17 Mar 2015

I recently began graduate school, attending classes on Friday and Saturday every other weekend. Now, I wish I could say that I had the time to focus solely on my studies, but in today’s world (and in mine in particular right now), this isn’t possible. So, I’m learning about how to manage the ebb and flow of work, family, personal time and school. The term “full plate” has taken on a new meaning! In my efforts to find a flow that is workable and leaves me feeling empowered, rather than stressed, I began to read a book about the Benedictine Way of Living: Always we Begin Again, by John McQuiston II) which I received as a gift. The Benedictines are a monastic order founded by St. Benedict centuries ago. Aside from their practices of prayer, poverty and chastity — they practice a ritualized manner of living so as to give time to all things in balance. While I am not seeking to live as a monk, I saw that there is rich wisdom to be harnessed from their rule.

The rule suggests that one make time in each day for the following: prayer, meditation and stillness; work & study; community & relationships, and rest. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Hmm? Perhaps not so much. The thought is that out of 24 hours, one would allow 8 for work, 8 for rest, and the remaining 8 for prayer, meditation, community and relationships. The rule recommends beginning and ending the day with the stillness and reflection, with caution to move into sleep with positive and hopeful thoughts on your mind and heart as much as possible. Meals, exercise, self care and relationships fill one third of the day, and one’s work (whether school, business, family or volunteerism) another. I considered how this might work for me.

Having a schedule that was full with work, family, exercise, meals, and sacred time prior to becoming a student, I wondered how I could fit in school. It felt like I needed a stronger discipline, but often that left me feeling confined. I decided I needed to assess my life and to look at where and how I was spending my time (both with others and alone). So, I looked, and what I saw was this:  On average, I sleep seven hours a night. On average I put in seven hours of work per day.The remaining hours are spent around meals, some prayer and reflection, with my communities and family, and inside of my technology. In fact, the amount of time spent on my iPad was what surprised me most. In the midst of being with my family or friends, I had my head in technology and I liked it, but I was disconnected from them. I also realized that I spent a lot of time engaged in activities and doing things with and for others that I mostly enjoyed, but that the time I spent alone in quiet stillness was disproportionately low. This assessment gave me much to consider, and as I did so, I wondered, “Do I need to practice a Discipline, or do I need to establish a Rhythm for my life?”

For me, the words “Discipline” and “Rhythm” resonate quite differently. Discipline has always felt difficult, challenging and heavy. Rhythm, on the other hand, feels open, freeing, and flowing. Truly, I don’t think it matters which to call it. I knew I needed to set forth a process and structure that would help me to honor all that I am and do, and to help me to be able to manage work, school and my life.

In our daily work, most of us have To-Do lists, or at least tasks that we are charged to accomplish. Many of us have the structure of going to an office, having set work hours, and having a boss who assists with directing the tasks. In my world, my office is in my home, my hours are flexible, and well, I’m technically my own boss. So, I needed to get real with myself!

I began by assessing the places I spend my time outside of work and school, and made some difficult choices to step away from activities and to cut back on how much time I volunteer. I also chose to cut back on the time I spent on my technology. This has left me with fewer commitments and encounters, but those that remain are rich and meaningful. I then got a big blank calendar and began to block out my schedule to ensure that I had time for work and clients, as well as for study and classes. I committed to the discipline (yep, I said it!) of daily quiet time in the morning before work or study to pray, read, journal, and be still. Last, and equally as important, I have blocked out specific time to spend with my husband, son and friends. I must surround myself with those I love and who love me, as well as those who encourage me when things are tough. Many times, these scheduled dinners or TV nights watching Downton Abbey are the reward for all the hard work.

The most significant thing I have noticed is that I have stepped into a level of intentional living like I’ve never known. Each moment is precious, and has its place and time. Time with family may be scheduled, but the time within that schedule is fluid. What has resulted is more calm and ease around being both a business owner and a graduate student, as well as the joy that comes from following my heart and path, while honoring my commitments and life. I’ve recently integrated healthy eating (food tracking) and exercise into the mix, and while challenging, it feels really good.

This shift hasn’t been easy, and I still struggle with honoring the schedule. But it is amazing what you can let go of without feeling that you’ve lost something.The lesson I see in my experience thus far is that it takes a rhythm, or a discipline to honor all that I desire to do: My work that I love, my education that I desire, my family that loves me, my communities, and myself and God – which require focused attention on a daily basis.

Do you have a discipline for your life and work? What rhythm have you found that makes it workable?

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