Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Obligation and Balance...

We always travel along a precipice. Our truest obligation is to keep our balance.

(Jose Ortega Gasset - PC alliteration mine)


One day last week, I was remembering what it was like to get up each morning, drive to a job, take the same lunch time each day and drive home at the same time each day.

The job itself wasn't bad. I was making decent money as a system administrator for a health insurance company. My boss was awesome and I did have a personal friendship with him. I could always count on him to "get" me, even when it wasn't necessarily in the best interests of the company. He allowed me a degree of freedom that some others were not allowed, mostly because he knew I would do what I said I'd do. If an application was due for release on a certain date, he knew I'd get it done. The software updates would be complete and the application would be tested. On time.

This was around the same time I was emailing back and forth with R, the guy who invited me to visit his place in Thailand.

One day I left work at 3.oo PM, as usual. I drove on I-50 and it had the usual number of cars. I turned off on Watt Ave and there were the usual number of cars waiting to merge. I got the same stoplight at Watt and Fair Oaks at the same time and my car was, as usual, in the same place.

Right there at that stoplight, I began crying. Not little pesky tears that just made it hard to see but wracking sobs.

"I might as well be f***ing dead," I said to no one in particular.

The left-turn lane at that particular intersection typically took at least 3 iterations of the red light/green light routine, so I was okay to drive by the time it was my turn.

But in that moment I decided to take R up on his offer. I needed to get the hell away from my life and everything associated with it. I felt like Babbit on speed.

I got home, called my boss Joe who, bless him a thousand times, tried to talk some sense into me, tried to convince me that there were better ways to do this than to simply call up and quit, to tell him I was going to Southeast Asia to visit a friend and to completely trash my life over what would ultimately seem like a minor upset.

It didn't work. I made my plans and I left. A week later, I was walking through the night market with R. It was hotter'n'hell and yet, I'd found my home. I was very, very happy.

For me.. personally.. it was the best decision I ever made. Yes, there were consequences. I had one pissed off landlord and Joe wasn't really too happy when I failed to reappear for nine months. But those fences can be mended with a sincere apology and in the case of the landlord, financial reparations. I'm clean enough with that.

This got me thinking though about obligation and balance. Where does obligation end and how far can we go to find our own balance, even if it hurts other people? Can we be true to ourselves, even in that light?

I believe we can. In fact, I will go so far as to say we have an obligation to do so. After all, what can we offer anyone or anything else from an empty well? "Hurting other people" is not the same as inconveniencing them. What I did was not actually harmful. It was careless, yes. It was inconsiderate, yes. It was not "harmful".

At what point would you be willing to do something similar to find your own balance, even at the risk of disappointing others?



Angela said...


You pose such good, thought-provoking questions. The truth is that what I'm doing at my blog is probably disappointing some people in my life - and scaring the hell out of some others! But it is a necessary process that I am compelled to go through - so while I'm sorry for those people, I will be continuing forward. No intentions to hurt anyone, but it's going to happen to a certain extent.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh excellent post...and in fact a question my husband and I pondered in our new year's day talk.

This is because where we are now and how we live now is 50% killing us.

As he said, "We've got a lot of Nomad in us, Jules. We like the benefits of settling but then our Nomad energy hasn't got a place to go and we start causing trouble."

It's true. Life as it is now is great for the girls. Dad and I are okay and they have a great situation in which to grow up. They are happy.

But we can't do this much longer.

I learned long ago when still a person who was someone's child rather than someone's parent that I had to have boundaries and sometimes that meant doing what was good for me even if it disappointed someone else. And I've been disappointing my father (at the least) for nearly 40 years now. C'est la vie. I keep hoping he'll get over it.

And I frequently---because either you understand and accept who and how I am or you don't (although it's not REALLY that harsh or black and white)---can't be who people want or need me to be.

So I had to learn to deal and understand and accept.

Therefore, setting aside other people, the obligation to these people we brought into the's something we struggle with.

Using My Words

niobe said...

I wonder where the line between inconvenience and hurt, blurry though it may be, is.

I think of my former best friend who started secretly dating someone I was involved with. Since it was clearly never going to work out between me and my boyfriend, and since my boyfriend and best friend truly loved one another, you could view their actions as necessary to find their own balance.

I think both of them were sorry that they hurt me, but they didn't believe that whatever loyalty they owed to me outweighed the importance of finding happiness with one another. And maybe, in the end, they were right.

velvet said...

Reaching a turning point like the one you did where you feel the absolute need to immediately leave the safe and familiar to go where your heart is calling you takes a courage that not many people could muster when faced with a chance for real change. It's a brave choice to follow your heart, no matter the consequences. I greatly admire your courage to do what you did.

And as you said, you weren't harming anybody with what you did. I get the feeling that, if you had stayed, it would have been you who would have been hurt in the long run.

I've often wondered where my tipping point is as far as just picking up and going. This has been a huge debate in my life lately because I'm realizing that my present life is hurting who I am deep down inside. I have just picked up and moved before, but when I was young, single, and childless; I just don't know when it would become necessary to go now that there are other people depending on me whose lives would be greatly affected. It's something to think about.

Excellent post. :)

QT said...

Wow Chani - that was a brave choice, and I am glad it led to you finding the place you need to be.

I know that feeling of lather, rinse, repeat - but I am a person who thrives on routine, it soothes me in some way. I have put this "need" of mine on hold for another person for too long, I have lived in teetering on the edge chaos for awhile and I am about at the end of that rope.

Great post.

flutter said...

I'd have to really think about this, because I am just so much someone who always shoves my feelings to the very very back....

thailandchani said...

Angela, I agree. There are times when we have to speak our truth. If others are stung, they may have to examine their own complicity. That's also a difficult balance to determine. You know... if we are just doing it for revenge or whether we are doing it because our authenticity depends on it.


Julie, I can see your husband's point. Being part nomad is very, very real.. and we seem to need that lack of being tied down to be .. okay. At all.

When it gets to a point where being settled starts crushing your spirit and squashing your life force, then different choices need to be made. We do no one any favors when we slowly kill our own spirits.


Niobe, this seems a bit different. Here's why: That doesn't sound honest. Sneaking around behind your back is a kitten of a different breed. While, yes, they had the right to be with each other, they didn't have the right to deceive you. Their loyalty to you was in the honesty.


Velvet, It's something we just know. When I was at that intersection, I knew I couldn't do it even one more day. It was over. The fact that R had invited me to his place was just perfect timing.

If your way of life is crushing you, you need to change it. Maybe there is a middle ground to be met.. something where you can continue on with those who depend on you.. but not have it be quite so top heavy.


QT, I wish I could cope with routine but I seem congenitally unable to deal with it for long. But if you work well with it and someone else is creating chaos around you, it's probably time to wish that person well and move on. :)


Flutter, I did that, too.. for too long. That is why I finally exploded.


Anonymous said...

I've been in this place so many times -- not doing something that (big picture) is important just so I can live up to my (small picture) responsibilities. I now try to remember the size of the pictures.


Anvilcloud said...

You did what you needed to do to survive mentally. I don't think you need to apologize for that. It was self-preservation and not selfishness and/or lack of consideration. At least that's my take. Happy New Year!

MsLittlePea said...

And aren't you glad you did? It probably saved your spirit.

Once again Chani, you have smacked me in the head with a question I have been asking myself for the past two days!ouch.
I have forced myself to stop helping a relative who refuses to help herself and continues to keep herself in 'victim' mode so she can conveniently blame everyone else for her problems. I've finally realized that this enables her to not see her own part in the unraveling of her life and she refuses to listen or acknowledge that she is allowing her own anger to rule over her. I have spent the better part of my life worrying over her, advocating for her, trying to protect her from herself to the point where it feels like that's all I do and I just can't do it anymore. Everyone always tells me that she doesn't even deserve my concern but I love her anyway and I know that I'm the only one she had left. I sometimes felt like I didn't have the energy for anything else-I'm constantly worried about her and her safety, so I have to stop and take a step back. And to answer your question, that is the point I am willing to risk disappointing a person to find some balance.

thailandchani said...

Emily, I like the way you put that. Quite honestly, I know I'm bad at responsibility and will probably pay for this life in the next one. :)


Anvil, at the end of the day, yes.. exactly. It was self-preservation.


MsPea, yes, I am glad I did it.. and it sounds like you've done just the right thing, too. There are energy vampires in this world.


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Oh, Chani, this is exactly what I'm trying to learn to do at the ripe old age of 48. And I think there is a huge difference between "harm" and "inconvenience". So often, I feel that especially as women we just say "yes". We fulfill our obligations. Sometimes it's so important for us to strike our own paths. When you truly follow your heart, if you strive for kindness as a person, I think it's hard to truly "harm" others.

ewe are here said...

What a wonderful post.

I agree that we do have an obligation to try to find our own balance, because without balance, what good are we to anybody including ourselves? I know that I've disappointed and even hurt people in the past when I've had to go off and find the balance of which you write. I've tried to repair some of those hurts, but I'll admit, some were irreparable. But truth is, I'd do it again because it needed to be done.

Jodi said...


I love the questions you ask. I think I've been at that stop light several times over the past couple of yearse (well, not literally). I've been desperate to quit my job and do something meaningful and true to myself. it's really easy for me not to do that with two kids and a husband. but i know if i don't do something i'll just keep pulling up to that intersection and crying...

thanks so much for writing about all of this.

TIV: the individual voice said...

That was an amazingly courageous act that turned out to be so true to yourself and possibly life-saving. I feel obligated to earn money for my children's college education. They are such good kids, and my parents, immigrants, were so generous with me. But my work...oh, my work! I've cut it to half time. That's the best I can do to compromise.

Dandelion seeds said...

as much as I know that intellectually, I am afraid to take that step emotionally. your post really hit home for me and I thank you for writing it. I am taking a big first step for me and booking a weekend away. alone.

I so need this.

thailandchani said...

Jen, that is true. I know.. as in *know*.. that if I'd chosen a conventional life with household responsibilities and kids, I would be absolutely miserable. That's as truthful as I can be.

I'm too much of a nomad, too self-determined, to adjust.

As you say, it's much easier to be kind under these circumstances.


Ewe, I've left behind some collateral damage in the past, too. It's impossible to live free and not create some of that.. especially when others think they know what is best for us, even when it squeezes our souls too much.


Jodi, I hope you do something. Crying at intersections is no way to live.

I did it for a long, long time before something inside of me just snapped. I knew.. that day and a few beyond.. that I couldn't live and continue doing it.


TIV, yes.. I know kids change everything. Maybe this flaw in me is why I have not been trusted with them this time around. When I think back, you know, in the early 70s.. I was young, lived with my boyfriend and we "did it" the way most young people do.. meaning "like rabbits".. and I never got pregnant. Sometimes the universe works as it should. :)


Dandelion, you can bet I'll be reading your post about your weekend away. I wonder what you will think about.. what you will conclude. :)


Anonymous said...

I find it pretty easy to go after what I want at the time. I'm just not particularly successful at choosing things that work in the long run. Still looking...

KC said...

I agree we need a full well first. We can't give when we're not whole.

Mary said...


You didn't do anything wrong. You saved yourself with few consequences. No lives lost - you gained yours.

Obligations are important to me but I would not hesitate to walk off a job if I felt desperate. No harm done.


slouching mom said...

Twice in my life I've needed to do what you did. And I have felt absolutely justified in doing so.

Because in each case, it was a matter of life or death for me. There was only one way out, and I couldn't concern myself with the consequences for others. There was too much at stake.


Christine said...

i have always been too tied to obligation, responsibility, etc. i've pretty much never allowed myself to do anything close to what you did, even on the smallest of scales.

i wish i had.

i hate using the word regret, but sometimes that word creeps into my head and heart anyway. . .

Running on empty

jen said...

this is a terrific provoking post and the comments only enhance your thoughts.

i feel that i am facing some of this now - so many people IRL think us leaving the country is a horrible idea - so much judgment is shared and yet at the same time i really feel it's right and yet that judgment clouds my heart and makes it hard.

jen said...

this is a terrific provoking post and the comments only enhance your thoughts.

i feel that i am facing some of this now - so many people IRL think us leaving the country is a horrible idea - so much judgment is shared and yet at the same time i really feel it's right and yet that judgment clouds my heart and makes it hard.

painted maypole said...

wow - that's a tough question...i don't think I know.. but hopefully if I'm in that kind of situation, I will.

I'm glad you made the right decision for you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

While it's always nice to be considerate of others and to make them happy, our greatest obligation is to save our own lives.

No one else can do it. It is always an inside job.

Your life was killing you, so it is irrelevant that you had a pretty good job and a great boss. The life style you were living was detrimental to your health, emotional and physical, and you had an epiphany because you were ready.

I have gone to extremes on occasion to find balance in my life. I haven't always been successful, but have always recognized the need and the fact that when it is not met, our souls wither and die.

Those who truly love us should not be disappointed when we attempt to become more whole, for they also have a responsibility to support and encourage us.

Mariposa said...

You made me think again...

"Where does obligation end and how far can we go to find our own balance, even if it hurts other people?" will be with me for sometime I know...not as a question...but as a prayer...wishing I find courage to do what I need to do even if hurts other people...people who cares for me...and whom I care.

I'm going to work in 2 hours...will have coffee and I will think about this again...

I will keep reading your old posts...maybe, just maybe...I can get some strength from there.

thailandchani said...

DE, I just happened on Thailand. Really. I never would have come to that myself. It was R. who nudged me in that area. He picked. If it was up to me, I'd still be wallowing around in Tucson.


KC, that was a hard one for me to reconcile because I thought it was "selfish". While I no longer see it that way, I know it has to be balanced against all sorts of other eventualities.


Mary, with jobs.. I've never had any reservations which is why I have a very sketchy resume. There's no stake in being miserable 5 days out of the week. For 11 years I stayed at the same place until they introduced "the new corporate culture". I had to walk.


SM, yes, I do KWYM.


Christine, that was the possibility I couldn't live with. It was a fight or flight reaction to my own impending spiritual or maybe even physical death.


Jen, no one else's judgement should stop you from doing what you know is right for you and your family. I doubt very much it is your well-being they are concerned with. It is their own.


Maypole, thanks. :) Yes. It was the right and the only decision.


Susan, that's a good point. As I said above, other people's judgements or other people's not supporting us rarely has to do with our own well-being. It's for their own.

Of course, I don't mean intervention in really serious issues like substance abuse, etc.


Mariposa, I don't know that there's any particular wisdom in my archives.. but maybe you'll find something of use. The comments are probably the best resource. See the comment from HeartsInSanFrancisco above. That's the benchmark. :)


Jen M. said...

I don't know how to answer that.

But you have me thinking.

Wonderful post.

Carla said...

You have a lot of guts and were far more courageous than many would have been. Sometimes we just need to follow our heart...otherwise we wake up one day and realize all the days / weeks / years that we haven't truly been living. Like you said, what you did was not actually harmful to anyone. It might have inconvenienced them, but it is your life and you can't spend it trying to make sure that everyone is pleased with you.

Anonymous said...
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Janet said...

Awesome, awesome question.

I don't know the answer. I have always been such a pleaser. I just don't know.