Ep. 12 The Power of Imbalance

Our goal isn't to achieve balance.

The Power of Imbalance

I used to believe that achieving balance was my life’s goal. I pictured a balanced life as a kind of Utopia, a paradise of bliss and perfection. I believed that once I attained this Promised Land of Balance, I could kick off my shoes, find a reclining chair, and bask in the light of Balance’s Sunny Beaches.

In my mind, I had an image of what a Balanced Life would look and feel like. My balanced life would look organized, clean, planned out. Everything would be in order. In my balanced life I would feel unstressed, calm, settled, grounded, and in control. In my mind, I had a picture of waking up early before my kids, spending time in prayer, meditation, journal writing, exercising, cooking a nutritious breakfast and being on time for every appointment. Aaaah, perfect balance.

My life looked nothing like that. Raising four children, my days were filled with unplanned, unexpected, and often unsavory glitches. Inevitably someone would wake up in the night with the stomach flu and dreams of my “perfect” day would dissolve into mountains of laundry and frantic trips to the store for Pedialyte. 

Thankfully I met a personal trainer who taught me the truth about the Power of Imbalance.

Imbalance Develops Strength

I am not a work-with-a-personal-trainer kind of girl, but my gym membership included six months of free personal training and I never let a coupon go to waste. This is how I met Shaun. He taught me a routine using free-weights, and just as I started to feel confident with the routine, he made me move from the flat floor to standing on a balance saucer. After teetering and falling into the mirror, I complained, “Nothing about this feels right. I feel completely out of control, completely off-balance. I was doing better on the floor.”

Shaun said, “It’s not supposed to feel comfortable. You are not supposed to feel balanced.”

Then Shaun taught me this importance lesson about balance.

Stop focussing on how awkward and embarrassed you feel. Stop worrying that people are judging you. Instead, pay attention to what your leg muscles feel like.  Feel how the muscles are correcting you, when you tilt too far to the right, your leg muscles fire up and grab your body and correct you back to center. It’s the imbalance that is making your leg muscles smarter and stronger. Being off-balance is what’s building your strength.”

Yes, this is another reminder that life is not about the destination. The growth is in the journey. And if the process feels like a struggle, then you are probably doing it right.

Balance Signals End of Growth

We talk so much about achieving balance because balance feels good. Being in balance feels comfortable, and don’t we all just want to feel comfortable? YES! But remember:

There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone. 

Once I mastered my free-weight routine on the floor, I felt confident and in control, so naturally I wanted to stay there. But my growth had peaked out. I was no longer challenging my core muscles. Shaun taught me that life is not about achieving balance, life is about struggling to achieve balance.

Think about this: stand perfectly still with your feet aligned side by side. You feel balanced, but you also aren’t going anywhere? There is no moving forward while balanced. In order to take a step forward, you have to tip off balance, shift all weight onto one foot while the other foot moves forward, then shift all the weight back onto the other foot while the other moves. Progress in life comes only through transitory periods of imbalance.

If I am balanced, I am not moving forward. If I am balanced, I am not growing.

Balance is a Goal, but Not a Destination

So why are there a gazillion self-help books about achieving balance? Are they all wrong?

The answer is NO. They are right because we do want to work towards balance. Balance is our goal. However, balance is not our destination.

We often tend to think of balance as a destination and that once you get there, you stay forever, like arriving in Hawaii. I had friends who moved to Hawaii, and they loved it for a few months, then guess what happened? The beaches, the ocean, the scenery became the normal backdrop of ordinary daily routines. When they brought their kids to visit Utah, their youngest exploded with joy at the sight of pinecones and squirrels. 

If Hawaii can become hum-drum, then balance can certainly become boring. 

Here is the sad news about encountering balance: the moment we meet balance, it’s already time to move on. Why? Because it is not finding balance, but the struggle to find balance that moves us forward. 

Myths of Balance

Do you hold on to any of these myths about achieving a balanced life?

Myth #1  Balance is a destination. Once I arrive, I can stay forever.

Myth #2  In order to be successful, I have to achieve a balanced life.

Myth #3  Balance means symmetry, an equal focus on all areas of my life.

If so, try on these truths.

Truth #1: Balance is a goal to work towards, but I don’t want to stay balanced. As a human, I seek growth, which require me to continually step forward out of balance. 

Truth #2: To be successful, I must often struggle through transitory periods of imbalance.

Truth #3: Progress requires extra focus on in one or two areas that sometimes leave other areas a bit neglected. But that’s okay because at another time, those areas will get the attention.

Conclusion

Understanding the Power of Imbalance has helped me to embrace the discomfort of the struggle. While remodeling the kitchen, we may eat too much fast food and cold cereal, but that’s okay. Once the remodel work is done, I can refocus on cooking nutritious family meals. When my garden is thriving, my kitchen is usually a disaster because my counters are covered with squash, cucumbers and tomatoes and a lot of flies. During the winter my countertops stay clean, but I eat canned vegetables. There are times and seasons for everything. When life feels out-of-balance, take some advice from my trainer, Shaun. Stop worrying about how uncomfortable you feel and pay attention to where the growth is happening. 

Let me introduce myself

Maleah: An Introduction to My Writing, In My Own Words

Trapping Life with a Word Net

I was tracing over-sized tropical flowers onto long strips of colored butcher paper, the kind you find on giant rolls in the faculty lounge, when Mrs. Wirthlin shouted to my best friend, “Lara, cry like you mean it.”

We were almost twelve, and Lara was starring as Dorothy in the annual sixth grade play. Mrs. Wirthlin explained to the preteen cast that Dorothy is a difficult role to play because she is a real, human girl.

“Sometimes it’s easier,” said Mrs. Wirthlin, her magnificent classroom voice always flowed with vibrato as though she were on the verge of singing about fractions in an opera, “to cackle like a witch, roar like a lion, or squeak like a munchkin than to cry, believably, like a real girl.”

My name is Maleah, and I write contemporary women’s fiction – the kind that chronicles real life and doesn’t have any heart-throbbing vampires or bare-chested Fabio’s.

If fiction gives readers a momentary escape from their reality, then why would anyone want to read fiction so real that it borders on being creative nonfiction?

Good question. Maybe nobody does. But I will write anyway, because

life is rich, messy, interesting, monotonous, beautiful, hideous, exhilarating, and devastating.

Life is so easy to complicate.

I must attempt to capture real life with words, like a child who chases a butterfly with a net, hoping to trap the graceful creature – not to cage, but to slow for a brief moment of closer examination, admiring its magnificent, yet delicate form. When the child releases the creature to again fly free, he barely feels the ripples in the air that softly kiss his cheeks, and then crescendo to form tsunamis on the opposite side of the earth.

This is my goal – to momentarily entrap and ponder the metamorphosis of the monarch life.

I will see you here on Smashing Stories every 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month.

maleah

post script–the child in the picture is mine, the butterfly is courtesy of photoshop.

FEARLESS

Did you know?

 

That I have a fear of being blown into the Grand Canyon.

And did you know?

That in a dust-covered cardboard box labeled “Maleah’s college stuff” is a rumpled newspaper article from the Salt Lake Tribune, April 27, 1994. The last sentence quotes me, a nineteen-year-old college freshman, and reportedly I said, “I have anxiety about writing and having people read what I write.”

So what, in good glory, am I doing on a writers’ blog?

For years, my fear of writing for the public overpowered my love for writing. (Yes, I am also in possession of an ancient cassette tape–press play and hear me as a squeaky-voiced, ten-year-old fourth grader declare, “I love to write; I want to grow up and write stories for people to read.”)

Now, I approach writing with a (somewhat) fearless disregard for public opinion–because, what the heck, I have:

* pushed a human the size of a seven pound bowling ball through a one centimeter bodily crevice without pain meds (not by choice…the first time) while naked from the waist down in a room full of strangers,

*slid to the cliff of mental reason and did not fall off the edge,

*watched every last penny of life savings slurp into a bottomless, black business hole,

*and returned each time, still breathing, still alive, and still mostly happy.

So,

I. Can. Write.

Michael Jordan said,
I’ve missed more than 90,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games, 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

If I need to invest 10,000 hours of practice in order to excel at writing, (thank you Malcolm Gladwell and Dr. Livingston, I presume) then, by golly, I’d better get crackin’!

Up, up, and away…

sincerely yours,

maleah

post script: here is the Vogue-worthy (so not!) photo of me that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune next to the article, “Gang Presence Unnerves Residents” – not the article for which I was interviewed. Okay, Loraine, this is my bulbous-head-mini-feet mug. Let’s see yours!

By the way, this photo was the model for the new Maleah Bobblehead, available at Wal-mart this Fall (also, so not! phew).

Choose Your Cyber Words Carefully

Remember my fear of being blown into the Grand Canyon?

This is me last Saturday.

Notice the wind mightily huffing and puffing to blow me down.

Which just goes to show –
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SEND INTO CYBER UNIVERSE.

Last post I confessed my lifelong fear of being blown by a sudden gust of wind into the depths of the Grand Canyon (thus the reason I have lived north and south of the big GC and never stopped to visit). Nine days later I’m fighting to keep my footing at eleven thousand feet on the saddle of Mt. Timpanogos. The wind reached its blustery hand into my jacket pocket and stole my stash of Kleenex, releasing the fragile tissue to be teased, whipped and torn to confetti along the streams of gusting current. I thought of every person I knew in the Utah Valley, and wondered if they would catch me should I become blustery tissue paper.
Last post I also typed out my online confessional, my fear of public writing.
I surrendered my safe hideout as a closet writer.
I hit “publish” and voila, people, real people, read my writing. Aaaahhhh.
(Thank you for reading. Thanks for taking the time. I am terrified and grateful.)

I see a pattern here.Let me try this…

Did you know that?

I have a fear of money, lots and lots of money.

Let’s get a visual on that – the power of one thousand words.


There you go cyber world. Take that and run with it.

Perfection (Re)Defined

As a scrawny, buck-toothed twelve year old, I slowly filled my piggy bank with wages earned babysitting. One of my regular gigs took me to a home where five sticky kids ate on paper plates, and the living room furniture remained in perfectly new condition, covered in plastic.

I tell you this because the other night I dreamed that the mother of my babysitting family died suddenly. I woke up panicked, Did she ever use her living room furniture?

I thought about aspects of my life that I keep perfectly new, safely shrink-wrapped.
Safe from dirty hands.
Safe from rips and tears.
Safe from jumping feet.
Safe from needing care, cleaning, repairing, and rearranging.
Safe, Perfect, and Unused.

The following excerpt comes from one of my best teachers of creativity:

“I loved the artificial flowers my mother-in-law had given me. They didn’t need water, had no aphids, would never wilt. Hating the bother of caring for real flowers, I was therefore annoyed when my husband planted rose bushes in our garden.
But finally the day came when he brought me the first bloom. Reluctantly I took the artificial roses from the vase on the television set and replaced them with the one single flower.
For three day I casually watched the red velvet rose unfold. Once, passing nearby, its delightful fragrance stopped me.
I paused–and in that moment a poignant truth overwhelmed me; something alive, something growing, evens something dying is wondrous and beautiful indeed. Instinctively, we love that which we must care for and protect; a child, an animal…a red rose that drinks from a crystal vase.”

The quest for perfection is a road of exhaustion, misery, irritability and a constant awareness of not having, doing, or being enough.

Finding perfection would be like finding the fountain of youth, once attained, you’d want to give it right back; because, after all, the appeal of youth is riddled with inexperience. And after achieving perfection, what then? I think of perfection as something frozen and unchanging, like a botoxed face. “Perfect” implies a final destination – done, complete, finito. No improvement, no growth, no change. Think of being stuck with one “perfect” hair style forever. Aaaaahhhhh. That is scary.

Let’s try on this definition of perfection from the World English Dictionary: “Perfect – having all essential elements.”

Hmmm, I like that idea. Perfect is having what is essential. So…

A perfect family might include sticky hand prints, chaotic mealtimes, and dishes left undone while dad launches sofa cushion missiles at popsicle-licking children.

A perfect gift might be the one thing you needed most – nothing at all.

The face of beauty would be carved with deep lines of experience, courage, indecision, sorrow, laughter, perseverance, emptiness, loneliness, happiness, and love – for these are essential elements for a perfect life.

One thing I know for sure, the perfection label cannot be applied to anything that does not exist, even if the model looks perfect on the magazine cover. Even if my novel reads perfectly in my head.

Something perfect must live. Perfection is a state of being.

For me the living, growing, learning, and changing processes are the essential elements. The process of perfection is more desirable than the end result.

A perfect manuscript might need all the raw, choppy, emotional words barfed up in puddles of chunky, broken sentences, faulty grammar, and horific speling.

The process of perfection connotes creation, bringing into existence something of beauty and worth that did not exist before – something that grows, changes, and needs my attention.

The perfect appearance of silk flowers pales without the scent of life. A plastic protected couch is denied its place as the family cushioner, its chance to feel a weary body slump into its pillowy softness, to prop up tired, dusty feet for a twenty minute power nap. Pinochio, tg.he perfect puppet, longed to be a real boy.

The stillness of perfection is not what we seek, but the process of gathering all the essential elements. Living. Growing. Changing. Needing.

Postscript: The rose pictured is not a random google image, but a real valentine rose given to me and captured in perfect still life photography by my J.

Experience Creative Freedom Today

Experience Creative Freedom Today


Open a new box of Crayolas.
Inhale deeply.
(Aahhhh, new crayon box, my favorite first grade scent.)
Choose your favorite color.
Sky blue, no, carnation, no, burnt orange – oh, go ahead and use all the colors.
Write a story in crayon.

Feel what children feel.
No.
Experience what children don’t feel –

fear,
embarrassment,
apology.

use kindirgoten speling leave out punctuation draw a picture

Give yourself permission to create – imperfectly, authentically.

Proudly display your story on the refrigerator, adhered with masking tape or a Tweetie Birdmagnet. Mail your creation to your mother, folded in a bulky square and stuffed crookedly in an old fashioned envelop – aaah the taste of sealing an envelop. Remember when an upside down stamp on a letter meant I Love You.

Experience Creation.

Go to the neighbor’s monkey bars and do a trick.
“Look at me, look at me”.

Children are not smaller versions of adults; they are a different species entirely (unless poisoned by criticism or too much correction).
They are self-forgiving, creatively expressive, and free with imaginative experimentation.

Write like a child.

The Dr. Phil Post

“How’s that been working for ya?”

When Dr. Phil listens to a troubled soul explain what she thinks, feels, and does about her woes, he asks, “How’s that been working for ya?”

Here is my follow-up post. How has that been working for me.

First, remember this cyber-visual?

After this post, my life insurance policy was terminated due to non-receipt of premium payment. Finding myself uninsured and hyper-aware of bizarre death scenarios, I began application for a second policy while I faxed bank record proof of premium payment to the first company.
LSS (long story short), the first policy approved reinstatement shortly after the second policy processed. Today I am worth double the cash value as the me in the cash-blowing-in-my-face picture, but only if I am blown into the Grand Canyon by a sudden gust of wind.
The whole scenario reminds me of “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs – that wretched short story where the family makes three wishes on a magical monkey paw, but their wishes come true by gruesome and undesirable means.
Thus, I will be content with the natural course life and will stop interfering with fate via non-subliminal cyber-images.

Second, my standing writing desk.

In Extreme Makeover Home Edition style, I renovated this junky section of my kitchen into a standing writing area. Please notice the laptop, cup-a-pencils, and commercial-strength pencil sharpener. I haven’t done any writing here yet, but the desk has stayed clean for six days – a Warner record. Home organization people recommend getting stuff off the counter tops. I hung the wire file organizers on the wall and, miraculously, the kids now put school papers in them. Amazing. One small step for a writer, one giant leap for motherhood.
Third, Digging up the yard.

As you can see, I wasn’t kidding about digging up segments of our yard. I pried up cement trim, took out dirt, and put weed barrier in the flower beds. This is the “before” picture. Next spring I hope there will be beautiful, tulip-filled and weed-free “after” pictures to post.

That works for me.

J. thinks a yard gnome village would be the perfect finishing touch.
Maybe, just Three Gnomes.

Thanks for tuning in.

Go read “The Monkey’s Paw,” or save it for next Halloween.

Holding On to My Head

This is Me Today


If you see my head rolling down your street, it’s not the gory end of our Halloween story, it’s that I’ve lost my grip. Not my grip on reality – my grip on my head.

I feel like a dough-kneading kitchen mixer spinning lumpily close to the edge of the counter, facing the prospects of plummeting over the edge and dangling by my electrical cord inches above the tile.

I feel like a barreling merry-go-round throwing off sweaty-handed third graders.

I’m a top-load washer with too many bath towels.

I’m not sick, just uncommonly dizzy.
I don’t have a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, stomach ache, or fever.
But today my neck can’t support the weight of my head.
When did my cerebral cortex put on so many pounds?

Is it a virus?
Is it my thyroid?
Is it all in my head?

Please, send help.

Is there a doctor on the web?

Oh, yeah.

The True Story of My Free Christmas Tree

This is a true story. We call it nonfiction.

The names have not been changed, since no one is innocent.
This story has been re-told each Christmas for the past 13 years, but this is its first appearance in written form.

Once upon a time…

We were poor. You know, like freshly-wedded, tuition-paying, diploma-earning, employment-seeking, future-awaiting kind of poor–our matrimonial union a mere four months old.

I laid my last college final on the professor’s desk – a blue essay book overfilled with rapidly scribbled responses to essay questions like: What role did the head of the United States CIA play in the downfall of the Guatemalan economic system?

If I passed this final, I would walk across the stage next June among a sea of fellow graduates, reaching out my hands to receive my congratulations and my double (and equally useless) degrees in Liberal Arts and Political Science.

(See my cousin Natalie with the long brown hair
behind me? We both married into W’s and dropped
to the bottom of the alphabetic graduation line).

I exited the humanities building and entered the student center, intending to visit the display of the campus clubs Christmas Tree Decorating Contest. The December sun poured through gigantic skylights and bathed me with rays of my bright future and sunny holidays with no papers, finals, or boring texts. I began to daydream about my upcoming first Christmas with my new hubba-hubba husband. Just then, a whale-ish black cloud swallowed the sun, plunging the Taggart Student Center into darkness, and I remembered our bare, Christmas-less apartment.

I’d spent my last two Christmas’s breaking dry baguettes with equally homesick companions in cold-floored, bare-walled, Christmas-less missionary apartments. More than anything, I wanted a warm, homey Christmas with all the trimmings.

My melancholy deepened as I passed the remains of what had been the Christmas tree display. Pine needles, scraps of tinsel, and a few remnants of broken ornaments dirtied the floor, which begged for a deep vacuuming. Too busy cramming for finals, I hadn’t walked through the tree festival before, I hadn’t expected it to be gone so soon. I hung my head feeling a lot like Charlie Brown.

Then, in the far corner, looking very cast-off and unwanted, I spied four naked trees.

Let me interrupt the story here to explain that the universe and I have an unspoken agreement–I will never buy anything without a coupon, and the universe will provide me just enough opportunities to mooch, beg, rummage or win the barest necessities of luxury.

Suddenly filled with Christmas optimism, I bounded up the stairs to bother the Student Body President.

Knock, knock.

Come in.

Hello, um, Mr. President, Sir. There are some trees downstairs that look like they’ve been sentenced to Christmas at the Logan landfill. I’m married and poor, you see, and if they’re just going to the trash, I’d be happy to take one off your hands.

Well, Mrs. Poor & Married (or was it Mrs. Married and Poor?). Anyway, we donated the decorated trees to the Salvation Army for needy families. However, one tree was too big to fit in our truck and we don’t know what to do with it. If you can haul it away, it’s yours.

No Problem. I’ll go get my newlywed semi-truck. But… I didn’t see a decorated tree.

My committee left that tree by the back doors. It has white lights, gold angels and musical instruments like violins and trumpets and stuff. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Married.

Skipping two stairs at a time, I raced to meet my new, fully decorated, and free Christmas tree.

Holy oxen and wise men.

Ladies and gentleman, this was the very tree.
(And see what I mean by hubba-hubba hubbie?)
The tree came with:

four golden angels,

five violins,
six trumpets and french horns,
several harps,
red globes,
golden apples and golden pears,
over-sized burgundy flowers,
red and gold ribbon,
live poinsettias,
holly berries,
artificial and live foliage,
seven strands of white lights,
an extension cord,
two tree skirts,
water,
and
a tree stand.

How we got the tree back to our formerly bare apartment is another story entirely. (Picture hubba-husband crouched deep into the trunk of an Oldsmobile four door sedan straddling and clinging to the prickly bark of a biggie-sized Blue Spruce shouting “Slow down, honey, we lost an angel.”)

Pulling into our designated apartment complex parking spot, we unloaded the tree, unlocked the apartment, wriggled the branches through the door, replaced the fallen angel, plugged in the lights, snapped our fingers, and Abracadabra folks, instant Christmas!

Staring awestruck at our stroke of good fortune, hubba-hubbie said,

This is the most beautiful Christmas tree I have ever seen. Of all the clubs and organizations on the USU campus, which one decorated this tree?

Well, until that very day, I hadn’t even known the club existed at USU in 1997.

This tree was the creative product of the Gay and Lesbian Club of Utah State University.

Now, every Christmas when hubba and I drape the gold ribbons, hang the harps, trumpets and angels, we give thanks in our hearts for their talent, artistry, and generosity.

A Wintry Poem

Ode to a Snow Shovel


My kitchen drawer beds a dandy tool,
Used January through December Yule.
I mix a bowl of chocolate dream,
It scrapes the sides and folds in the cream.
When I need to stir, into the boiling sauce it will go,
Or I stuff it in the freezer to wait with the dough.
By the end of each meal, it’s been washed and rinsed thrice,
My heart beats “thump, bump” for such a functional device.

Then out to the driveway with shovel I trudge,
Time to move snow – a chore I begrudge.
The shovel leaves trails of uncaptured snow,
The handle breaks off, in the trash it will go.
Every years it’s the same, I’m left so bereft,
Until I find a snow shovel made by Pampered Chef.