Today I truly begin MY new year. After a summer of no structure that began as great fun, but increasingly took its toll on my mental, physical and emotional landscape, I realized that I have been in need of greater structure, beyond the summer months even, for a few years now. While at heart I am a free-spirited introvert who deeply appreciates lots of unstructured time to simply BE with my inner self and with my beloved family, in a modern world working from home and living with five busy individuals, it has become quite clear to me that open-ended days to fill with my own initiative and motivation are harder than they may appear to someone who has a day filled with structure.
I should know by now that the end of summer brings this issue—life paradox—to the forefront of my thoughts every single year. I knew it was really affecting me when a few weeks ago while dining al fresco with my husband at a local favorite, as I watched others pass by our table walking from the train after a week of solid work, I expressed to him that I crave actually looking forward to and appreciating a weekend after a steady week of accomplishment. Yes, I, Annie Burnside, queen of sharing the importance of balancing inner and outer pursuits/beingness and doingness was very much out of balance.
All of it was my own doing, of course. When my children are home from school during the summer, I find it very difficult to settle in and focus for blocks of time on my own work. The comings, goings and making of hourly plans both together and apart are both cherished and often take their toll on my capacity to concentrate. During the stretches where it actually was quiet and I found myself totally alone, it seemed heavenly in one sense, but also sometimes like a “spinning of my wheels” not knowing what to do, or where to begin or how much time I had to accomplish something…anything. At times, I enjoyed immensely that sudden quiet space for reflection and relaxation, but during other times, I almost felt an odd sense of inertia.
So yesterday, after feeling quite energized at what felt like a beginning not only for my children, but for me, too, I decided to create consciously more structure in my days. I knew it was the right decision for me at this time because I felt great excitement in my cells, an inner giddiness, as I sat down at my calendar and created a schedule including blocks of time each day for work, exercise, household chores, errands, and of course, my beloved free and solo Annieness time. (Yes, I did at least 100 porpoise dives back and forth following the shoreline in Lake Michigan this weekend.) Believe it or not, after a summer of pretty much totally unstructured time, this element of structure felt like absolute freedom to me.
In my attempt to balance my days with more structure, I have already reminded myself that I am not after inflexibility here, but rather a means to allow myself an outer balance to assist me in maintaining a joyful inner world. It felt like a relief to have a newfound sense of purpose and a design to help me manifest all that I desire to experience and create in a day. Now when things come up, I have a much better idea of where to place them in a way that makes me feel more comfortable with my unfolding day.
For the record, I absolutely, positively know how blessed I am in all areas of my life. I am a GRATITUDE girl through and through, as so many of you know. I deeply understand that many reading this post may wish that they had much more freedom to design their days in such a way with the flexibility that I enjoy. My intention is not to compare myself, either my blessings or my challenges, with others. I simply desire to share something that I have been wrestling with and a possible solution for any others who may find themselves in a similar situation. One of my dearest life understandings is knowing that everything is relative. Every situation has its dark and light aspects. For me, the headaches which have occurred frequently over the last several weeks, as well as the sometimes negative mental activity, were definitely signs that too much of a good thing (And indeed, gratefully, there was A LOT of a good thing—remembering the shimmer on our dock in the Northwoods still delights me) can definitely be too much of a good thing.
Interestingly, one would think that my husband, a high school teacher who lives by bells during the school year, would project his own desire for less structure sometimes onto me by dismissing my angst over the lack of it. Instead, he listened patiently time and time again and offered wonderful metaphors as I worked to sort this all out in my head, and most importantly, in my heart. I hope that we can all offer others the same space to share and express how they truly feel on any subject without judgment. As for this particular topic, we can probably all better balance our structured and unstructured time, BOTH so important to our overall well-being in this beautiful world of paradox…
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A modern bridge between the mainstream and the mystical, Annie Burnside, M.Ed. is a soul nurturer, award-winning author, and teacher specializing in parenting, conscious relationships, authentic living and spiritual development. Her book “Soul to Soul Parenting” won the 2011 Nautilus Silver Book Award.