I recently led a yoga class themed around the concept of balance, of grounding down symbolically through standing postures to counter a wave of vata energy that the spring time brings with it.
In tree pose, students started to look frustrated, struggling with their surroundings and battling with gravity. Some of us, determined to keep one leg on the ground, squint our eyebrows, stop breathing, and even tighten up in our toes and fingers. In these balancing postures, we often start to judge ourselves by comparing with others, or our yesterdays, and forget that much of life, and our yoga practice, is about surrendering.
The cultural notion of life as a balancing act can be a harmful and limiting one.
The idea of work/life balance, a trade-off between friends and solitude, substances and sobriety, or productivity and play, are all manufactured stories which make us think of our time as a swing from one end of an extreme to the other. Living this way, we start to play the game of give-and-take, push and pull, them versus us, for me or for you.
When we think of balance as a straight continuum between two polarities, activities such as running no longer serve as things we do for sheer enjoyment, for the feeling of simply being alive and present in our bodies, but are thought of as a means to counter a glass of wine, or an indulgence in desert. “Work” is viewed as a direct trade off between “life,” holding us back from dreaming up projects and getting involved with professional and entrepreneurial endeavors that we’re passionate about.
But what if life is more like one big circle that continues to expand, something like a loop, where each aspect of our lives can reinforce the others in a positive way?
We are happy, free, inspired, mindful, and grateful in all things—and each component is part of a whole, with a frequency that continues to elevate. Mindful work doesn’t need to compete against our passions but can embody them, improving our lives, and on a greater scale, the world around us.
In this paradigm, we don’t need to punish and reward, we simply need to tap into a flow and an inner knowing, an intuition. Instead of calculating for an optimal mix and empowering the monkey mind with planning in the process, we can make space to sink into the heart and feel what’s right in every moment.
Day by day. Right here, right now.
I remember a friend once told me that she was “afraid that I couldn’t find balance,” because I no longer felt compelled to drink heavily, or engage in other late night activities. While at points in my journey, I would have experienced self-doubt arise out of this interaction, I had become so tapped into truth, and I knew in my heart that this story was no longer true. I felt compassion for my friend because there had been more than a few times when I, at the depths of my loneliness and lack of direction, projected my condition on those around me and sought companions for my self-destructive behavior. I now know that no one requires mindless activities, substances, or a lack of sleep in their balancing formula, and I’m extremely grateful that I respected myself enough to ditch similar equations.
If I decide I’d like to share a beer with a friend—because I simply like the taste and I understand my relationship with alcohol—there is no need to feel guilt, or like I should “balance” it with anything else. When we’re embodying our truth and are grateful for the smallest of things, we don’t need to numb ourselves with alcohol, partying, or any other escapes. If we choose to engage, it’s our responsibility to cultivate a healthy relationship and make sure a dependence isn’t formed. I’m not perfect, and I’m in constant flux like the majority of us, but I can say confidently that I no longer stand in my own way, and I’m showing up—for myself, and not for anyone else’s notion about how I should live.
With balance, we start to associate certain things as “bad” and “good” and “right” and “wrong” and we lose our sense of intuition. I have gone through long stretches as both an “introvert” and an “extrovert,” and in realizing this, I see life as a constant ebb and flow.
What many of us need is more compassion, curiosity, and faith in ourselves. Most of us already have the self-discipline part down pretty well. We strive for optimal balance, and it’s an exhausting effort to comply with a mix of unrealistic standards.
When nature is in a true state of harmony, there is no fight. The sun feeds the world with love and light, never asking for a rest, or anything in return. Young are born and learn without formal education to survive and thrive. And what a beautiful world we live in. There is no calculation. Earth seems chaotic at times, shaken by volcanoes, earthquakes, and other natural phenomenon, yet Mother Nature has never rushed to balance. The islands, canyons, mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes which we humans marvel at took millions of years to form as she let things run their course with ease.
What if we offered ourselves the space—even just for five minutes—to stop running around, filling the time with planning and consumption, or words and movement, and just let things flow? It’s nice as a reminder to take a deep breath and just notice that we don’t have do so much, and that things tend to play out just fine when we stop grasping outside of ourselves.
When we find ease in balance, we start to enjoy the simple sensation of the weight swaying back and forth and through all parts of our lives. We show ourselves we’re not afraid to get right back up when we fall. We lift our gaze, meeting ourselves in our truth, and maybe even close our eyes, trusting. Trusting that everything is in its perfectly imperfect order, and that when we stop grasping outside of ourselves—for a life vest, for love, for any type of fulfillment—something beautiful happens. The sweet, soft joy and peace of wholeness appears at our center.
Sometimes, life feels like an unforgiving river, throwing obstacles at us and taking away those things that we’ve attached to so deeply. In this way, the flow becomes frightening, and fear clouds the river guide of the heart.
We forget that we can relax, and enjoy, and find excitement in the unknown. We see our brothers and sisters on the same river, and we help them on their way home. We share and laugh and love, and before we know it, we’ve reached our oasis.
We’re all travelers with something unique to offer, and we will all reach the end regardless of whether or not we recognize our inner strength, divinity, and completeness during our time on Earth. So instead of treading just above water, we can remember that we are masters of the flow and can relearn how to swim. Drop the equations and rethink what it means to be in harmony.
Sometimes, we veer off the path, and we remember again. Each time, we are humbled. Every time, we rise closer to our truth. We become one with our brothers and sisters, and let the river guide carry us home.