“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” ~Hermann Hesse
As a child in ballet I was chastised for my inability to capture attitude or arabesque. With only one foot planted on the ground I reached for anything to prop myself up—the barre, the instructor, an unsuspecting fellow tutu-wearing classmate who would then lose balance herself.
My days at ballet were short lived, but my trouble balancing was not. This persisted for decades, through college and into the early years of my marriage.
Now I was no longer just hoping to stand steadily and gracefully on one foot, but instead was trying endlessly to balance hopes with expectations, mental energy with physical willingness, yearning and desire with fatigue and dread.
Fast-forward through my short-lived childhood aspirations of becoming a ballerina to my first yoga class. Walking into the classroom I instinctively stretched out my mat at the end of the room, right up against the wall. Without thinking about it I created a safety net to hold onto. In case of a fall, the wall would be right there. In case I lost my balance.
About midway through the practice my instructor set up a metaphor that stuck with me. “Your mat is your world, and you are here, present in the midst of it,” she said. “We all have areas of our life that need attention. Start applying that attention here and now.”
As she guided us into a new pose she concluded, “If you require strength, then push yourself harder. If you require peace, then take a deep breath.”
That is when I toppled over—as if on cue, and the wall didn’t catch me either. A sign could not have struck me more clearly. My mat is my world, and I need to find balance.
But the mat wasn’t actually my world, and outside of the yoga studio there were things calling to me. There were questions I had to answer, decisions I needed to make, people I had to talk to. With two feet planted firmly on the ground I was still in danger of losing balance.
This lack of balance stretched far beyond my physical abilities. It poured over into my personal life, academic endeavors, and career choices. Imbalance seemingly seeped into every action I attempted.
I developed an all-or-nothing mentality. I either had a calendar packed with things to do at every waking moment or I let every bit of it go and spent long days in bed, wondering if anyone would call. I was either overconfident in my abilities or completely unsure of myself; I felt loved or I felt hated.
This perpetual imbalance left me in a constant state of anxiety. I didn’t know what to expect out of myself. So I took a step back, evaluated the role I was playing in my own life, and I found my center.
In my journey to finding inner balance, I found that there are five fundamental changes I had to make:
1. Stop being busy.
Busyness isn’t a packed to-do list; it’s a mentality. If you want to be busy, things you love to do and even otherwise relaxing activities can grow overwhelming as you turn them into tasks.
Busyness can quickly become a mask to hide behind. I wanted people to think I was busy more than I wanted to do the tasks I had taken on. I let go of the need to be busy and learned to accept and appreciate downtime as space for self-development.
2. Learn when to let chances pass.
Opportunities knock, but not all of them are right for you. Job offers will come, friendships will be formed, and investments will be proposed. Not all of them need to be taken. There are things that I have thought I wanted, and when finally faced with the chance to act I felt more obligated than interested.
Continuing down this road isn’t helping anyone and is only going to drive you towards greater imbalance. Learn to cut your losses and listen to your gut.
3. Recognize external pressure.
Not every problem you face is your problem to solve. Friends, family members, and co-workers may inadvertently push their problems onto your shoulders to bear, but you do not need to accept it. External pressure can drive you to make decisions you aren’t comfortable with and can cause you to second-guess yourself.
Listen to yourself first, and reassert your personal control over your own actions.
If there was no pressure there would be no need for finding balance. Part of maintaining balance in your life is finding the will to continue in the face of pressure, and learning when it is okay to let it go.
4. Stop rushing.
I once grew pestered with my husband for taking so long to get ready for a day at the beach, and then became flustered by the traffic on our way there. He found it hilarious that I could grow so stressed in this situation. “Hurry up to wait” is what he called it, and he was right.
I created a deadline where there wasn’t one and forced my desire to rush onto him.
No one has the right to dictate how anyone else spends their time. You move at your own pace and I, at mine. We all have destinations we are striving to reach, whether they are physical, emotional, or even in our career.
There are things to learn along the way, so don’t rush the process.
5. Accept the present.
The past is loaded with anxiety and thoughts about things you should have or could have done. The future is packed with unknowns and ideals of what should happen. Constantly struggling between the past and future will leave anyone unbalanced.
The present is the center. To find balance you have to accept the moment you are living in now. The past has already played out, and the future will unravel as it comes. The time worth thinking about is now.
There are things in life that are going to knock you off your feet, and there are times that you are going to lose balance. Maintaining inner balance isn’t just learning how to stay grounded. It involves finding the strength to get back up after you fall and to try again.