Step 5 of '12 Steps to a whole new mind'
Welcome back lovers of curiosity and curators of courage. We have engaged in some real-talk over the past few months that has brought us deeper, helped us love bigger and show up bolder. Now what? The next step in this year-long journey is something we need to cultivate every step of the way. I’m talking about balance.
I know this has entered your mind before, “I need more balance in my life,” but what does that really mean?
How do we achieve balance? What does it feel like? How do we get our own mind, our boss, our family, our friends, and our partners to value and honour our balance?
From my experience, balance is something achieved when you are able to let go of blame, the pursuit of perfection, and the false-sense of control, while also embracing your desire for change and growth. It is a give and take, but without force or passivity. It is walking a tight rope, and knowing that if you overthink, overanalyze, tense up, or allow yourself to get distracted, you will lose your balance.
Why is this harder than it sounds?
We are bombarded with information and sensory overload on a second-to-second basis. Our brain is subconsciously processing 11 million bits of information per second, and we are only conscious of 16 to 50 bits of that. We are conscious of whatever we focus our light of awareness on. Where you consistently hold your attention and what you choose to believe and perceive (more on beliefs in an upcoming article), dictates how you feel, how you show up, and how you engage with yourself and the world around you.
We assess whether to lean in or step back five times per second. As soon as we feel safe from any physical threats in our surroundings, our brain immediately scans for social threats. This overprotective mechanism can be exhausting if this is where you focus and attach your energy. In the Fear Cure, by Lissa Rankin, she says,
“Studies show that most emotions last no longer than 90 seconds unless we attach stories to them…When you attach to the story, you suffer needlessly and the suffering can linger for years.”
Knowing this about our mind helps us detach from the distractions and confusing emotions that can arise due to the nature of an overloaded system. If you feed your energy and attention into the chaos, it feeds that beast. Focus your energy on your breath, on noticing without judgement, on allowing your emotions to flow through you without attaching or resisting, on striving for the change you want to see in your life without fixating on a specific outcome – unless that outcome is ‘to learn’. You own your effort, but you can’t control the outcome.
Stop Blaming: Making something or someone wrong does not solve anything
I have someone in my close circle that will often make decisions based on what he feels he is owed. He made irresponsible choices consistently for years because he felt there had been a lack of fairness in his childhood. Because of this, he is now in serious amounts of debt and has only done harm to himself, not to the person he was attempting to spite.
Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies”. Guess what, no one else is stewing over the moments and memories that you have built your anger and your stories around.
When we blame others for what we have, or don’t have, in our lives, we are taking power away from ourselves in more ways than one.
In the book The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, he says,
“You think if you change things outside, you’ll be okay. But nobody has ever truly become okay by changing things outside. There’s always the next problem. The only real solution is to take the seat of witness consciousness and completely change your frame of reference…No solution can possibly exist while you’re lost in the energy of a problem.”
The best gift you can give yourself is a practice of letting go. We can walk around all day continuing to stack each past moment onto our back like a brick. Before long, you are carrying so much weight that there is no way you can be open to opportunities right in front of you. Uncertainty is inescapable. Failures will happen. Tragedy will strike. But so will beauty, magic, connection, and brilliance. We will create more of whatever we focus in on. So, let go of control. Let go of trying to protect yourself. The more you try, the more harm you actually do. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, reminds us, “[t]his is a world, now a womb.”
Often our desire to control is a deep-rooted idea that there is such a thing as perfection, and that this is something worth striving for. Perfection is an illusion. It is an ideal that cannot exist. The very nature of being human requires us to learn from our mistakes and grow through our experiences. Life is supposed to be messy, unfair, and unpredictable in many ways. Elizabeth Gilbert again speaks to this beautifully,
“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
So what is ‘Balance’ really?
Now that we have set the stage, in comes balance. Balance is different day to day. Many of us do not have the option to take several days off whenever we feel like it, and I think it is important to note that balance does not require a full day of playing hooky. Balance is found in mindful moments. It is acknowledging how you feel right now, and then making steps to ensure you stay in between the extreme pendulum swings, by engaging in action or stepping back and embracing surrender. Michael Singer points out brilliantly, that “[t]he more extreme you are, the less forward momentum there is.”
When I look back over my evolution to where I am now, I see big extreme swings is every direction. As I stayed mindful and attentive to what I needed and how I felt, I slowly began to swing less and less. I am now at a point where I think about balance daily and am getting closer to understanding what my balance looks like. I notice I feel “extreme”, when my breath is short or shallow, when my mind is running in random directions or getting stuck in planning for worst case scenarios. I notice when I take steps to slow down or speed up, and I find my balance point in the next moment.
Balance is a feeling of neither pushing nor pulling. It is not forceful or resistant. It flows. It brings a sense of ease. Energy that was once wasted swinging to the extremes, can now be used more efficiently, seeing problems and solving them through action or surrender, versus getting stuck in “doom and gloom” scenarios.
Effort and Surrender
The balance between effort and surrender has been a huge support in my own understanding and practice of balance. It requires you to observe versus react. It asks you to notice when it is time to push outside your comfort zone and when it is best to slow down with introspection and reflection; and sometimes it is engaging in both at once.
In yoga philosophy, effort and surrender is described as “Two Wings of the Same Bird”. The dynamic between the two can move quickly, and can be seen and felt as your inhale (being the effort) and your exhale (being the surrender). Both are equally important and teach us different lessons. We can’t only inhale and we can’t only exhale, we need the balance.
We get so caught up in doing more, being more, accomplishing more, being seen as more, that we lose sight in the importance of acknowledging ourselves, loving who we are, and embracing each precious moment for what it is.
We can get lost in the shuffle of our day-to-day routine, and easily lose sight of gratitude, self-love, and appreciation for wherever we are in this moment. So focus your mind on concepts that remind and encourage balance, growth, fun, courage, and acceptance. Shine your light of awareness on being in action daily to work toward your goals, while also reminding yourself to slow down mentally and physically to embrace what is and enjoy the moment for whatever it offers.
We are creatures of habit. You are what you repeatedly do, and you will think what you have repeatedly thought in the past. Make a change today. Choose thoughts that fuel, empower, encourage, and inspire you to seek balance, to speak your truth, and seek what you need in relationships. What are you waiting for? There is a simple and beautiful rule of life that we can count on: whatever you practice and repeat, you will improve at. Look for a strong beginning and a strong ending, and then be flexible and flowing in your approach.
You are in the driver seat of your own life, so get moving.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Untethered Soul by Michael Singer