The other day I was struck by the connection between living our lives and a type of pastry dough. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, describes phyllo (filo or fillo) dough or pastry as “paper-thin sheets of raw, unleavened flour dough used for making pastries in Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern Cookery.” Another similar baking technique that also layers many thin layers of dough is called puff pastry, and is more French in origin. I was pondering the multi-layering techniques that these baking products require and realized they are symbolic of life in many respects.
These days it is easy to become stressed from many different, and sometimes conflicting, demands placed upon us by life in general. Essentially, we don’t live our lives as a single entity in a complete form, but as a composite and multifaceted lifestyle that is composed of many different and separate pieces of what is a very complex mosaic – and hence the reference to phyllo dough and puff pastry. In an attempt to at times be “all things to all people” we soon discover that it becomes an almost impossible task. In order to simplify our lives, one approach which I equate to the philosophy of Holistic Living is to deconstruct our lives to unveil this multitude of layers that we carry with us daily.
When anything is layered on top of other materials, the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” comes into play. Add heat, stress, weather and time and these layers can become bonded or stuck together, stale, mildewy or moldy – and very dysfunctional. I propose that the best way to de-stress and detoxify your life is to peel back and identify all the layers of work, family, demands, responsibilities, relationships, hobbies and sports – and do some personal housekeeping and take inventory of what you find. At first you may find that you don’t even recognize some of the layers that you peel back, and after a thorough cleaning and perhaps further lab analysis, you will recognize a part of your life that you have been carrying around for a long, long time. In a way we become pack rats, carrying things in our lives that we no longer recognize or have a purpose for.
As we peel back the layers, clean them up and identify them, we can make a list of all the many aspects of our lives. A few possible layers that we might carry with us, in no particular order are: family, friendships, work, faith, budgets, children, sports, investments, attitude, responsibility, nutrition, commuting, marriage, household management, food preparation, housekeeping, shopping, exercise, correspondence, entertainment, relationships, bills, charity, dinners out, TV viewing, smoking, hobbies, savings, alcohol, education, forgiveness, worship, sports, dieting, sex, reconciliation, relationships, parents, health, diets, impulsiveness, and anger. The list is almost endless, with different aspects and influences that push or pull our lives in many different directions. These commitments can be liberating if we channel them in a productive manner, or they can shackle us and render us helpless to them.
In a holistic approach to living, we should be defining who we are and what our lives are to be, and not allow life to define us by default. Once we peel back all of the layers, clean them up and identify them – then we can begin to define which ones we choose to carry with us into the future and how they will be allowed to participate or affect our lives. We define the limits and magnitudes that each layer is allowed back into our lives. By defining our relationships and responsibilities we can identify what aspects of our lives need improvement and focus our attention in defining roles and responsibilities. For example, if work is crowding out the other aspects of life from the space they need, we can adjust or modify our work lives to become more complete individuals. If we are involved in every good intentioned project and relationship, yet have little room left over for our family, then again we can readjust our priorities.
By taking the time to disentangle all of our relationships and commitments we can see what’s working and what isn’t. If we focus our attention outwards but neglect our faith life or health, we end up living unbalanced lives. It is only by taking the time to analyze our lives, and after first deconstructing our commitments, begin to define what we choose to allow to be part of who we are and want to become. It is through this holistic approach to get down to basics that we can simplify everything that we are involved in. In a way, this is essentially a time management approach to life. How much time do I have in my day, and what priority do I assign the various aspects of what I have to do and choose to do. Priority equals time. A spouse that is regarded as a high priority part of our life should be allowed to have the corresponding time in it as well. Work has a portion of time allotted to it, but perhaps our commuting time is throwing everything else out of balance. Perhaps our diet, nutrition and health have been neglected along with the exercise that we need. Perhaps the entertainment time that we have prioritized has crowded out essential household responsibilities that have become neglected.
A holistic approach to life is a balance of priorities. When our lives become burdened and out of balance, they can come apart from stress – and the many dysfunctional aspects that “muck everything up.” By carefully deconstructing our lives, cleaning out all of the corners and letting the sunshine and fresh air back in, we begin to define ourselves, our relationships, our responsibilities and our attitude to both our self and to others – so that we can take control of our lives and not let our lives control us.