Finding Balance Everyday
Finding Balance Everyday
I’m an extreme person. I am a graduate of the ‘Boom and Bust’ school and have several degrees in the art of ‘All or Nothingness’. My natural temperament is to go flat out and throw everything at every project, not just the kitchen sink but all the plumbing and some of the building too. I used to like motorbikes, heavy metal and extreme water sports and have had a couple of narrow escapes from drowning. My friends described me as an adrenalin junky and for several years I relied on caffeine to give me the energy I needed to keep going.
So how does an adrenalin junky end up teaching meditation when you are meant to sit still?
Good question! Well, it turns out that the art of ‘All or Nothingness’ is great whilst you are able to keep doing the ‘All’ part, but eventually you hit the ‘Nothingness’ and that’s a real come down for us adrenalin seekers. How I went from self-destructive behaviour to meditation is a long story, but what I think is relevant here is how I came to eventually find a way of balancing my driven ‘doing’ behaviour with more ‘being’, and how this led to a place of equilibrium and more contentment.
Having reached a major ‘Bust’ where my body completely gave up on me for several months, and not for the first time, I decided to rethink, and one of the major changes I made was to give myself more time to meditate. I really needed to focus on what was going on, why had I pushed myself so hard? What was I neglecting? As I slowly worked through this, sometimes alone and sometimes in classes, I had to face the reasons for my striving behaviour and lack of self-care. I then had to form an intention to balance my ‘doing’ with ‘being’, to re-evaluate my priorities, which basically boiled down to being a) alive and b) healthy enough to enjoy my family and stick around in a meaningful way for as long as possible.
I didn’t get all this sussed in one go! It has taken years of trial and error but there is far more balance in my life now and everything I undertake has meaning for me in some way. That has become my pivot balance so when I am unbalanced the question I ask is ‘where is my energy going? Is it serving me or those I care about (which includes those I teach and those groups I feel drawn to serve)?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then I need to re-evaluate.
I have also come to realise that one of the rewards I craved through my adrenalin fuelled activities was that sense of being totally in the moment. When you are surrounded by tons of crashing water and dangerous rocks you need to be completely focused, it could be a matter of life and death. You need to pay attention to your body and your surroundings without distracting thoughts. Mindfulness helps us to access this ability to be in the moment, to be fully present, without having to put the body in danger, and in many more daily situations, so we can bring clarity and balance to the more mundane aspects of our lives and find peace and contentment there.
The Autumn Equinox and our Ancestral Teachings
Our ancestors understood an essential truth which we have lost in our modern societies and that is the importance of recognising what is changing in the natural world around us. We have become obsessed with controlling our environments to the extent that we have lost touch with the natural rhythms surrounding us.
The Equinoxes (one in the Spring and one in Autumn) are days where the balance between night and day are equal, and as such are an excellent reminder for us to evaluate equilibrium, or balance, in our own lives. We do not need to attach any spiritual significance to these events for them to support our mental well-being, we can simply recognise them as signposts, or notifications from the earth, that we need to pause and consider how we are conducting our lives right now. Doing that a few times each year can’t be a bad thing!
Our society actually encourages ‘Boom or Bust’ in our schools, workplaces, advertising and so on, very few employers encourage employees to consider their work/life balance seriously. It’s often a box to be ticked so that it gets a mention but that’s about it. How many bosses take an employee to one side and say ‘I think you are working too many hours, make sure you finish on time and spend some more time relaxing or with your family’ unless things have reached a crisis point with the employee’s health or productivity? It is far more likely that the same person will be told, ‘since you are doing so well managing X, Y and Z, I’m going to give you A and possibly B to manage too’. It sounds like a compliment (I’ve been there) but it is an unhealthy expectation that puts huge pressure on the individual.
And it’s not just at work either, I see Mums juggling work, childcare and housework, practically drowning under the strain but just accepting it as normal life because we have such a huge expectation that women should just carry on without complaining.
There is no balance.
This societal problem is causing real harm to mental and physical health across all sectors of society in most developed countries in the world. I could add that it causes environmental problems too, but that is another topic.
Autumn is also a time of harvesting, gathering in what we have grown over the year, so it is a good time to see what we are left with. If our efforts have been fruitful, we can celebrate this, but if all our energies have been spent with little to show for them, this is a cause for reconsidering how we are living our lives and if we can make any useful changes.
Change starts with individuals.
Change is hard and it takes courage but we don’t need to change everything all at once. That would be a return to the ‘All or Nothing’ school and we have already established that that isn’t healthy. If we want change to work long-term, we need to just pick something small and achievable and focus on that. Do I get enough sleep or exercise? Do I spend any time on my own self-care?
Balance Through Connection
One way we can achieve balance, and there is a lot of scientific evidence for this, is through connection. Dr. Laurie Santos (Dr. Laurie Santos (drlauriesantos.com)) has done a lot of work on the importance of connecting with others for maintaining our equilibrium and positive sense of self, and Dacher Keltner has researched the ways in which nature can produce a sense of awe and how important this is for feeling connected and balanced in life (see Why Do We Feel Awe? | Greater Good (berkeley.edu) so it could be that some simple steps like spending more time out in nature or with loved ones can make a tangible difference to our sense of balance and therefore our well-being.
Tess Ward, teacher and author, reminds us that this idea of balance through connecting our bodies with the earth became seen as feminine and therefore of less importance than other pursuits, so the equinox gives us a chance to redress this balance too, the over-emphasis in modern societies of traditionally ‘male’ spheres of academic, financial and material goals at the cost of more ‘female’ experiences around emotional connections and community.
When we are out of balance we don’t feel good. We just feel off. It may not be major, we may not reach crisis, but we just know we don’t feel how we want to feel, and we often don’t know why. The pandemic has reduced our opportunities to connect in meaningful ways and many researchers believe that this could explain the rise in low-grade unhappiness in society at the moment.
A Short Reconnecting Practice for Balance
You may like to try the meditation below to help restore a sense of balance or you could just make a list of which activities deplete your energy, and which restore your energy, and see if there is a mismatch here. This can help us make decisions about where we want our energy to go.
Begin by finding a comfortable place to sit or lie and take a few centering breaths remembering that this in itself helps the body find its place of balance between stress reactivity states and rest and healing states.
Imagine that you are in a forest surrounded by tall trees and a beautiful canopy of green leaves. As you stand here you can sense the trees breathing, hear the leaves moving in the breeze, and as you lean your ear to the trunk of the nearest tree you can hear the sap rising like a pulse from the roots to the leaves.
This forest is not a haphazard group of individual trees, but a community, almost a single living entity, connected through their root systems, by the chemical messages they release into the air and by the network of fungi through which the mother tree communicates directly with her offspring. The forest keeps its balance through this communication and connectedness, working together to support each other as much as possible.
As you recognise this connection, start to feel your own connectedness, with this forest, with the earth beneath you, the air around you, and really enjoy this sense of connectedness. You may like to bring to mind people who support you and your own support network. Gently investigate whether you feel enough connection in your life to keep yourself balanced and where this might need change.
You may like to end the practice by forming an intention to start with a small change which can bring the positive effects of balance into your life, and then let the images fade and bring your awareness back to your body and where you are sitting or lying right now.
Spend as much or as little time you have available in the forest, soaking up the sensations so that you can recognise them easily when you encounter them in your own life.
However you choose to address balance in your life, I wish you all the blessings of the season and look forward to working with many of you on these themes over the coming weeks.