Joyce Kilmartin habitually drove down the street railing at anyone who got in her way.
A vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, she was a fast thinker, fast talker, fast driver. She had a closetful of expensive business suits. She lived in an all-Volvo neighborhood in Barrington, R.I., and she was angry all the time.
Finally she decided to put on the brakes. She took a detour from stress by signing up for piano lessons.
Kilmartin learned the bass clef from the treble clef, A major from A minor. She practiced and practiced. She eventually caught on. But her piano teacher had one complaint: Her playing lacked tone, a quality of depth and emotional richness.
“Honey,” the piano teacher said one day, “you need to develop an inner life.”
That day, Kilmartin drove away from her lesson confounded. She didn’t even know what that meant. An inner life?
Her search for an answer led her into a new world. She gave up the business suits, the career. She took a three-day course in Transcendental Meditation, she began to read books like Riane Eisler’s “The Chalice and the Blade,” and she launched into a master’s degree in theology.
Today, Kilmartin and a partner, Ellen Nelson, have started a new publishing business called Equilibrium, named for that element so long missing from Kilmartin’s life. They have written and published a life-assessment tool called The Personal Life Audit and Goal Planning Kit.
The kit comes packaged in a rich green box. It includes a 200-question life audit, divided into sections on mind, body, spirit, relations, work and play, as well as a personal journal, a pad of goal-planning sheets and a To Do book.
People who take the audit rank their comfort level on topics such as “the strength of your faith,” “your flexibility in handling conflicts” and even “your understanding of what it means to have an ‘inner life.”’
Kilmartin and Nelson resist the temptation to offer advice. Readers score their answers and devise their own goals.
Kilmartin and Nelson applied marketing research techniques they’d gained on the job.
Still, Kilmartin says, “It’s not meant to be scientific. It’s meant to make you start thinking.”
They have advertised in The New York Times Review of Books, Utne Reader and Psychology Today. Orders have come from as far away as Singapore and Athens.
“This is targeted at baby boomers in mid-life,” Kilmartin says. “There’s such a large group of people who are reassessing their lives.”
The idea evolved out of Kilmartin’s meditation sessions. Although each kit sells for $60, she hasn’t begun to recoup her investment. Evangelizing the message of balance, though, has become a mission.
“I feel like it’s my life’s calling,” Kilmartin says.
She’s learned to slow down, to find meaning. Years past, she and her family exchanged so many lavish Christmas presents that by the end of the holiday, she’d literally feel sick to her stomach at the excess.
Now she chairs a community project called Christmas in April instead which repairs homes for the elderly.
Kilmartin’s vision is that her new-found sense of harmony might have a ripple effect, spreading out in concentric circles to affect the lives of others around her. The life audit kit is a start.
And as for those piano lessons, Kilmartin keeps practicing. Her teacher has become a friend and mentor, and once in awhile her teacher hears a glimmer of something promising in Kilmartin’s music.
Says Kilmartin, “I’m finally barely touching the emotional part.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Charles Waltmire
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TEST YOUR PIECE OF MIND Here’s a brief audit of your self esteem and peace of mind. It’s from Equilibrium’s Personal Life Audit: For each question, give yourself one of the following scores. 1 = Extremely uncomfortable 2 = Somewhat uncomfortable 3 = Slightly uncomfortable 4 = Slightly more comfortable than uncomfortable 5 = Somewhat comfortable 6 = Extremely comfortable QUESTIONS How comfortable do you feel about: 1. The way you would describe yourself in an autobiography? 2. The way others would probably describe you? 3. The extent to which the life you lead reflects your authentic self? 4. The contribution you feel you are making toward a better life? 5. The level of education you have received? 6. The extent to which your education prepared you for current work or relationships? 7. The opportunity in your life to keep learning new things? 8. Your ability to find peace from being alone? 9. Your ability to quiet your mind when you need rest? 10. Your ability to activate your mind when need demands it? To score your answers, give yourself 1 point for each 1 answer, 2 points for each 2, 3 points for each 3, and so on. Add the total points. Divide your total points by 60 and move the decimal point two places. QUOTIENT SCORES: 84-100 = Extremely comfortable 67-83 = Somewhat comfortable 51-66 = Slightly more comfortable than uncomfortable 34-50 = Slightly uncomfortable 17-33 = Somewhat uncomfortable 0-16 = Extremely uncomfortable If your score falls in the uncomfortable range, take a look at specific questions with low scores and set personal goals in those areas.