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Attention women: Lost sight of who you are?

In this multi-tasking, over-scheduled world, have you lost sight of what you're all about? Psychotherapist Abby Seixas has worked with women for more than 20 years to help them find better balance in their busy lives. Seixas is the author of, “Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life,” and she was invited to discuss the book on “Today.” Here’s an excerpt:

Deep River Practice #6: Do Something You Love

Whatever is deeply loved—friends, grandchild, late afternoon light, masonry, tennis, whatever absorbs you — this may be a reflection of how you move in the invisible world of spirit. It is your beauty, the elegant point where everything is one.
—Coleman Barks, The Illuminated Rumi

One evening about a year after our first child was born, my husband and I had some precious time by ourselves. We went out to dinner, where the conversation turned to reviewing the year and sharing hopes and plans for the coming months. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I do remember this: seemingly out of the blue, he said to me, “I’m pretty sure I married a person who knew how to have fun. Where did she go?” I was surprised by his words, but as I considered them, I realized this comment wasn’t coming out of the blue. The responsibilities of new motherhood had so consumed my time, energy, and attention that I wasn’t even aware that the fun side of me had virtually disappeared.

Since then, I have listened to countless women tell some version of this same story in relation to child rearing or work or both. It seems that in the face of the needs of others and the responsibilities in our lives, we quite easily lose sight of having fun, of what truly nurtures us, of what we love to do. Of course, maturity involves assuming responsibility — being accountable for one’s own actions, being dependable in relation to others — and also being response-able — that is, able to respond to others. All of these traits are not only desirable but essential for those who care for babies and children. As women, we are socialized early to attend to others’ needs. For our children’s sake and for the health and well-being of our species, this is a good thing. It can also be deeply meaningful and gratifying for us personally. But over the years, I have seen many, many women fall into a pattern of being so focused on the needs of their children or their partners or their bosses, coworkers, friends, relatives — even their pets — that they lose the capacity to play, to do things just for fun.

. . .

In an environment in which time is chronically short and high value is placed on purposeful activity, the blocking belief “Once everything is checked off the list, then I can have some fun” is often present. “Once I clean the house and do the laundry, maybe there will be time for a quick visit to the garden.” “If I have time after I take the kids to their music lessons, I might be able to sit down at the piano myself before starting dinner.” Implicit in this way of allocating — or not allocating — time to do something you love is the belief that it’s just not as important as the things that need to get done. “If I take time to go to the museum, one of my very favorite things to do, then I won’t get the papers graded (the car washed, the bills paid)” — that is, “I won’t get the more ‘important’ things done.”

This blocking belief, like many others, derives its power from the fact that it contains a grain of truth. It is likely true that if you are reading this, you have more responsibilities and things on your list than you have time for. So it would appear that there really is no  time to commit to simple, nonpurposeful enjoyment. One step toward releasing this blocking belief is to recognize that doing something you love belongs in the category of important but not urgent activities. Playing cards or attending a concert or mountain climbing is never urgent the way paying bills is urgent; therefore, task-oriented priorities can easily take precedence. But it is important; it’s important because it nourishes the spirit and enables us to enjoy the life we have been given. In addition, doing something you love has an important side effect. It is energizing. When Madeleine began to write again, it was as if her battery had been recharged. She needed less sleep, and she gained energy for her job and other responsibilities as well as for writing. Astrid says that when she comes home from dancing, she is “all fired up” and has so much energy that she doesn’t go to sleep for several hours, even if she was tired before she went to class. In this way, sometimes taking time to do something we love actually ends up giving us time because it gives us energy. When Deep River nourishment comes to us because we have aligned the inner and outer part of ourselves by doing something we love, we gain vitality. It’s easy to forget this when we get locked into the List.

For those who hold dearly to the belief that work should always come before play, let me be clear: I am not espousing hedonism or advocating shirking responsibilities. I am also not recommending procrastination through doing things that are neither important nor urgent (watching TV on April 14 rather than doing taxes, for example). I am suggesting that we question the assumption that in order to be efficient and effective in our lives, to do things the right way or the best way, we need to postpone joy.

If you recognize in yourself the tendency to let things you enjoy fall off your list, I invite you to experiment with substituting a new belief for “Once everything is checked off the list, then I can have some fun.” Try something along these lines: “Doing something I love gives me energy to live my life.” Or one that was given to me on a rubber stamp: “Don’t postpone joy.” Or a paraphrase of Alan Watts: “Life is like music; you don’t just play it to get to the end.”  You can use one of these phrases or find one of your own that reminds you of the value of making room for something you love.

Excerpted from: "Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life." Copyright 2006 by Abby Seixas. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass.

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