I was introduced to the idea of polarity management a number of years ago by my husband Dion. The illustration that I see consistently used to define it is this: in order to live we must breathe, but in order to do so we must participate in what are seemingly opposed actions: inhaling AND exhaling. The ‘problem’ of breathing is not solved by doing one or the other. Our lives are full of such quandaries: how do we do manage following rules and experiencing freedom or doing things efficiently and promoting creativity/innovation or (my personal favourite) working and resting?
Last year I started seeing a new therapist who mid-way into our first session said, “I’m going to flag ‘self-care’ as an issue for us to talk about”. Busted. She could see what I knew was true: I have a life full of commitments that could easily turn me into a burnt out mess (my words, not hers). Most of my commitments can’t be said no to and are deeply good. Many of them are blurred across the work/home divide. Desiring to do them well means that I have to manage the tension that exists between them and rest.
Last fall I came up with a list: take a Sabbath every Friday, see my therapist on a regular basis, get massage therapy when possible on my too-stiff shoulders and neck, eat properly, walk and take Zumba classes, meet with a Spiritual Director, make and get to regular Doctor and Dentist appointments, etc. Full disclosure: it kind of irked me and seemed counterintuitive that in order to participate in self-care I had to make a list of things TO DO. The truth is though, however imperfectly I keep it, the list has helped.
It helped me enough to realize that I also needed what I hadn’t added: vacation. Near the end of July both my body and brain were practically begging me to have an extended period of rest. I feel fortunate to be enjoying some serious time off this month with my family. At times it has taken effort to not create more to-do lists. There are moments when, for no apparent reason at all, my stomach feels anxious. Pushing through though has enabled me to experience the stillness that comes with not doing, but being.
Which brings me back to polarity management. I am convinced that enjoying life to its fullest comes with living well in the tension of work and rest. And by work, I don’t exclusively mean the paid kind. We cannot thrive doing only one or the other. I suppose my goal is to move more fluidly between the two. Since I’m putting this out there, maybe you can help hold me to it.