Wednesday, May 4

The Art of Balance

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I do a vast amount of cooking in the World's Tiniest Kitchen. Just ask my husband, who is usually on dish duty- I'm pretty prolific. There's a lot of creative magic going on in there....along with plenty of reliance on old standbys and quick fixes when either inspiration or time are in short supply. Once you know the basics of what kinds of ingredients make a healthy, balanced, and wholesome meal, playing around with ingredients and combinations while using your imagination is, I believe, the best way to learn how to cook. It's how I learned, and it's still my favorite way to do things in the kitchen. However, no one can be a culinary wizard all the time, so it's important to have your kitchen set up in order to not only foster creativity but also to assist you in keeping things simple, easy, organized and accessible so that your cooking efforts can progress with ease- whether you're creating a new dish for the first time with wild abandon than knows no recipe, or recreating that same old favorite standby for the umpteenth time because it's healthy, easy, and you enjoy eating it every time.

Since my kitchen is about the size of the inside of a minivan (and that's being very generous), how I keep things organized and stored is absolutely crucial to my ability to cook balanced and interesting meals in anything resembling an orderly fashion. All it takes is one incidence of an open jar of tomato sauce crashing to the floor and splattering red goop all over every white wall and white appliance in sight to let you know that you cannot balance something too close to the edge of the top of the refrigerator, even if that was in fact the only spot of open space available. (Both my husband and I being over 6 feet tall helps our kitchen space situation- evidenced by how the top of the refrigerator is used regularly for extra prep and storage space). We've also learned the ingenuity of using the tops of the cabinets to store all of our pots and pans (again, see former discussion of height), which have to be placed in a certain particular order and stacking configuration in order for all of them to fit. Lastly, everything from the refrigerator shelves to every single cabinet is organized to best maximize the space we have- a place for everything, and everything in it's place, literally. I'm not saying it's perfect, and I'm not obsessive about it, but I've learned that balance is the key to keeping my kitchen in full swing and happy working order. With the significant space limitations we have and the amount of food shopping, cooking, and meal-brainstorming that I do, it simply does not work any other way.

One particularly demonstrative example is the small cabinet above our stove. It's awkwardly high and very small, and you have to reach over the stove hood to get to it- it is basically only suitable for two categories: things I need to grab at quickly and regularly while cooking (oils, pot holders, and flame deflector- very helpful when cooking your own beans and grains), and items that are removed and replaced often that don't quite fit in anywhere else (lunch tiffins, avocado saver, lemon juicer, mini grater- you realize everything does come in "mini" when you have a tiny kitchen!). This small, quirky storage space is essential for me because I use the items contained in it on a daily basis, and I need to be able to access them in an instant when moving swiftly through my morning cooking routine. However, as I mentioned, it's also small and therefore somewhat limited in how it can be organized, meaning that balance becomes a crucial element. Everything in there fits perfectly when each thing is more or less occupying it's given space. Because the space demands it, we purposely make an effort to keep it that way; it's not difficult to do, it just requires attention, and it makes everything work much more smoothly.

A few months ago, I started to notice here and there when I would reach up and into that mini cabinet that something was askew- nothing alarming, like finding a plastic baboon toy in the vegetable drawer (only those who are related to me by blood or marriage are familiar with that story), but more like finding the pot-holders tumbling over into the lunch containers, or the various kitchen implements sticking out at increasingly rakish angles, or the tea pot having a shoving contest with the french press. It was something I noticed vaguely each time, and it made things in there feel slightly disorderly and unsettled, which made my cooking routine just that slight bit more bumpy and disheveled, but by such a small fraction that I didn't take the time to correct it. It doesn't matter, I thought each time. It won't make a difference if I let that one thing come a bit undone.

Until one morning....

I came happily and sleepily into the kitchen to begin cooking my husband's lunch, which required reaching into that mischievous little cabinet above the stove. No sooner had I opened the tiny doors than suddenly I was at the bottom of a veritable avalanche of stainless steel tiffins clanging down on me, glass beverage carafes tumbling down on all sides and threatening to burst into shards around me, and all manner of non-threatening rubber fruit and vegetable shaped tools bouncing off of my head. I looked like a character in a slapstick routine who haphazardly contorts their arms and legs and chin to collect every falling object in some desperate attempt to retain order. Not, shall we say, the most relaxing way to wake up.

Bit by bit, with my noticing it but not acting on it, our mini cabinet up high- the happy and cozy resting place of so many of my daily cooking helpers- had become profoundly unbalanced. Each individual shift into this unbalanced state was perceived at the time as singular and insignificant; an item slightly out of place, something falling over where previously something else had stood to support it, a lack of space for something that belonged there because something else had crept in and taken up residence. But these shifts weren't just singular, and they were far from insignificant. There was a process of unbalancing happening, one domino falling at a time, and I let myself ignore it and remain unaware of the signs even as the imbalance grew into a state of barely restrained chaos - it must have, because that final morning, all it had taken was one tiny shift (and who knows what that was?) to make every item within that space spring out at me in utter pandemonium.

You might think I'm being perhaps just slightly hyperbolic here. Just a touch dramatic? Fair enough, and I admit I do love when a story like this can be polished into a perfectly fitting metaphor, but in this case it's for very good reason- later that very day, I found myself pondering the story of the cabinet and its Jack-In-The-Box surprise for me. "What happened?" I pondered with amusement. "Was I really paying that little attention? No. It must have just happened slowly, one slip at a time." And I could not help but fall face first into a full blown realization about how that completely describes what happens to me when I let the things that center, balance, and sustain me slip away....out of focus, out of priority, out of the rotation, off the schedule. You know, we all do thing at a time, we make little excuses about how we can't, shouldn't, won't have time to, are too tired to, or won't really be affected if we don't do that thing that we usually rely on to keep us feeling happy, grounded, taken care of and stable. But then it becomes a pattern of not doing it, it becomes the new norm, and it extends beyond just that thing, to that other thing, too. That other stabilizing, gratifying standby that we know will see us through, that we take for granted but deep down appreciate the value of....we let it go. Just this one time, and then we'll get back to it, right?

It all adds up. The skipped grounding and centering yoga class that we forfeited when we felt too busy with social obligations becomes two weeks away from the studio. The lunch prep ritual that saves money and provides healthy, tasty lunches gets pushed aside in favor of sleeping in those few more minutes and grabbing something quick but costly and less nutritious at the deli. The head-clearing, body boosting walk or run outside gets traded in for running around on errands, cramming in more and more to-do's that never seem to get done. The hour of reading before bed that we know helps us to turn off the activity of the day and prepare for rest becomes the hour for catching up on any last emails and doing dishes or laundry that didn't get done because we were....wait, what were we doing? Before we know it, we're unbalanced. And unbalanced is not a nice, healthy, happy, or stable place to be. It's feels like metal lunch containers and rubber lemons bouncing off of your head in every direction.

It happens to all of us, and after the morning of the kitchen mini-avalanche, I took that as an opportunity to revisit my own commitment to the practices and elements that keep me organized, grounded, stable, calm and peaceful, not to mention happy and joyful in life. It's a check-in we all need to do on a regular basis. I'm talking about both the big and the small things here, because they're equally important. The practices and rituals we engage in on a daily basis to keep us feeling like ourselves and to keep our lives operating the way we want them to are just as elemental to our overall well being as the larger scale choices and that support our long term initiatives and goals for what we want out of our lives. When we begin to ignore our own needs here and there, or make excuses about de-prioritizing the habits and practices that keep us feeling happy and taken care of, we slip out of balance...slowly at first, until suddenly things seem to crumble around us all at once. Therefore, in order to exist peacefully, happily, and healthfully, we have to maintain our balance by taking care to prioritize our needs each day and also to notice when we've begun to stray from ourselves so that we can come back to balance. That can mean different things for each of us, so what does that mean for you? What area of your own self-care have you been subtly paying less and less attention to lately? Exercising? Alone time? Shopping for and preparing healthy food? Engaging in nourishing hobbies? What warning sign, either physical, emotional, or mental, have you been stubbornly ignoring? And can you see how letting go of or neglecting to implement rituals and practices just for you in your daily life is pulling you further and further away from where you want to be? Be brave and take a may be surprised.

The good news is, just as imbalance can be arrived at bit by bit, so can balance be restored- one thing at a time. Our choices create a cyclical effect, and we can decide what we want to receive as the result of our actions. Look around and inside of you to find out what elements are keeping you off balance- is it an unhealthy habit or choice pattern that needs to be bidden farewell? Or a healthy one that needs to shift back into your schedule?- and address just one thing first. It doesn't have to be a radical shift, just an intentional one. Make a commitment to yourself that you will do this thing, just for you. Because you know it benefits you, and because you believe you deserve it. Once that feels comfortable and consistent, add in another, one step at a time. Think of it as building a foundation under a house- you build the most important support beams first, and then you build around them to create a structure that will hold up the entire house, come what may. Decide what is currently missing from your routine that keeps you feeling grounded, rested, flexible and happy, and start to implement those practices one by one- until you've built a foundation that can support you through anything that comes along!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

1 comment:

  1. To make this fun, I'll let you know some of the things I do that keep me balanced and therefore feeling happy and healthy and like myself:

    I take some quiet time to relax and drink a cup of herbal tea before I do anything else each morning.

    I take regular yoga classes, and when I can't make it to yoga, I make sure to take a long walk outside.

    I frequently take baths in the evening to wind down, because I find them more relaxing than showers.

    I make sure to keep my fridge and cupboards stocked with basic staples, so that I can always whip something up for a healthy meal on short notice, even if I am busy or couldn't get to the store.

    How about you? Share the ways you keep yourself balanced and taken care of, and other readers can get ideas!