When structure brings freedom

Structure creates freedom. I’ve seen this idea show up in several different places this week. It’s something I’ve talked about before, but it seems especially relevant right now.


I have a love/hate relationship with structure. I hate to have my time scheduled rigidly by someone else— work, mostly— but at the same time, a day with nothing to do is daunting. I know I have a tendency to be rigid about some things (I’m an Upholder)— I have to do my morning journaling, I have to have my coffee, I have to get to bed on time. These things are helpful, except when they aren’t— when I’m so attached to the structure that interrupting it makes me panic. I can’t always figure out when bending is the key to preventing a break. Similarly, too much structure is stifling. Without room to explore and react, there can be no creativity. There can be no authentic response. Why is structure so hard to balance? Like food, we need it, but too much or too little is bad. The right amount isn’t the same for everyone. And lots of outside forces impact how we interact with it.


We’ve had a close-up view of un-structuring in 2020, when much of our normal structure has vanished. Suddenly, it felt paralyzing to figure out dinner. Or what to wear. Or how to get a project started, let alone finished. When is it time to get up? Go for a run? Eat a meal? Absent the structures imposed on us by jobs and other duties, much of this was hard to manage. So much of the advice given to help manage life during the pandemic focused on adding back structure— keep regular hours, change clothes for work, have a dedicated space for your activities. With these little bits of structure back in our lives, the freedom to make progress began (maybe) to return. Reminder, self: get to bed on time. Go for a walk after lunch.


This concept of structure and freedom resonates with the physical body, too. In a yoga practice, asanas can teach us to find freedom through strength. We may gain range of motion through engaging and strengthening muscles, tissues, and breath. These actions create a feeling of spaciousness in the body. This literal, physical structure is freeing. Our bodies, also, crave routine— metaphorical structure. We sleep best with consistent hours. We get hungry at the times we normally eat. Our menstrual cycles follow patterns. 


Structure can also help us mark the passage of time. This is one reason why routines can be so comforting: they give structure and familiarity to our lives. In October, we get pumpkins. On Thanksgiving, we have cranberry sauce. In this year, things are bananas, but it still smells like fall leaves, and Starbucks still has Pumpkin Spice Lattes (not my thing, but whatever). This is part of the structure not of a day, but of a year, a decade, a life.

So, that is my challenge for this time:  What rituals and routines can I lean on to give enough structure to my life? 

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