It was Friday of dead week (the not-so affectionate, yet somehow appropriate term for the last week of classes) and I was exhausted. After working 12+ hour days for an entire week and more of the same planned for the weekend, I had a heart-to-heart moment with myself.
I asked myself.
Chocolate was the first answer that came to mind, but then I dove a little deeper: I need a break. That's what I most want right now. I haven't been practicing what I preach. I've been pushing too hard, letting others overstep boundaries. I need time for myself – Time to unwind, time to be me, time in nature alone. After a week filled with meetings and grading, I need to give myself the gift of my own time.
So I did.
I took off at 4:30 Friday afternoon, sat outside and soaked up the sunshine for a while, and then went climbing with my man. A little physical activity to release the tension of the week. Just what my body needed. But I still had to care for my mind and my spirit. So I took off Saturday. I journaled, meditated, spent some time in nature alone.
I believe that every year we have a life theme, intentionally chosen or not. Last year my theme was discernment – learning to decide what was good for me and what was not good for me. This year my theme has been balance. Universe has tested me again and again, sending me continual reminders when I've gotten out of balance.
Balance is an often talked about term, yet it remains elusive. What does being in balance actually mean? For me, it's a balance of masculine and feminine qualities. It's a balance of doing and being, giving and receiving. It's a balance of work and play. It's a balance of self-care and being of service.
With our endless to do lists, it's so easy to forget that we should be on them. That we too are deserving of our own time and energy. It's so easy to fall out of balance.
I have mastered the art of pushing, striving, doing. That's what I did for the first 40 years of my life. But in the last few years I've realized that it doesn't have to be that way. And I've been much happier for it. Yet, that balance I keep seeking still sometimes feels elusive.
I think I've finally realized why. I kept trying to “get there” – to that place of balance, desperately hoping that once I arrived there, I would somehow stay there. But that's an impossible task because balance is more of a flow or a feeling of rhythm than a consistent state you achieve. This flow of balance, like a river, is ever changing. Thus, being in flow, in balance, is a process of constantly checking in with yourself to make sure you still feel in the flow rather than in a state of doing or efforting.
I understand that this goal may seem lofty. After all, we all have things we must “do” each day – make breakfast, go to work, shuttle the kids to soccer practice, etc. Sometimes our to-do lists require some amount of efforting, or doing things we don't necessarily enjoy. Yet, that in and of itself is an opportunity to play with this idea of balance. My colleagues and I like to make games out of grading so the task doesn't seem so onerous. I take frequent grading breaks to reward myself every X number of papers or minutes I’ve spent grading. Another of my colleagues treats herself to a good piece of chocolate or glass of wine after an evening of grading. It's about finding and returning to that space of flow even in the midst of chaos or efforting.
How do you know when you've gotten out of balance? For me, there are clear warning signs when I'm getting out of balance: feeling “out of sorts,” sleep deprivation, clenching my jaw during the day or while I sleep, forgetting to eat because I'm too busy, and finding myself short-tempered. Knowing your red flags is the first step to stop getting out of balance in the first place.
The question then remains: what do you do if you're already out of balance? First, don't beat yourself up. Even if you think you should've known better, or should've done something differently, there's no sense in beating yourself up. Life happens. Second, breathe, check in with yourself wherever you are. Third, ask yourself: what do I need right now in this moment? Allow the answer to bubble up from that heart space – not that ego mind with all of your to-do lists, but from your heart itself. What did you need to come back into balance? Fourth, go to that thing right now if possible, or if not, as soon as you can get to it. Make yourself a priority – and you'll find you fall out of balance a lot less often.
So I ask you: