Notice the areas of your home/office/studio that seem stuffy, dreary, cluttered, dysfunctional, or unappealing. Address each area, clearing, arranging, and organizing each area to enhance the flow of energy and to release the clutter and trapped energy that is blocking flow/Chi. What parts of your home work for the functions you need? What needs some more life, or a greater sense of calm? Sometimes we can repurpose a space or a room. For example, there may be one room that is being used as a bedroom, but it is too noisy and cramped for good rest. Perhaps another part of the house could become a bedroom, and the smaller, noisier space could be used for something else, say a play room or den. In one house, I had my bedroom in the main part of the living room, and the bedroom was my office. It worked really well for what I needed at the time. In another house, I slept in a room at the rear of the house overlooking a busy street. It was also the room that got the most light and heat in the afternoons. Recently, I stayed in this house again, and the guest room had been moved to an inner room with very little light. The family had been using that room for the main bedroom, t.v. room, and playroom. In order to give the homeowners more privacy and space, the main bedroom was moved into the old guest room (much more private though not as quiet). I slept in the guest room, and slept sound as a log. It was darker, quieter, and more conducive to good sleep. In my granddaughter’s bedroom, her Daddy removed the slats of the lower bunk bed, and built a side desk, freeing up the floor for more play space, and creating a study desk. Recently, I freed up half my bureau so that I could store prints, frames, and other photographic supplies. There are no hard fast rules to how we use our own space and furniture. Be creative, inventive, and
Let your home, office, studio, and workspaces reflect who you are and who you seek to be.
“A home should be an intimate autobiography of the things that you like. One of the things I'm so keen on expressing is that, if you don't do it for yourself, if you're always seeking affirmation from outside, you'll never have a home. It'll just be a house.”
Sometimes in an effort to simplify and stream line, and even to use “proper “ Feng Shui, we take all the personality out of our living and work spaces. Make your space reflect the best parts of who you are, and to attract that which you hope to draw into your life. One principle applied in Feng Shui deals with the law of attraction. if we want to attract love and partnership into our lives, but our homes are full of art, statues, or symbols that reflect solitary and isolation, we may want to add some pairings or symbols that represent love, companionship, and partnership. For example, a table with one solitary candle as opposed to a table set with two candles, side by side. Or paintings with lone birds or singular figures may be fine for a person’s office space, but not so great for the master bedroom.
When we have filled our lives so full that there is no room for anyone or anything else to come into it, we need not be surprised that nothing changes when we say we want it to. We have to have some space in our lives so someone else can enter and become part of our lives. One good friend who has lived alone for a long time, recently began a new partnership. In the process of their creating a home together, both partners have helped the other take care of old business, reshape their lives and home together for the their mutual needs, and have begun to gradually share in the creation of a new life. This has required letting go of some things (including expectations, space, time, and independence), adding others (shared responsibilities and learning about one another’s lives and responsibilities (mixed families, career and social obligations, and homemaking). It’s been wonderful to watch the two blend their lives together, and to see how well they have been willing to make space in their own lives for one another, and for a new kind of life altogether. It seems you can only do this when both partners are open, receptive, and willing to make changes, adjustments, and time for one another.
Nourish your body, mind, emotions, spirit, and heart.
‘Feeling at home with ourselves and being able to create a spirit of place that nourishes us physically, emotionally and spiritually is a goal worthy of our highest priority.”
And finally, your home, work, office, and studio are the places where you live much of your life. These are the places where you need to feel nourished in body, mind, emotions, spirit, and heart. If you hate coming home at night, or dread entering your office or studio, you cannot possibly feel either at home or nourished and supported. Consider all types of needs you have, and work to balance each area of your spaces so that you meet a variety of your needs. For example, a physical work space has to be ergonomically comfortable. Getting a good desk chair and proper equipment to work with is essential. Use the free-cycle ads if your budget is anemic. There is a lot of good office equipment available if you do a little creative thinking and shopping. Arrange your space so you have good ventilation, beauty, peace and quiet at times, and resources that you need arranged in a workable way. Talking to my friend on Skype, I noticed she was calling from her new home office. Behind her was a book shelf full of her most important and regularly used books as well as books of inspiration. Her yoga mat and meditation tapes were next to her desk, and space was set aside where she could rest, exercise, meditation, and take the necessary breaks she needed when working at home. She had good lighting, and had arranged beautiful pieces of artwork around her. In my bedroom, I have a commanding view of a river. Periodically, I move my bed for one reason or another, but never quite sleep as well as I do when I have it in the space facing the river. After years of bedrooms with no views or views that weren’t very pleasing, I now have a great view, light, air, and a deep sense of peacefulness. My home is quiet most of the time, and I’ve figured out when the leaf blowers or power mowers are usually in action, so I avoid doing anything that requires quiet and concentration during those times.
Use the seasons to help you make the adjustments and changes you need to take into account the changing light patterns, temperature, and activities. Establish rituals for making these changes (changing linens, bedding, curtains, and floor covers) at the same time you are making changes to your wardrobe.
Feed your senses with whatever is in season. Now is the time to enjoy the last fresh fruits of summer.
Celebrate the bounty of summer.
Many of us are canning and preparing foods for winter (canning fresh tuna, making berry and peach jams, and pickling cucumbers). I have more cucumbers and cucumber recipes in my kitchen right now, and I’m marinating some for use later when the fresh veggies are not so readily available. Go out and pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables in the local farmer’s markets or at the orchards and roadside stands. Taking one or two days to preserve food for winter, is a good habit to get into. It’s also a great skill to have and to teach your children and grandchildren. Gather leaves, dry some flowers for pot pourri and sachet bags. Gather berries for jam and cobblers. Cook up a end-of-summer feast of fresh tomatoes, corn on the cob, cucumber slices with yogurt and dill dip, poached salmon, fresh baked rye bread, and homemade butter. Make a pitcher of Hibiscus Lemonade, and add some blueberries and orange slices. I keep a big pitcher of Hibiscus or Raspberry Iced Tea in my refrigerator all summer long. Last night, I made a cup of hot peppermint tea, noticing that the seasonal changes are starting to show. It was cold for the first time in a long time, and signaled the time to bring out the tea pot for a late night cup of herbal tea before bed.
This is your life, your home, your office, your studio--your space. Make it reflect you and make it nourish and support you and those with whom you live. Bring yourself into harmony with the way you live day by day, creating ways to keep thing flowing, less cluttered and blocked, and more like what you need to live a harmonious life.