The other night I had a breakdown, the likes of which my husband, Ken, has seen before. It was late at night and the things I'd been pushing down and aside, in my commendable efforts to rise above, or at least put off until a good time, erupted. After all these years, I'm still not very good at seeing when I am close to blowing my lid.
The mechanics of my breakdown had everything to do with the circumstances, the most significant of which is probably the fact that I have been unable to sleep past 6 AM for weeks. And 6 has been more the exception than the norm. Ugh.
The subject of my breakdown (at least in my mind) was cooking. I've been doing too much of it. Admittedly, much of the pressure I've felt around cooking comes from my own desire to be making - and eating - amazing, wholesome food all the time.
To an outsider, my family is eating amazing, wholesome food almost all the time. We really do eat incredibly well. To my own inner over-achiever, however, there is much work to be done. I want to be making sprouted grain bread, kombucha, my own vinegar, and delectable stews and ambitious dishes from cuisines all over the world. The realities of my life, as pointed-out by many of my loving friends, make achieving my goals nearly impossible: I am running my own law practice, I am in a performing choir, I am the chair of the School Site Council, and I am making really good food a lot of time time and also trying to be a present mother and partner and friend. Not even getting into how busy my husband is.
Ironically, my attempts to rise above my exhaustion in the kitchen, and my putting off having a conversation with my husband about shifting the division of labor in our house, were motivated by my love of cooking. On weekends, cooking is a favorite recreational activity of mine. I read cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun. I have been slow to realize that things have felt burdensome to me in part because that is my character flaw (see note above re: my inability to see my emotional storms coming) but also in part because it didn't fit into my concept of things. I love to cook, so why don't I love cooking right now?
All this got me to thinking about the strange phenomenon of how things we love can become burdens.
For example, I love my children. Beyond all that there is. But my husband and I have a carefully orchestrated schedule of who puts them to bed, and the schedule is not the result of us vying for our own fair turn at this joyous activity. It is a who HAS to put them to bed issue, not a who GETS to put them to bed one. As much as bedtime can be a big, fat drag, it is also precious, special time with two of my favorite people in all of human history. When I can relax into the nighttime routine, it is gloriously tender. My children are still and listening (a rare treat), we are cuddling and I have the opportunity to be privy to secrets and details that come out as they process and just babble about the days they had.
Often, however, I can't Zen into the bedtime routine. It is time consuming, and there are a ton of things I want to do with my precious night at home. They are whiny and resistant to the idea of sleep. I am stuck in a dark room with kids who need to just go to sleep. I obsess over everything we've done wrong in NOT developing good sleep habits. I just want out.
Clearly, the lovable nature of things becomes obscured when obligation comes into the picture. Cooking often feels like a drag when I have to make dinner for four hungry people every night, after work, and I've only got 45 minutes to get it all cooked and ready - notwithstanding the fact that I'd jump at the chance to plan and prepare a dinner party with friends. Lying tenderly with my children in a dark room telling stories is an awesome way to pass the time, but when I am doing it because it needs to be done . . . well, then I have more difficulty remembering that given the choice, I might actually choose to do it.
If I were a yoga teacher, I'd have a good lesson here and I'd be able to recall some parable, originally written in Sanskrit (after thousands of years of developing as part of an oral history) that exemplifies the teaching moment.
I'm not a yoga teacher (yet) and I don't really have this one all figured out. It seems to have a lot to do with the must-ness of the thing, and how that must-ness triggers something in us - something human, western, high-schoolish - that makes us want to do something else. Just because we can't.
Mostly, though, I know that really the love is, and should be, not just for the thing but also for the burden. For the beautiful children and loving family, needy and hungry they may be. The gift is the interdependence, the obligation - that is what gives any of it meaning. Otherwise, its all free choice and self-determination, and that is way too much of a good thing.