Seeking for a balanced life
A participant in our Qigong classes who had not attended for a long time recently reached out and shared her experience: "Work has been demanding, and I've lost my balance. Hoping to recenter and get back into practice."
Her words resonate with many of us who have been on similar journeys. For a significant part of my adult life, I danced on the tightrope of imbalance. My days were composed of excessive work, insufficient sleep, repetitive meals, and inadequate exercise. And in the “busyness” of my life, there was no room to face and process emotions, whether it was the deep sorrow of loss or simply the joy of a butterfly flying from flower to flower.
Just like my student, like all of us, I wanted to have a balanced life. I wanted to be healthy, spend quality time with my children, contribute meaningfully to society through my work, meet friends, laugh and take time for myself. I had all the best intentions in all areas of my life, but I stayed away from the very things that were most beneficial and brought harmony and an overall sense of well-being to my life. My body and mind kept sending me signals begging me to restore balance. But I was too busy to listen or even hear.
Keeping a life balanced in a continual flow is not easy. And it’s not a one-time achievement; it’s a continuous journey along a spectrum. There are times when life demands a lot from us and we must dedicate ourselves fully to it. Caring for young children, an elderly person or a sick person, for example, demands the best from us and requires our full attention.
At other times, it is our job or our service to the community that requires us to put aside all other things in our lives and roll up our sleeves to do what is required of us. I believe that when we deliberately choose to devote all of our energy to a specific task or project, we can then find a sense of balance amidst the excessive work or energy that is required in a particular sphere of our lives. Especially if this is a temporary situation and we have tools and practices to mitigate the challenge as it arises.
However, temporary challenges can become unhealthy when they become the new “normal life” or if we are pulled in one direction against our own will. Our cultural and economic model often imposes on us a sense of urgency. Things have to be done now, in a specific way, or everything will fall apart (and maybe that's true!). And alongside this vision of how things should be, we are sold the idea that happiness consists of exhausting ourselves working to earn money and “rewarding” ourselves by buying things.
And even if we want to withdraw from the mainstream, our primal needs for connection and belonging will kick in and subconsciously remind us of the importance of being part of the tribe and belonging to the majority. Our nervous system interprets this as a much safer place than the fear and risk of being rejected and therefore exposed to danger and the possibility of not getting our share of the pie. At least that was true back when we had to escape a terrifying predator. So, we push ourselves. And we accept to live “permanently” from an unbalanced place. And that’s when the internal conflicts emerge that eat away at us from within. We blame ourselves for working too much AND feel ashamed if we take a day off because we need to stop, rest, and take care of ourselves. Shame is an insidious feeling that, for most of us, is fueled by a stubborn feeling of not doing, not having, or being enough.
I remember that as a mother of young children, I often felt torn between the needs of my family and the demands of my job. I was at my desk, longing to be with my loved ones, and at home, the ever-present workload cast its shadow over precious family time. The struggle between my responsibilities as a mother and an entrepreneur has left me physically and mentally unwell. So much so that I finally reached a point of no return, a threshold where I had to choose a different path. My physical and mental health had deteriorated and I could no longer bear the weight of an unbalanced life.
So, how can we evolve in the ever-changing landscape of life?
The first key to initiate any transformation is awareness. Bringing our mindful attention to our daily lives and observe what is really happening. This helps us recognize when and how we are losing balance and then gives us clues about what we need to do to cultivate better harmony and return to balance. When we go into our lives on the autopilot, we may not notice the subtle but crucial messages our body and mind are sending us.
Mindfulness practices of all kinds teach us how to live with intention and navigate the different spheres of our life with ease and openness. Additionally, they allow us to fully recognize our own unique experience and respond consciously, instead of reacting, to each moment.
Cultivating a sense of balance and harmony does not mean we live happily ever after and not face any challenges or imbalances from now on. Rather, living a balanced life is about honoring and embracing both darkness and light; savoring the day as much as we love the night.
Among the cultural and social trends, there is this idea that being sad or angry, for example, is not acceptable. That we should have a big smile on our face all the time. That’s happiness, isn’t it?! But this is not true. It's okay to not be okay at times. Feeling the discomfort of certain strong emotions and feelings is not bad. It’s part of the broader spectrum of what it means to be human. And, whether we are in a moment of pure joy or experiencing a tragic loss from which deep sorrow arises, embracing and accepting these experiences fully, realizing that they are but clouds passing in the vast sky of our lives, brings harmony, stability and balance to our experience.
When we view life through the lens of criticism and negativity, we inadvertently invite imbalance into our lives. It's as if everything is veering off course, and we carry this underlying unease and disharmony within us. One profound antidote to this dissonance is the practice of gratitude, compassion, and, perhaps most importantly, self-compassion.
These practices serve as a soothing balm to the sometimes turbulent journey of life, helping us discover profound peace and inner harmony. Life offers an abundance of gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Yet, when we become entangled in the stories of scarcity and longing we often tell ourselves, we lose sight of the vast spectrum of beauty and harmony that unfolds before us. Gratitude teaches us to cherish each moment, to find contentment in the simplest of pleasures, and to appreciate the complexity of our existence. Compassion, both for others and ourselves, nurtures bonds of connection, leading us towards a state of inner tranquility. And self-compassion, in particular, serves as an anchor during life's storms, allowing us to face the challenges with grace and resilience.
In the world of constant movement and change that we live in, there is only one constant and that is change itself. This simple truth reminds us that the power to find balance lies in our hands. It is up to us to act in ways that help us restore balance and harmony. Once we recognize the signals of imbalance in our lives, once we recognize that we are off center, we can gently bring ourselves back into balance.
We continually have opportunities to learn more about ourselves. Discover why we are out of balance, what our triggers are and what practices nourish our well-being and help us harmonize our body, mind and heart. Identifying our priorities and setting our personal boundaries are effective ways to find peace and regain balance.
Drawing inspiration from nature
I like to think of this practice of cultivating balance and harmony in our lives as what nature does. I find my inspiration by observing how nature manages to maintain the fragile balance of all ecosystems. As the Fall Equinox approaches this week, I find myself reflecting on the profound wisdom of nature. The Equinox represents the tipping point within an eternal cycle, a reminder that light follows darkness, and day follows night. We are an integral part of this infinite and natural rhythm, and when we align our practices and lifestyles with the unfolding of nature, we find our balance.
Nature's symphony teaches us to find harmony amidst the chaos, to seek balance when the world pulls us in multiple directions. Just as trees grow leaves in Spring and then shed them in Fall, we too must honor the order and sequence of our lives. Work when it's time to work, rest when it's time to rest. As the famous Chinese Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu said: “Nature does not rush, yet everything is accomplished”.
The Fall Equinox, is both a time of balance and transition. It reminds us that life's journey is a continuous ebb and flow, much like the changing seasons. It's in this dance with the natural world that we find our own equilibrium. So, as we move forward, let's remember the beauty in every moment of balance and imbalance, and may we carry this wisdom with us as we journey toward greater balance and harmony in our own lives.