Today's Interview: Kathleen Hirsch
The Art of Balance: A Conversation With Kathleen Hirsch
Conducted by Christine Cody
Being a human being is a multifaceted reality. Every day, life pulls us in different directions. The roles we choose -- employee, partner, mother, daughter, sister, friend -- can create conflict, tension, & stress. The demands of work, loved ones, & the homestead can be so great that we respond by compartmentalizing these stressors into neat little packages in order to cope. Sooner or later, this faulty coping mechanism catches up with us, & we find ourselves fragmented & depleted & aching for integrity.
At midlife Kathleen Hirsch made many discoveries. Among them were the pleasures of nesting, the letting go of what others think, & the rewards of creativity. In A Sabbath Life, Hirsch questions her roles – feminist, journalist, author, wife, friend – &, over the course of her intimate journal, admits that each of these roles alone may not contain all her true life’s work, but committing to oneself & achieving a dynamic equilibrium in all of these roles together does, Hirsch feels, result in an authentic life.
Could you talk a bit about how you came to write this memoir, Kathleen?
Kathleen Hirsch: I wrote this book in part because of my own experience in searching for words of wisdom to help me with my own journey, some 7 or 8 years ago. There were, & are, lots of books on the market extolling the virtues of success, tough-mindedness in the workplace, the arts of negotiation, etc. And these are valuable but they certainly aren't the whole story. I began to realize that I needed to understand the "arts" of life that I'd lost touch with -- the arts of balance, of managing to have a deep & meaningful personal life, of being able to spend time in nature without guilt, the need to touch down into my soul place -- all of these "arts" which I now consider essential to a woman's inner health.
Also, part of the reason I wrote my book was to describe how I did it, as a
possible path for other women to follow. You do need to detach from your current life a bit, either by stepping back emotionally, or by taking some
time away. Simply quieting oneself, silencing all the agendas, yields more
insight that you can imagine. One builds, one step at a time. It's hard for
women, since we're still socialized to take care of everyone else before ourselves.
Women today are so rushed. Technological developments – from high-speed travel to all-digital personal communication services – would seem to save time, but as the speed & pace of our society increases, we all feel we have much less of it. How do we find time for these arts? For ourselves?
KH: Part of the answer to your question is that we need to be less rushed, & the moment we begin to say "no" to second-place demands, to claims on our time that we have met simply because "they were there," we realize that the great riches of life come from simplicity, & not from overextension of our precious resources: our selves.
But so many of us women were raised as people pleasers, seeking approval & avoiding conflict. How do we begin to say “no?”
KH:What is the best way? I will give you a personal, recent example. I suggested, in a church committee meeting, that the children of the church write prayers & letters & draw pictures to "God" & that we collect them into a small book as part of my church's 150th celebration. All at once, I was assumed to be heading up such a project, which when I thought about it seemed truly daunting, were it to be done well. Just as suddenly, I was being called & invited to attend organizational meetings to discuss what others were doing, how we could coordinate calendars, etc. I very politely said, no, I couldn't attend the meeting (or the Sunday school dinner meeting happening two nights later), & I would probably try & delegate this task to a woman who wasn't working outside the home. A long answer, but No must be no, even when it rubs our social conditioning the wrong way.
Do you practice yoga or a meditation?
KH: I do follow what I call a daily "practice," trying to combine the best of meditation with a half hour of exercise. I rise before the rest of the house (being a morning person makes this the right choice for me; others may choose to stay up after the house is asleep), I read a bit of poetry or a spiritual text, wake everyone up, & then, with breakfast underway, either work out, or arrange my work day to begin at 8:30 & work out when everyone leaves for school/office.
How does one know when one is involved too much, when one is a “woman who does too much?”
KH: When I wake up in the middle of the night, find myself obsessing about details left undone, when I can't see the flowers blooming along my walk because I'm so preoccupied, I feel it in my gut. My effectiveness begins to fade. I'm just not as focused, & it is hard to be sincere & grounded when you're not focused.
Women in this country fought long & hard for the right to vote, the right to fight, the right to, as you state in your book, “the same norms of success, the same terms of performance, the same operative structures, as men’s.” How do we, as women, both honor those who struggled for those rights &, at the same time, wear our identities lightly?
KH: Now that women have proven that we can achieve the same "norms of success" as men, I think that we need to adapt & humanize them. Men's norms of success are far too monotonal & arbitrary even for most men. Any candid man will
tell you that he feels overworked & under-realized as a human being. I
think we women have a real opportunity today, not to "reject" these norms of
success, as much as to be the leadership that says, Success is a many-faceted
thing. There are times in our lives -- as young career women, as older
single women or as women who don't have children -- when a more traditional
intellectual or professional life is wonderfully invigorating & meaningful.
There are other times when it is quite necessary to delve more fully into
our spiritual lives, our creative lives, our nurturing selves (this is true
for women & for men), & we need to establish a more sophisticated &
subtle understanding of human nature in order to make these times acceptable,
The Europeans & Asians, by & large, don't have the problem of accepting
the importance of artistic, social, spiritual pursuits as coexisting with
earning one's living. Our youth as a culture, our Protestant work ethic,
our very diversity of immigrant backgrounds, has mitigated against a common
consensus around these deep cultural matters that other cultures enjoy.
Do you have any specific suggestions for women running the rat race?
KH: Get up early & meditate. Then, try & make little 'breaks' in the middle of the day -- several times. Take five minutes & look out the window, pull out a book of inspirational poems, carry a set of crayons & draw how you are feeling. When you feel your heart racing, breathe!!! Slow down. Don't let the corporate machine run your life. The other thing I'd strongly suggest is that you take up some kind of craft work or art work in the off hours & try to do it, quietly, silently, to music. I believe that art, quiet, music, are essential parts of wholeness. Artistic talent isn't what's needed or demanded. Simply desire to be in the moment is all...children, after all, draw all the time without worrying about "talent."
Also, find or create a community of support outside of work -- friends you can call on, a women's group that meets once a month...human sympathy that's far removed from your workplace.
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