Being fairly new to this mom role and small-town dwelling, I have to admit that I've had (and continue to have) my share of mental breakdowns. One minute I had a pretty exciting life: meeting up with friends on the whim ("cocktails tonight at 6pm and dinner at 9pm? Sure!") and teaching a large and fabulous clientele 30-some odd hours a week. As much as I envisioned myself a "cool mom" who wouldn't let family-life change me, it all has changed. Everything, I mean E V E R Y T H I N G requires effort and planning. Sometimes I feel if Google Calendar ever crashed, I wouldn't be able to function. Doesn't everyone block off time to use the bathroom on their calendar? My calendar these days is filled with my teaching schedule slots (as it always has), but then that is always overlapped by the calendar blocks: "Nanny", "Dog Walker", "Hubby Home", and then sprinkled in between clients is the block, "break - water, food, bathroom." I'm serious. Basically if anyone hacked into my Google Calendar, they would be underwhelmed with how mind numbingly mundane and orchestrated my days are. My blocks of time start and stop on time, my life (and to a large degree my family's life) depends on it.
While living this extremely structured life has so many benefits, it can leave me, ironically, feeling somewhat "empty" at the end of the day. How could that be? My schedule is P A C K E D. I mean, at 9:25am I'm having a snack before I teach Bob, and at 11:25am I'm driving to "Pick Up Keelan" at school before we have a "Family Potty Break" at 11:45am.
I came across this interesting TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher on what is called "positive psychology." It was presented quite a few years ago in 2008, but is still very relevant. He asks THE eternal question, "what makes a life worth living?" and "what makes someone happy?" He began to tackle this question over 40 years ago and has studied CEOs of major companies, and has most interestingly observed what he calls "creative people" such as artists or scientists "trying to understand what made them feel that it was worth essentially spending their life doing things for which many of them didn't expect either fame or fortune, but which made their life meaningful and worth doing." What he found after observing these creative people is that after spending at least 10 years immersed in a certain field, you can begin to "change something in a way that it's better than what was there before...when that happens...the music just flows out..." And he calls this effortless, ecstatic and spontaneous feeling as the "flow experience." It keeps these artists, CEOs and everyday people happy and fulfilled.
I have to get a bit passionate here about my work and say that I do honestly feel this sense of Flow when I teach. I've come to a point in my life where I've learned to become a good "listener" to my students - whether that be via my ears to hear their concerns, my eyes to identify imbalances, or my hands to feel for muscular or fascial change. And with time I've also been able to collect different "tools" under my belt to address what I hear, whether that be with a Pilates exercise to strengthen, yogic breathing to calm the nervous system or my newly acquired Lauren Barry method to move muscle back into alignment. My hour sessions with my students have so many instances of this Flow that I consider myself very lucky to be able to do it in my new life as a small-town mom.
And then there are those fabulous blocks of time I have on my calendar marked "self workout." While "Flow" isn't exactly the term I'd use to explain my workouts at 31 weeks pregnant these days, I almost never start a workout with a concrete plan in mind. I know of some nagging aches or pains that need to be addressed, but for the most part, having been a yogi/Pilates-student for close to 20 years, "Flow" happens as I listen to my body and move as it asks me to.
But I teach 2-4 hours a day, self-workouts (if they are really happening) are an hour at best, and my days are L O N G. So it begs the larger question: How do we create this "flow experience" in our everyday lives? Within the mundane blocks of time, how do we find meaning and ultimately "happiness"?
The simple answer is Csikszentmihalyi, it's not all going to Flow all the damn time. And that's OK. It's alright that my day ebbs more than flows. What about stepping back and looking at our days from 10,000 feet above? From that high above, our blocks of time on the calendar become a blurry amalgamated thing we call our lives. As with the creative people he studied, I definitely am not expecting "fame or fortune" from walking my dog, but I do think playing my part in society by raising loving and empathetic boys will "change something in a way that it's better than what was there before."
...it's 10pm and my calendar tells me I need to brush my teeth now.
(You can find Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's TED Talk here)