7. Balance Beyond the Pie Chart
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7. Seeking Balance
We seek balance in our lives to bring healing to self and others; balance between our inner and outer lives, and between our mind, body, heart, and spirit.
There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do. - Freya Stark
I marvel at seagulls when they rest on one leg and face calmly into the wind without toppling over. If only finding balance was that simple for us human beings. In a world filled with paradox, chaos, and constant change, navigating life with any sense of real balance can seem impossible.
In magazine headlines “finding balance” is often talked about as a lifestyle quest, with an emphasis on living a full life. We are encouraged to plan our activities so that they are evenly distributed around a pie chart of life’s important areas: family and friends, creativity, career, romance, health, money, personal and spiritual growth, and physical environment.
The pie chart is a great tool for self-reflection. The first time I did it led me to big insight. But it’s missing an important concept of balance – the alignment between one’s inner most values and outer world actions. Being well-rounded in activity doesn't guarantee that you are living by what you personally value most deeply.
Trying to fill in each area of the pie chart can lead to a lot of "shoulds" that actually keep you away from following your own map and listening to what is calling you most. Also, a balance template overlooks the natural ebb and flow of life that allows one area to blossom while another is quietly ripening.
Questioning our sense of balance from a values-based perspective might seem unnecessary for people who consider themselves activists because our activism usually grows out of passionate caring for others. Yet, when I examined the alignment between the why and how of my activism, I had a big aha! Love for others was my motivation, but my actions were not filled with loving activity. In fact, from the perspective of aligning values to action – I was way out of balance.
As a reproductive rights activist, my actions were fueled by an automated anger and carried out in repetitious competitive maneuvering against my "enemy." I was looking to trump, silence, and devalue the “other side.” I was a name caller. I refused to see the full humanity of those whom I felt threatened my sense of truth and what is right. I was cultivating more of what I did not want to see or experience in the world.
When I realized the gap between my motivation and my actions, I began to make changes. I did not give up my deeply held convictions, but I started paying attention to the process by which I sought them. In what could be thought of as coming full circle, I began leaning into the historical phrase “the personal is the political,” and looking for the equilibrium between my own personal and political.
I also realized that balance is not a static state, nor a final destination point. It is a way of being that recognizes life is about relationships and is always in process, variable, active, and dialectic. Like an airplane that does not simply fly via a straight line from point A to point B, but instead has to constantly correct itself by flying in little vectors off of the straight line route, we can work with the idea of balance as a values-centering tool, a guide post that brings back, again and again, to what we cherish most.
Living in balance this way opens up the field of possibilities for our activism to be about everything we do. Instead of focusing primarily on the issues from a systemic perspective alone, like a public policy issue, debate or campaign, we can take responsibility for the impact of our whole lives and remember that every action counts and has the potential to set in motion that which we most want to manifest in the world.
Balance Reflection Exercise
A good way to begin thinking about this kind of balance is to make up a list of things you most value in life such as peace, creativity, freedom, learning, healthfulness, strength, and so on and evaluate how you are living in relationship to those values. Are you living peacefully if you value peace? Are you making healthful choices if you value health? Are you living with strength? And if your values change, are your actions adjusting to reflect what you care most about?
Once you’ve done the values-to-action audit, you can see where changes need to be made to bring things into closer alignment. Over time seeking to narrow the gap between what we hold dear and what we do becomes a way of being. We can learn to hold it with the compassionate understanding that being in balance is not a steady state but a way to work with the opposing forces life puts in front of us.
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