I sat on a zoom call with my spiritual director last week. If any year would demand you get yourself a spiritual director, it was 2020.
She had asked me some deep penetrating question like, "how are you, honey?"
I rambled for a while. Around and around. I said, "Well, I do try to be balanced. If it's possible. Is it possible? I don't feel like I'm balanced, I feel like I'm falling. I tip one way then another."
She said, "I think the term 'balance' can be oppressive. Especially for mothers who are in a demanding season. I like to think of it as harmony instead. Is your life in harmony? For all the laboring, is there playing? For all the effort, is there ease? For all the connection, is there solitude? For all the doubt, is there faith? Think of it like an infinity symbol, a figure 8 laid on it's side, these things folding in and out of each other across time. Maybe not in a day, but what about your weekly harmonies? Or monthly?"
"Sort of like a tidal pattern?"
"Yes, like the tides. Harmonies are all over creation: night and day. Summer and Winter. Inhales and exhales. Some are seasonal harmonies. Some are lifelong. If you cannot find balance, can you find harmonies?"
One of the children needed occupational therapy years ago. The OT, Miss Dana, was in her 50s, she radiated kindness when she came into the room, with fawn brown eyes and a wide smile. She might have been a prophetess. She convinced children they could do hard things again and again, she could support and challenge in a single breath. She had us walking infinity loops while fixating our gazes on a single point every day. She was trying to get the hemispheres in the child's brain to talk to each other. The looping and the looking done in tandem, were important. I just remember my children, eyes fixed on me, walking loops that endlessly fed into each other day after day after day for months. Harmony, she was trying to get their minds into harmony. And it worked, we saw it work and we were heartened and ecstatic.
Harmonies are like that in life: you walk it in and out day after day, eyes fixed on some thing or someone. You pick where. But you do have to pick where your gaze settles, if you want your all the infinity loops you've walked a hundred, a thousand times to build toward something. We are all circling, all spiraling around and around. That isn't the question. We are all being born and dying, planting and uprooting, tearing and mending, all the time all at the same time. The question is: where is our gaze while we spiral between the both/and? Are our eyes fixed on a goal, a calling, a value, a Person bigger than ourselves so the endless spiraling builds toward a bright future, a fulfilling life? Or not? The infinity loops we all walk are endless invitations toward connection: with our own minds, our people, our God. Balance might be impossible, but harmony isn't.
When my pixelated spiritual director asked me, "can you find the harmonies? I looked at week of time, a month of time, and I said, "I think so. Mostly. I see harmonies. I can hear them."
She smiled the way I'm learning she smiles when I understand her: closed lipped, with a slight head nod that says, quietly but assuredly "yes." Miss Dana used to have the same look when the children and I had done well on our exercises for the week.
The etymology of harmony, harmonia, means, of course, music, pleasing sounds. It also means agreement. And as we travel back through the history of the word, it means how ship planks were joined together. How doors and shoulder joints were joined together. The oldest root in the word, the ar- that we see in arm, artist, army, means "to fit together."
How does all the facets of my life fit together? All my people? All my human needs? They aren't static, they're moving, folding into and out of each other. What are they holding with their gaze as we travel around and around the infinity loop?
Not balance. Harmony.
Growing up, I always hoped I would sit beside my older sister when we sang hymns, because she could harmonize. I could hold a decent soprano melody, but her soul comes out in music, she could weave in and out and improvise so, together, we sounded rich and resonant and intentional. She knew the notes and tones so well only because she spent hours per week in music school, her voice going up and down the scales, her fingers at the piano playing arpeggio after arpeggio, an infinity loop of harmonies.
Maybe we can sing our lives like that, in brilliant and bright and surprising harmonies, if we practice living with intention, with gazes fixed on what matters most.