II often find myself using the phrase “I need to find a balance” or “strike a balance.” How do we do that 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, enjoying the present and thinking about whatever’s next. 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 prepared to move from Portland to Denver. My son and I spent the last month with friends expressing gratitude and saying goodbye. As a parent, I often am in the auto pilot role of parenting–busy correcting behavior and managing needs. Sometimes I do this to the point that I struggle to find the balance between hovering and appreciating the little person my son is becoming. By striking the balance between over-active parenting and observing, I can more effectively receive the gifts of being a parent.
Lately, my clients (and I) have been trying to find balance amidst the current political and social climate . It can seem impossible to find mental calmness when we are inundated with stories and experiences of injustice. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by what we have little influence over, but there are very powerful strategies that can restore balance in these turbulent times.
The Starfish Story is one way to restore balance. It reminds me that I should; “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?
1) Go slow. I know going slow can be either a privilege or seemingly impossible. But building in a few minutes of ‘slow time’ every day feeds your nervous system and your soul.
2) Reflect regularly. It is easy to be swept up in the busy-ness of our complicated, full lives. Reflection helps connect us with our deeper purpose and with those with whom we share our lives.
3) Practice forgiveness. There are very few areas of life where compromise is not useful. Go easy on yourself and others and remember that grudges and judgment prevent us from experiencing an expansive life.
4) Start small. It can be enticing to start the week by trying a bunch of new practices and strategies. Instead, choose one new mindset or behavior to try for a month and take note of how it feels and the changes that ensue.
5) Begin again. In mindfulness practices, we don’t judge our own humanity, rather we accept that we are deeply human. If today was not one of balance, tomorrow we always have the opportunity to start over.
“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.