Contemplating on the Fallacy of Work-Life Balance

I often hear people talk about the stress of balancing work and life. So I decided to do some research on how that sense of separating work from rest of our life came about.

Work-life balance appears to have become a term mentioned with increasing frequency in popular media in the last quarter of the twentieth-century, according to a contested entry in the Wikipedia.  This particular quote from a popular book captures the sentiment that appears to inform the work-life balance problem eloquently:

"There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Then there are solutions offered to balance work and life. Mayo Clinic tries to help in this regard by providing practical tips to a better work-life balance like time management, learning to say no and nurturing one’s self.  What does “nurturing” yourself mean? According to one generally accepted definition it includes: "Eat a healthy diet, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga or reading. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes."

If we are honest, all this only adds “more things to do” on the already overflowing plate of our lives, resulting in juggling more activities and stresses.

There is inherently something not quite right in the whole Work-Life balance movement:  How can one see “Work” separate from “Life,” as is implied in this framework? Do we not spend more time and energy at work, in our whole life time, than in any other activity? Do we put “Life” on hold when we are in the “Work” mode? It just does not make sense, does it?

Let’s look at balancing our life from a different perspective by approaching our work, relationships and money as the three key theaters in our life and that we play different roles on each stage in each of these theaters.   At work, we play roles as colleagues, subordinates or the boss.  In relationships, we are spouses, siblings, partners, parents, children and friends. With money, we are earners, savers, creditors, debtors and investors.  Much of the time, we play these roles without giving enough thought except, perhaps, at work where our performance is measured frequently and rewarded (or not) accordingly. Along the way, we inadvertently may play out parts of scripts of one role appropriate to one theater on to a different stage in another theater of our life.  For instance, what we learn about our roles at work may help us function with excellence on that stage, but if we bring that role into our personal relationships, without being aware of what we are doing repeatedly over long periods, we risk becoming substandard role players on the stage of personal relationships.   So being a great boss at work does not necessarily translate into being a great parent or spouse.  When such slips happen they are mundane instances of actions without awareness.

Only when we start distancing ourselves from the roles we play without identifying with those roles will we begin to excel in playing them over a cycle of days, weeks, months, years. To excel in all our roles in all our theaters of life of work, relationships and money, we need to learn how to act in awareness.

Awareness is a subtle potential that we all have. We can strengthen and deepen our awareness potential through specific contemplative, breathing and meditative practices.  With a deepened awareness potential we develop the ability to observe what we do and how we act out our roles , learn how to gracefully refine what makes sense and to let go of all that does not to achieve what we want for a balanced life.

For each one of us this set of roles, and the deft balancing acts that are required, is different at different times in our life.

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.


Contemplation on the Discovery of a New Owl Species

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Listen to the podcast of this post.

This morning I came across an article on the discovery of a new species of the owl.

Upon closer reading, the article described discovery of not one but ten new owl species: "There is no significant variation in their forms. It was the sound difference of their calls that was very significant in distinguishing between species".

From the Advaita perspective, human knowledge is formed when we give names to forms. Each form is distinguished by a unique combination of a physical sense experience it apparently triggers in us. And such forms we experience includes not only sight (which is the form the scientist mentions in the quote above), but also sound (which, in this case, is the distinguishing mark providing the rationale for a new name – hence treated as “a discovery”), smell, taste and touch.

Incremental human knowledge has been created by mapping a new name to a new form. These owls were around long before humans gave them unique names. Now that we have, they have become human knowledge. Humans can now interact with those newly named forms and do things with the owls and to the owls.

We create and consume such kind of knowledge every day of our lives.

What kind of human knowledge are you consuming every day? What parts of that knowledge helps you keep a balance in your life so that you have a sense of peace, calm and joy?

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.


The "Can Women Have It All" Debate about Life Balance


Here is how Ruth Marcus summarizes the debate on whether “Women Can Have It All”, in the Washington Post, as it has run in American media over the last few weeks:

First up was Anne-Marie Slaughter taking to the pages of the Atlantic to proclaim not, on the basis of her experience at the State Department. Then came newly installed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, seven months pregnant and announcing that she planned to take just a few weeks of maternity leave “and I’ll work throughout it.”

Now, Louise Mensch, a high-profile conservative member of the U.K. Parliament, has announced that she is quitting to move to New York, where her husband works, and spend more time with her three young children from an earlier marriage.

From the Advaita Life Coach perspective of balancing work, relationships and money, Marissa Mayer has decided to emphasize the work and money roles and postpone the relationship role. The apparent implication is that the relationship between mother and infant child is not as important. How was such a decision arrived at? Was it based on an assumption that enjoying the work experience and accumulating money now can buy a really deep and satisfying relationship with the child later? If so, an analytical modeling process was brought into play – to postpone relationship gratification and joy, as a result. What decision would we have arrived at, if we contemplated and meditated on the heart chakra, and allowed our intuition to be the guide?  

Louise Mensch, on the other hand, decided to give priority to relationships with her children and husband over work and money. Will this decision hurt her and her children later, as her social identity is subsumed in her home life and children do not have an achiever-Mommy role model to follow? And, what if, for women like Mensch, the relationship (with her spouse) evolves into one of dependence?  Will it become deeply frustrating for the woman?  The decision for Mensch, at least as reported in the media, appears to be a trade-off between the potentially positive current relationship experiences with the risk of a future life of imbalance. What, we could ask, would the decisions and current tradeoffs look like if both partners in a relationship go through a contemplative meditative process of visualizing the future in which their family is joyfully balanced?

Perhaps the best way to leave the debate is the way Ruth Marcus framed it: What I appreciate about both Mayer and Mensch, though, is their willingness to refrain from instructing others. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” Mayer explained, making the maternity leave choice firmly about herself. “Every family is different,” said Mensch, “and another mother might feel she can manage things.”

The decision is and should be made by the individual and the family. How that decision is arrived at - through what mix of conversation, analysis, contemplation and meditation - does impact the intensity of awareness that is brought into play while making such decisions. And the play of the intensity of awareness helps to make for more joyful balance for longer periods.

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.


What is Advaita Life Coaching?

A Synthesis of Advaita Approach with Twenty-First Century Tools

The ALC process combines concepts and tools from the Indian Advaita traditions and twenty-first century American planning and strategy methods. The process starts when you take the small step to articulate, by responding to a brief questionnaire, how balanced you perceive you are in the work, relational and money spaces – the three theaters in which you play roles.

We assess your responses in terms of where you may be in the gunas (experience-potential) framework, and where the perceived imbalances may exist between the roles you play in the professional, relational and financial theaters. As part of the assessment, we provide a reflection to help you become more aware of what a balance between the roles in the three theaters may look like for you.

When you decide to explore ALC coaching further, you will begin to develop an integrated view of your own path of balance between and among work, relational and money spaces. Your coach will help you become aware of how the roles you play are being enabled by your gunas (experience-potential) make up, and how you can re-prioritize and refine the roles to improve your balance and efficiency. Eventually, you will learn to monitor these by yourself.

From then on, you generate the dynamic by which to bring your gunas into balance, a dynamic that constantly changes as your awareness of your roles and theaters of action change. Your coach will help you refine your awareness through an ever-more subtle and precise sense of the categories and concepts: ahaara (consumption), yajna (setting up of action environments), tapasya (focused prioritized action), and daana (giving of a part of the results obtained through focused actions). We will work with you to clarify your current priorities and suggest a set of tailored contemplative practices designed to help you focus better and create the momentum you seek to move toward your goals.

Along the way, the ALC coach also supports your disciplined actions and, in parallel, as you begin to see results, may suggest refinements on the execution of your plan.

This process will, if followed with shraddha, passionate commitment, in a surprisingly short time bring about deep sea changes in your life, including more effective and less stressful actions, and greater self-awareness and peace of mind. 

You may at any point, of course, take the gains you have made and “cash in,” on the clarity and momentum you have gained.  Certainly, even if you do stop at an early point in the ALC process, you will still experience results on the material plane, and there is nothing wrong with this.  But if you are serious about stepping fully in to the subtle striver role, the tools that the ALC process will provide will still be essential to helping you define and stabilize your ground.

What is Advaita Life Coaching?

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