“To be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives.” – Anne Morrow Lindberg, Gift of the Sea
It was not a good day.
I had awakened too late to shower before work and had six appointments scheduled nearly back to back looming before me. A few pounds I had so conscientiously lost during summer had found their way home. We needed groceries and my desk had become such a mess I couldn’t find the list.
I felt overwhelmed and discouraged by my many responsibilities in life as a wife, mother, (even though the children are all gone, in theory anyway) therapist, writer, and homemaker.
It seemed like my life perfectly fit Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s observation in her book Gift from the Sea, that our lives as women tend “more and more toward the state . . . described . . . in the German word, ‘zerrissenheit’ –torn-to-pieces-hood.”
Lindbergh was married to the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh and was in fact a pilot herself. She was the mother of six children—her first kidnapped and killed when he was only 20 months old. She ran a large household teeming with children and social events. She survived political scandal during World War II. During her life she lived in six states and three different countries. And despite serious difficulties in her marriage to Charles, it lasted 45 years.
I own two copies. One is underlined numerous times in different colors of ink because of the many times I have read it. Now, once again, dear Anne has rescued me.
As I write, it is my day off, which really means: the day I scramble to get ‘everything else’ done in my life that is ignored while I am working as a therapist. My work is deeply meaningful to me, helps provide for our family, and honestly feels more like a ‘calling’ than a profession.
Nevertheless, it is demanding and like most women I struggle to juggle my different roles and many responsibilities.
Today though, I have spent most of the morning rereading Anne’s book yet again. And it has felt like I have been sitting on the beach next to her, looking at the elegant shells that provide the poignant metaphors in her book, and listening to a woman who is older and wiser than me.
This is what she has been reminding me in our conversation:
Simplify: Have fewer clothes and possessions so life is easier to manage; make simple meals, (see my daughter Sarah’s recipe at the end of this article); let go of perfectionism with running our homes—not worrying what others think or minding a bit of a mess here and there. She instructs us that peace comes when we ask ourselves how little we can get along with and live the answer.
Seek Solitude: “When one is a stranger to oneself,” she writes, “then one is estranged from others. . . .the most important times are when we are alone.” (I obeyed her immediately and went down to the trail close to our home and sat on a big rock in the middle of Cougar Creek and just listened to the sound of water rushing down the little green canyon. It truly helped.)
Say No: “With our pitchers, we attempt sometimes to water a field, not a garden,” Anne tells us. “We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes.” She reminds us we need to feed our spirit, and still our center.
Stay Centered and Strong: Anne’s metaphor of ‘the hub of the wheel’ in her book offers us a powerful metaphor regarding where our energy is best directed in order to sustain the myriad spokes of life. The hub is the element around which all the spokes (activities and responsibilities) revolve. By staying balanced and strong, honoring our core, we are less likely to be pulled off course or to crack.
Even as I write, I myself feel the tuggings of skepticism. I have been trying to get organized my whole life, and have in fact more times than I can tell you . . . the trouble is order’s natural inclination to return to chaos! But today my eyes are opening to a new vision. Anne is not talking about doing as much as she is talking about being.
And being is not something we add to our to-do list. It is a way we inhabit our lives. It means noticing our own breath and practicing it mindfully. It can be stepping away from our demands just for a few moments to walk around the block. It might mean expanding our inner narrative about what really matters and what is actually working for us. It can mean saying ‘no’ to what is a distraction from our true work and ‘yes’ to what really matters.
As Anne puts it, “It is more basically, how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”
My daughter Sarah has three children under six. Her husband, Grant, is working on his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan. This is an easy recipe that helps in her busy life as a mom and resident assistant in family housing. This is shared — exactly as she wrote it– so you will see her humorous personality and her appreciation of not taking life too seriously unless need be! This is what we’re having for dinner tonight.
Sarah’s Fickle Chili1 can diced tomatoes undrained 1 can corn (whether you drain it or not depends on how you feel that day.) 3 or 4 cans of any kind of beans (I use kidney, pinto, and black.) 1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce ½ packet of Chili Seasoning (But even this is optional) Everything else is for sure optional, depends on what you have in the house. Diced Onion Diced green or red bell peppers Cooked meat Throw all of it in a crockpot. Stir. Cook on low for 8 hrs/ high 4 hrs.