I often find myself using the phrase “I need to find a balance” or “strike a balance” when it comes to living my life. What does that really mean and how do we do it, especially when our life or community can feel like they are in turmoil? We may be striving to find a balance between work and play, exercise and rest, healthy eating and indulging, talking and listening, silly and serious, active and relaxed, present and auto pilot, social time and alone time, to enjoying the present to thinking about what else you need to do. The list can go on and on. The work of finding balance, I believe, is pivotal in maintaining an equanimity (mental calmness, composure) that allows us to participate effectively in our families and communities.
A personal example showed up recently for me as our family prepares to move from Portland to Denver. My son and I have spent the last month with friends expressing gratitude and saying goodbye. I have worked to sit back and watch and appreciate the way other people love and see my child. As a parent I often am in the auto pilot role of parenting. Busy correcting behavior and managing needs. Sometimes to the point that I forget to find the balance between parenting and sitting back and admiring and appreciating the little person my son is becoming. By striking the balance between active parenting and stepping back and watching, I can more effectively be present with my son, enjoy him, and relax and receive the gifts of being a parent.
Another common area that comes up with clients, and me, is how to find balance amidst the current political and social climate of our country? How do we find a mental calmness when we are inundated with stories and experiences of injustice, some so horrific we feel rocked to our core. I do not have an easy answer to this other than doing the work to not get swept up in it to a point that we lose our sense of connectedness to the day to day beauty and good that is out there. Or to lose sight of our influence in small ways. A smile or a compliment to a stranger can make a difference in a way we may never know. I often share the starfish story with my clients which has been adapted in many ways. It reminds me of the mantra I practice when I’m feeling swept up in a belief of I can’t do enough and that is; “Do the good that is right in front of me.” Here is one version of the starfish story;
While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”
I know for me smaller, simpler kind deeds give me the energy to believe all our actions matter. Furthermore, it propels me to access a more balanced (grounded) state of mind which allows me to stay informed of what is happening in our communities and not shut myself off. To ultimately be able to respond and participate more effectively in my community.
So, how do you live a balanced life during an imbalanced time? I recommend finding moments to slow down, pause, check in with yourself. I realize slowing down can seem like a privilege if your life is filled with numerous stressors that have you in a place of survival mode. So, meet yourself where you are at, start small, maybe you find that pause in the shower in the morning or for a few minutes before you jump out of bed in the morning. Ask yourself where are you struggling to show up effectively or from a space of calm or composure? Is it in your life at work, with family, friends, or in your community? What are you fixating on or spinning on without forward movement? What are you ignoring or missing out on by keeping your focus on that area that has you spinning?
“Life is a Balance between Holding On and Letting Go” – Rumi
May you find the balance to step back and see with a relaxed and open heart, to hold on to what matters, and to let go of what takes you away from that which matters most.