There are some problems, or challenges, that I simply don’t have. Take opportunities, or resources, for example. When people ask me about how I home educate my son, the first question I often get is “Where do you get resources? Is there anything available outside of regular school books?” I want to reply, “Honey, I’m drowning in resources —- figuring out how to swim in that abundance is the problem, NOT the lack of resources!” Or with health issues, some people say to me, “There’s not much they can do about osteoarthritis [or fibromyalgia], is there? You just have to suffer through it.” Again, my desired response is more along the lines, “There are lots of possibilities, actually, and many different things work for different people. I could spend almost all of my waking hours researching those possibilities and then trying out all the ones that might fit for me.”
My favorite (?) question is, “You’re home all day — whatever do you do with all that time?” “Oh, my,” I think. “You really don’t have any understanding of what my life is really like, do you?”
It’s somewhat embarrassing to “complain” about having too much. Years ago, when I worked at the sexual assault center, I was in the enviable position of needing to spend a good chunk of government funding before the new fiscal year started. It was one of those situations where if we just gave back the money, we would lose that funding for not just that year, but for all the years in the foreseeable future. The needs at the center were just too great to not use all the resources we could get. It was overwhelming. The year before I had been bringing in chairs and other supplies from home because of the center’s lack of resources, and a year later I had to look for ways to spend money. Trying to do this responsibly and with accountability was challenging, to say the least. I coined a new word then, “overwealmth”, a combination of “overwhelm” and “wealth”.
So now, twenty years later, I find myself in another iteration of “overwealmth”. I have plenty of books I can barely wait to read, plenty of interesting people who are either friends or possible friends, plenty of home education supplies both online and in print, plenty of possible activities for both myself and my son, plenty of. . . . lots, actually. And that is wonderful, no doubt about it. The challenge is to choose, mindfully and responsibly, how to use the precious few hours of each day.
Sometimes I feel a strong conviction about pursuing some option. Alas, I seldom feel strong convictions about any particular book or activity — all seem good and delicious and full of possibility! But not to decide is itself a decision, as event dates come and go, or particular books get lost among the piles of other great books. I have developed a short series of questions that do help me decide, and I offer them to you in the hopes that they may be helpful.
First of all, am I interested in doing it, or do I feel I “should” do it? I remember not to “should” on myself, and then ask how much, on a scale of 1 to 10, it appeals to me. Do I feel I ought to do it? This time, I mean “ought” in a positive, responsible way, not in a societally or culturally pressure-filled way. Where does this fit in with my current top priorities? If it doesn’t, is it a possibility that I have the interest and time to explore? Can I do it physically? Can I do it pragmatically, within other obligations of self and family? Who benefits from my doing it? Is it within my circle of influence, or my circle of concern? Are there any coincidences that make an initial urge stronger? These questions aren’t in order of importance, nor are they the only questions. But just those questions help me eliminate a lot of “shiny objects that grab my interest”. And also, of course there are sometimes things I feel strongly I ought to do even though I don’t want to do them, like caring for myself well regarding diabetes, or leaving enough time to wind down at night so as to allow a better night’s sleep, or stretching and exercising, etc.
Here’s my most recent “Exhibit A” which called for this kind of discernment: I have been invited to join a book club. It really appeals to me, up around an 8 or 9 on my “interest scale” because the facilitator is an interesting, intelligent woman, and because the book that the group is reading is one of my all time favorites. I would just love to hear what other women are thinking about that book, and to be able to discuss it with them. On the other hand, I feel so short on time that the last thing I want to do is to take on another commitment, and a commitment with homework at that! As well, my days are fully committed, though there is some flexibility. Then, as our family has only one car that dear spouse needs to use to get to work, all extra outings need careful scheduling. And finally, the book group meets over the lunch hour; we have our main meal at lunch. Going to the book group would entail figuring out how to get our meal cooked and shared with enough time to attend the book group and get back in time to finish the homeschooling in the afternoon — oh, and get Andrew to and from work, too.
Then the coincidences started piling up: Since the book currently under discussion, and the possibilities for the next book, are ones that I love or have wanted to read myself, there wouldn’t really be much extra homework. And getting there and back would fit into Liberty and Andrew going to the gym for their regular exercise, just a block from where the book group meets, so no extra driving is needed. The meal could be prepared ahead of time and carried with us, with the guys having their lunch at the library, which is smack dab between the gym and my meeting, while I eat my packed lunch with the women at the book group.
So! I want to do it. I can do it both physically and pragmatically. It fits in with my other commitments and priorities. Many benefit from my going, not least of whom is Liberty, who likes to hang around the library. And it will be within my circle of influence. I’m going!
Hah! I’m so glad you are going, or went. What was the book, and why is it one of your favorites?
The book is Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. The title doesn’t really tell you much about it, an outline of a healthy women’s psychological development from girlhood to cronedom, examined in the light of stories —- wonderful evocative stories. The text is so poetic, and parts of it just sing off the page. It clarifies so many challenges in women’s lives, and the choices within those challenges for ultimately becoming a conscious, loving, free human being. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is one of my most important teachers (along with Karen Armstrong, author of The Case for God and 12 Steps for Living a Compassionate Life, among others), and last summer I was privileged to attend a 5-day training she did for helping professionals on Psychology: in the Truest Sense of the Word. It was her first in-person training in over 10 years. It’s happening again in June, and I’M GOING!!!!!