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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Matter of Balance

Balance. I've been thinking a lot lately about what this means and how to achieve more of it in my daily life.

A number of years ago I came across the Hopi Indian word Koyaanisqatsi, which means 'crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living'. The Hopi also have a rock drawing that shows two paths that man can take: one is of upward mobility - that of technology and success but separate from natural and spiritual law - and it leads to these jagged lines representing chaos. The lower path is a simple one that remains in harmony with natural law. They believe that if we continue on the upper path, we will come to destruction, but if we follow the lower path, we will regain balance and paradise once more. When I read about these concepts I had just finished an intense graduate program at a prestigious university to which I had been commuting two hours one-way. To say it was a 'crazy life, life out of balance, a state that calls for another way of living' is an understatement.

I started to look around. We are all living at such a fast pace. And when we do, how do we find time for the stillness of life? That place where we find quiet depth and peace? We cram in a quick latte before the hectic drive to work… we jostle for the best position on the commuter train and ignore our neighbor… we scan our blackberry sixty times a day to tell us what we are actually doing in a day stuffed with so many activities we can’t possibly keep track of them… we multi-task using cell-phones, wireless laptops, and blackberries to accomplish what three people would otherwise do to impress our boss and keep our job… we organize then reorganize our spouse’s and children’s daily activities so they don’t get bored… We are a whole planet careering toward burn-out.

I began to think, 'what am I doing this for? Is it so that others can see my accomplishments? Is it to satisfy my own ego?' And so I gave it up - the plans I had made and the career I had chosen - and I haven't glanced back since. To quote Frost, I've taken the path less traveled and that has made all the difference. Since then, I've been on a quest for greater balance and living a life that is more mindful and connected - for although I had chosen the path away from turmoil and crazy living, it was still just the first steps on a journey of discovery that I am still on.

Finding balance is like tuning an instrument. If you are too high-strung, not only will the music not sound right, but your cords are likely to snap. If you are too slack no music can be made at all. In this uni-verse (the one song of all life), we are each called to sing the melody of our lives - each is different and yet it should hopefully be in harmony with the rest of the song.

In his four-part series called “Sacred Balance”, Dr. David Suzuki made an interesting discovery when he had his heart tested with Dr. Ari Goldberger, a Cardiologist at Harvard. When Goldberger mapped Suzuki’s healthy heart tracing to musical notes, what he revealed was that the healthy heart actually finds its own shifting harmony. What emerged was a dancing symphony of complex variability. When Goldberger contrasted the healthy heart tracing with one of a patient who had suffered heart failure, the tuneful variability collapsed into a monotonic repetitious drone. “Health represents a remarkable balance between excessive order on the one hand—things being over-structured—and complete randomness on the other, where there’s physiological anarchy. Healthy systems like to be there; they don’t sit still. They’re always fidgeting. They’re ready for everything.”

Finding balance doesn't mean doing yoga all day and chanting. It doesn't mean shutting yourself off from the world and your daily tasks. It means living a life of connection to all things and people around you and joyfully participating in it. If you've read the book or seen the movie Eat, Pray, Love, I think it truly illustrates the concept of finding balance. She realized her life was in turmoil and she choose a different path. In Italy, she indulged her senses - although perhaps a little too much and she had to buy bigger jeans! In India, she spent her days tucked away and found her connection with God. In Bali, she found balance between these two and she found love.

When I think about balance, I think about dance. Balance is not simply about walking a fine line or tight rope. It is about moving in such a way that is pleasing and joyful both to you and to those around you. And there are many ways of dancing - whether it be ballet, hip hop, stomp, jazz, tap, acrobatics or gymnastics or some kind of modern funky thing that I don't have a name for. But dance is always creative and inspiring. When someone is dancing, I can't help but look at them.

Sometimes I don't realize I'm out of balance until I start complaining or feeling sad. Then I have to look at what I've been doing (or not doing) that is putting me in that state. Emotions are good indicators to ourselves of the healthiness of our lives. Just like we need certain things to keep our bodies healthy, we also need certain things to keep a balanced life. The following are three keys to finding balance. I didn't write this part, but I couldn't have said it better.

Quiet time.
One of the first things we tend to sacrifice when we’re busy is our personal time. Instead we devote all of our energy and attention to caring for others, multi-tasking, meeting responsibilities and “being productive.” Over time this depletes our energy and we begin to feel more and more burdened by our responsibilities.
To live a more balanced life, quiet time to yourself is crucial. You may believe that you don’t have any time available for yourself, but something amazing happens when you consistently make time. Soon you’ll find yourself feeling happier and more energetic, your focus improves and you still get plenty done! Just a few minutes spent sitting quietly in meditation or reading a book can do wonders in transforming stress into peace and happiness.

Beyond making time for things you enjoy, there are other ways to nurture and love yourself on a daily basis. Getting a full 8 hours of sleep (or as much as you personally need) is a great start, as well as eating nutritious food, exercising daily and speaking kindly to yourself.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re really tired or stressed, even the smallest problem can seem like a nightmare? On the other hand, when you’re feeling well-rested and centered, you’re much better able to handle upsets. Caring for yourself is one sure way to consistently replenish your energy, inner peace and joy – which means you’ll have the strength to handle whatever comes your way.

Did you know that one of the biggest causes of stress is rigid expectations? We all do it from time to time. We get a mental picture of how our lives “should be” and get really annoyed when our circumstances don’t cooperate! One of the biggest gifts you can give yourself is a flexible state of mind. In other words, learn how to detach from unrealistic expectations and go with the flow.
When you have a flexible mind-set, you’re able to deal with crises and problems much more easily because you’re not working against a preconceived notion of how things “should be”. You’re able to tap into your creative problem-solving skills and move through challenges without all the drama and frustration. Be like the tree that bends with the breeze and you’ll be less likely to break.

These inner changes can make a dramatic difference in your state of well-being, but you may also want to examine your life circumstances and see if there are other small changes you can make to help support you overall. For example, you might choose to let go of certain obligations that are no longer meaningful or enjoyable to you. Be willing to let go of activities that no longer complement the lifestyle you desire, and you’ll create a space for greater fulfillment, joy and peace.

I hope you have a lovely and peaceful day!

A Whole Lotta Balance,

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