balancing the surface and the deep

Balancing the Surface and the Deep

As the quiet days of January and deep winter settle upon us, I have been thinking of one of life’s greatest challenges: how to stay connected to the deeper more meaningful aspects of life while tending to the surface aspects of the never-ending, mundane tasks of our daily routines.

I always feel calmer, more peaceful, and more intentional when I have given myself time to be connected to my inner world. When I do this, I am left with a feeling of being soul-nourished.


When I let go of my “to do” lists and choose to focus on things that feed, renew, or inspire me, I begin to re-connect to the essence of who I truly am aside from all my roles and responsibilities.

I become aware of and hear the gentle whispers of the things that truly matter. I am more attuned to the natural world and see the wisdom in the trees, the sky, the moon, the seasons. I am more present to the voice within me that guides me and “knows” what will help me to live my best life. I am more present to my loved ones.


So much of my day is about the things that need to get done. And no matter how much we do, it seems as if the list goes on infinitely. When I only focus on the to-do’s, I feel more like a machine or robot instead of a living, breathing soul.

However, when I practice slowing down, and opening to the energy of life organically flowing around me, I become so much more than just a person madly trying to get to the end of my “to-do” list.


When I had breast cancer, life reminded me very quickly what was important and what was not important. I entered a time of living in the deep. I left behind the surface concerns during this time in my life. We all do this when faced with illness, crises or grave uncertainties. Life reminds us through the challenges that we are living, as poet, Mary Oliver states, “…one wild and precious life.”

In spite of the challenges and fears that breast cancer brought into my life, it also gave me a laser sharp focus about what was most important. It reminded me that life is so much more that whether or not the tasks get done.

I wanted to feel this focus forever, even after I recovered. I wanted to live from a place of deeper knowing and wisdom and intention. And I wanted to let go, permanently, of the things that truly did not matter and did not add to the quality of my life and did not help me to love myself and others.


And I did live this way for awhile… But, as the pressures and to-do’s and responsibilities of life seeped back into my routine, I was pulled away from the deep and once again got caught up in the trivial worries and concerns.

As Mark Nepo says, “We can feel and taste what is limitless but never stay there because being human by definition is to live here with limits.”

And so I left that “limitless” place of inner knowing and peace and went back to the place of the self imposed limits. I went back to tending to the details and trivialities. I went back to worrying about things that take my attention and time and prevent me from being connected to the things that truly matter.

However, now, the difference is that when I live too much on the surface and when I spend too much of my time trying to get things done, I am much more aware of the pull of the deep. It tugs on me. And so I create time to visit, tend to, and nurture this place within me.


So, this is our challenge as human beings: How do we take those experiences that bring us to our knees and use them to transform how we participate in life while accepting that we must also tend to the details of our lives?

We are born to do both. We are born to carve out intentional time to go deeply within, to be fed and nourished and to learn from something much greater than ourselves. And we are born to live on the surface of life and pay attention to chores and appointments and work and laundry.

I have learned that tending to the surface of my life is important. I have learned to find joy and satisfaction in accomplishing tasks. I have learned that finding my way back to the deep is equally important. I have learned to know when it is time to leave one place to tend to the other.


So how do we know when we have spent too much time on the surface and need to take a deep dive?

When we feel cranky, unsatisfied, impatient, or restless. When we feel frantic, distracted, or anxious. When we feel depressed, lost or confused. When we feel angry, resentful or jealous. When we feel tired, apathetic or empty. When we feel inadequate, unworthy or unloved.

All of these human experiences are soothed and better understood in the deep.


We all need to discover what helps us to dive deeply. We all need to discover how to experience the depth in addition to living on the surface. For some the deep is found in nature, for some in movement, for some music or writing or painting. For others it can be solitude and, still for others, it is being in a community of kindred spirits.


Whatever it is, we all need to cultivate those things so that we can access and nurture and feed our souls.

If this resonates with you today, I encourage you to take some time to reflect and identify what helps you to connect to that place deep within you in which you find your true self. The place you feel content and peaceful and deeply satisfied. The place that helps you to live better on the surface.

What would your discover if you gently, and with great courage, sought to be connected to your soul and your internal wisdom?

This is my hope for you: that you honor and love all parts of your life so much that you can’t help but seek out the deep as you learn to find joy on the surface.

Learning how to travel well between these two places in our lives and within ourselves helps us to create balance and feel an overall sense of well-being. Each informs the other. And both are necessary to live your fullest and most amazing life!

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couples and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience. She specializes in intimate relationships, sexual challenges, sacred sexuality, and helping clients embrace their true erotic nature. She supports women in discovering their most radiant, vibrant and powerful feminine essence.

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