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Building Balance into Life: Part One of a Two-Part Series

Beautiful Day on the River
Beautiful Day on the River
Catherine Al-Meten

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” --Mahatma Gandhi

There are still a few more weeks of summer, yet for many of us, the new work year is beginning. Whether you work according to the academic calendar or set your own pace with your business, late-August and early September, and Labor Day signal the start of a new work year. For many, the summer has been busier than a regular work week. Summer is when we travel and have visitors. It’s a time we set aside to get things done that we don’t have time to take care of at other times of the year. The daylight hours increase in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather is nicer, albeit a little too hot sometimes. The hot weather gives us the chance to slow down, perhaps take a much-needed afternoon nap, or time to read a book or two.

What happens when we get ready to go back to work, or get ready for our next big projects, gigs, fall and winter schedules, or terms? Whether you are still enjoying summer, already back in the swing of things, or at the point of transition, it is a good idea to consider how you can bring more balance into the way you live life on a daily basis. The first in this series of articles, outlines some ways to take stock of where you are at this point, and what it is you need and desire in order to live more in harmony. The second article will be geared to outlining some ways to build more balance into the life you are living.

Who do I say I am? What kind of life have I set out for myself through the choices I’ve made or accepted, through the habits, patterns, and routines I’ve established, and in the ways I have channeled and used my energy, resources, and talents?

You may ask yourself, “Am I ready to get started?” For many of us, we have either had just enough time to begin to relax or we have filled our summer with so many activities, we have worn ourselves out. How has your summer been, and where is your energy out of balance? After decades of a career in academics, I got used to living by the school year calendar. In the middle of one term I was preparing for the next, or putting the finishing touches on something from the past. Thinking on multiple levels and balancing many diverse and even conflicting needs, became the norm. Caring for children, aging parents, marriage, homemaking, and oh yes, myself, became a studied practice of mindfulness. That’s the only way I was able to keep my sanity, health, and focus.

When I decided to run my own life and businesses, I carried some of the same skills and habits I had used for many years, into my new lifestyle. For the first year, I just about wore myself out, until I realized ‘my boss’ was me, and I could ease up on myself any time I wanted to. In academia, I also had a lot of leeway in my job, but still had to live by the schedule and needs of academic demands. I had to show up, or the class did not happen, and I had to be ‘on’ or I could not teach. Years of being ’on”—which is actually all about being present and mindful—were wonderful years because I had a job working with people I loved. It was fascinating to discover who people were and what they were capable of dreaming, doing, thinking, and accomplishing. The depth of passion, intelligence, creativity, and spiritual beauty within my students and others with whom I worked, was the best part of all my years of teaching.

Now, as I work in relative isolation much of the time, ideas and the world around me, including the people, have become the lifeblood of my work and daily life. I lead meditation groups, do some counseling, and write and research a variety of diverse subjects—all of interest to me, all part of the spark that gives me life. Also carried over from those days, is the tendency to live life in extremes at times, and just a little out of balance when I stop taking my own needs and health into consideration. What are the ways you block or cause imbalance in your life? If you know what you're doing, what is it that keeps you from making necessary changes? So what stops us from living life more in balance?

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built.” —Rumi

We each have certain areas of our lives that suffer when we get ‘too busy’ or to disengaged with noticing how we are feeling. The first thing we might want to do before we try to plan for more balance, is figure out where we are now.

Notice how you are feeling physically. Are there areas of your body where you experience pain, tension, or some type of discomfort? Are you recovering from an illness or injury, and if so, how is that process going?
Notice your energy levels. Emotionally, are you energized or drained? Physically, how is your body feeling? Where is your energy drained, and where do you feel strong and full of energy? Are you experiencing pain, or are you numb to how you feel?

Notice your mental frame of mind. Are you easily distracted, or feeling unfocused and unmotivated, (she asks as she just burned a tortilla)? Are you mentally overwhelmed with ideas and concerns or are you wondering how you’re going to get started on a long-delayed project? Are you wondering when you are going to have time to ‘catch up” with all that you haven’t done, including rest? Do you find yourself starting to question all your priorities and choices? Have you let yourself forget about trying to find a happy medium?

Notice your spiritual energy. What makes you feel connected or disconnected? Do you have spiritual practices that give you a sense of inner peace and purposeful meaning in life? Are you longing for something that seems just a little out of reach, or are you do you have the spiritual companionship and guidance you need at this time? Are you feeling like you’re in a dry place spiritually, or do you feel a sense of deep, meaningful connection? What are you longing for?

Notice your emotional health. What are the main emotions you have been feeling? Ambivalence, frustration, dissatisfaction, anxiety, grief and loss, excitement, anticipation, happiness, satisfaction? Do you feel your emotions, or do you tend to intellectualize feelings? Does your emotional behavior mask something deeper and unresolved within you? Are you harboring resentment, anger, or mistrust for anyone or any situation? Simply notice what the overriding emotions are, and if you can, notice what they may be attached to. Sometimes we get so lost in our roles that we mask or cover up our true feelings and emotions. What are some of your dominant roles, and how do they affect the way you express your emotions or not?

Notice how you are talking to yourself/others. Who do you say you are? To yourself, to those you meet through work or in community, to your friends, and to your family. What words do you use to describe yourself, and are you being affirming and loving, or judgmental and unkind? We tell ourselves and others who we are all the time, yet we often fall into careless and thoughtless habits of debasing or being self effacing to the point where we give ourselves no credit for being the strong, capable, people we are. Listen to yourself, and notice.

Notice the guiding principles that you live your life by. We all have a code of honor, ethics, beliefs, and sense of what grounds us in who we are. What are the key principles by which you live, and how do those principles reflect in the way you are actually living? For example, if I say I believe in living mindfully, but get lost in some piece of work for hours and forget to eat, take a break, or stretch, my actions are incongruent with what I say I believe. We have these beliefs, tenets for living, guidelines to give our lives shape, balance, and direction. When our actions are at odds with those beliefs or ideals, we are out of balance.

Take a little inventory, even jot down some ideas about each area, and reflect some on what is working and what is not. In the next article, we will address some ways we can build greater balance into the way we live our lives, day by day. As I was writing, the song Day by Day from Godspell came to mind. For some of us, this might be what we need. What is it you need more of in your life right now?

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