Did you know that solar storms have an effect on human health and behavior? I was not aware of this until last week, after three days of being absolutely exhausted. A colleague sent me an article about it, and I started doing some research. Turns out that there is documented evidence that geomagnetic storms caused by solar flare activity affect us: increases in suicides, heart attacks, strokes, hospitalizations for mental disorders, deaths, and accidents. So if the past week has held any weirdness for you, blame it on the sun!
I don’t really know that I was exhausted from geomagnetic storms, but whatever the reason, I needed to take some time to rest. Do you listen when your body tells you to rest, or do you push through your to-do list? I sometimes continue to work even when I suspect some self-care is in order, but when I do that I often find that I’m not nearly as productive as if I take even just a few minutes to stretch or lie down on the floor. I’m surprised sometimes how little it takes, and how resistant I can be to taking it.
Since I’m continuing to ramp up for the start of The Balance Blueprint in a couple of weeks, below is another article talking about how to think about balance in a way more likely to lead to taking effective action to create it. Enjoy!
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One Monday morning at 5:00 am in the fall of 1999, I was taking a catnap underneath my desk at work. I had worked since Sunday morning through the night, and would go on to work until 6 pm that day. Other than my hour-long nap under the desk, it was a 34-hour workday, which came at the end of three weeks of 100+ hour weeks.
With a schedule like that, balance was a dream.
When I left that job, I went to the opposite extreme; I never wanted to work a full-time job again in my life! Things shifted, but just became imbalanced in a different way; I had plenty of time to pursue my interests, but financially I was struggling and had no career.
Slowly, instead of going to the extremes of imbalance, I am finding a way to design my life consciously to incorporate all of what is important to me. In the process, I’ve realized that how I think about balance affects the actions I take. Below, I de-bunk three myths of balance, and in the reality find more useful metaphors that result in being able to take more effective action.
Myth: Balance is External
We have control over both our internal state and some aspects of our external environment, so when we think about designing our life for more balance, we will have greater impact by taking both into account. What would “balance” feel like as an internal state? For me, it brings a sense of calmness, equanimity, and harmony. Every moment we decide to, we have an opportunity to check in and see what tiny adjustments we can make to shift our internal sense of harmony. Something as small as taking a sip of water, adjusting our position in our chair, or taking a deep breath can work wonders.
Externally, we might look at where we are spending our time and how much energy we give to various areas of our lives. Are we paying attention to what is most important to us, both short and long-term? Do we notice when something begins to slip through the cracks—like our self-care, or a key relationship—and make changes immediately? As we work with both internal and external aspects we can notice how they interact with each other; how is the internal sense of harmony impacted by the various choices we make about what we are doing?
Myth: Balance Means Equality
If we think of balance as being equal scales, we come up with concepts like “work-life balance” that give us a false dichotomy. We think that we need to equally balance our life between our career and everything else, and create artificial separations between our work and the rest of our life, lumping a lot of who we are into an amorphous concept (“life”) that covers facets that are important to us, such as relationships, creativity, spirituality, and our health.
Instead of thinking of two scales, a different metaphor for the experience of being an active participant in life with a lot going on is a wheel. If you imagine a wheel that’s spinning, we’re often living life on the outside rim. There’s a lot happening but we don’t feel in control, we might even be jumping from one spoke to another trying to manage it all (and wondering how long we can keep from slipping). If we can move to the center of the wheel, where it’s the most still, we can have that sense of internal stability but still have a lot happening in our lives. We have more control, yet can still have a lot of movement.
Balance is also a concept in the design world, and its use there applies well to thinking about balance in our lives. As writer and artist John Ruskin said, “In all perfectly beautiful objects there is found the opposition of one part to another and a reciprocal balance.” Balance is not achieved through having some set form of equality, it comes from the relationship of all elements and dimensions of your life within the whole. Just like in a great photograph or painting, or the beauty of a story well-told, it’s more about the harmonious arrangement of the elements and the rhythm between them.
Myth: Balance is a Steady State
When I think about how I want my life to be, I tend to go to some ideal, where I create a life of balance and can be done with it. I think I can “reach” balance and that will be it, I can then focus on something else and forever more my life will be in balance.
Yet balance can only be a steady state when there is no movement. Since there is always movement in our lives, balance is dynamic, something that we are always adjusting. Applying our physical experience of balance to how we design our lives allows us to see a new way to be.
Most of us don’t remember learning how to walk, but you might remember learning to ride a bike or skateboard, surf, ski, skate, or move around on a sailboat that is heeling. At the beginning, it’s difficult. You fall a lot. You overcorrect and use a lot of muscles that aren’t necessary as your body adjusts and learns what it takes to be in balance in this new orientation to the world. Eventually, you do all of that less and less, and find balance becomes more embodied. As you become proficient, you make subtle corrections so quickly that eventually you no longer think about it, and can barely remember a time when it was any other way. When you are walking, you are constantly out of balance, but with your automatic adjustments it becomes a fluid movement and you are not even aware of making corrections. When we reach this level of proficiency, balance looks
like a steady state, even though it is not.
We can achieve this proficiency in how we live our life. When I was ping-ponging between the extremes of working too much to hardly working, I was in that early stage of overcorrecting. Now, my corrections are a bit more subtle; I pay closer attention to the small signs and try to make adjustments more quickly, and see how those adjustments affect me. I’m still not where I’d like to be; my goal is to notice so quickly that I’m out of the center of the wheel, and both know what adjustment to make and be able to make it, that I look like I’m living in that steady state.
When we bring all of these metaphors and realities together, a powerful picture emerges of how to design our life for balance.
We can simultaneously cultivate the inner state of harmony while we consciously choose what to spend our time and energy on. As we make these choices, we constantly assess, just as we do when learning to ride a bike, how they affect our internal state. Over time, we continue to fine tune both our internal sense of when we are getting out of balance as well as what it takes to recover, to the point where eventually we correct so quickly that other people admire us for our poise. Living in that center of the wheel, with our life constantly moving around us, we can get a lot done on the things that are important to us and, most importantly, enjoy ourselves in the process.
Julie Stiles is a health and transformation coach who works with women seeking to live balanced and integrated lives so they can reach their highest potential. She holds an MA in Consciousness Studies from John F. Kennedy University, and brings together in her coaching her interests in transformation and healing. Julie offers private and group coaching, workshops, and teleseminars, and works with people in person and worldwide via phone and the internet.
It’s such a pleasure to help those closest to us become happier and healthier. Please forward this newsletter to friends, family members or colleagues who might be interested and inspired by it.