Balance in all Things
Although balance can often seem elusive, we all inherently know that it is something to be sought. Balance is the place where we find peace, neutrality, time and space. We seek balance in relationships -- learning to love others without sacrificing ourselves, learning to give without depleting our energy, learning to love while still loving ourselves. We seek balance in work -- learning to proactively solve problems while learning to live with the unknown, practicing commitment and perseverance without banging our head against a wall. We seek balance in our lifestyle -- in our diet, our physical movement, our sleep cycles. Ironically, sometimes we can work so hard to achieve balance that we stress ourselves out and get even more out of balance! So rather than seeking perfect balance, we can make it a natural process to tune into ourselves and make micro-adjustments as needed. We must be willing to try things differently when needed and sometimes, when we take a few steps backward, be okay with that too.
If you are human, it is likely you have felt out of balance in your mental / emotional body. Just like disease happens when things get out of balance in our physical body, our incessant thinking has become a disease. The mind is a useful tool. It helps us plan, it helps us pivot, it solves problems and keeps us safe. However, often we are not using our mind, but our mind is using us. This is the disease. If we identify with our mind, with our thoughts, then the instrument has taken over. (The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle) The practice of meditation and yoga are valuable to help us step outside of our thoughts and become the witness to them. As we notice their changing and insubstantial nature, they no longer control us but become guideposts along our path.
Perhaps one of the trickiest areas to find balance is relationships. On the one hand we want to be separate, independent individuals. On the other hand we seek a sense of connectedness and intimacy. It is a matter of balancing the “I” with the “We.” If there is not enough “I”, we subjugate our feelings and needs to another. A lot of energy goes into trying to be there for the other person, and trying to make the other person think or behave differently. We feel responsible for the emotional well-being of the other person and hold the other person responsible for ours. The submissive partner accepts the “reality” of the dominant partner. (The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner) Harriet Lerner coined the term ”de-selfing” which means that too much of one’s self (including one’s thoughts, wants, beliefs, and ambitions) is negotiable under pressures from a relationship. The partner doing the most sacrificing stores up the most repressed anger and resentment. Not enough “I” leads to depression and a host of other psychological conditions as one struggles to regain control and a sense of self.
If you find yourself in the position of needing more “I,” you must take a step back and reacquaint yourself with yourself. What do you think, feel and want? What do you need to do differently in your life? As you take steps to reclaim the power you have been chronically giving away, you may struggle with feelings of selfishness, and the people around you may react to this change. It is important to remember that independence is not synonymous with a lack of caring. It means we clearly define our own selves on emotionally important issues, but it does not mean emotional distance. (The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner) Finding ourselves is an act of caring and dedication to those we love, because we will model healthy relationships to those we are close to, and we will be better partners, children, parents and friends.
In our work and personal relationships, we may struggle to strike a balance between under-functioning and over-functioning. In our society, emotionally, men are taught to under-function and women tend to over-function. Of course, this is not always true as there is a broad spectrum, but it is instructional to look at the messages society gives us so that we can make informed choices about how we want to be. Our society breeds men who are comfortable in the area of abstract ideas but who have little empathic connection to others, little attunement to his own internal world, and little willingness or capacity to hang in when a relationship gets tough. They tend to handle anxiety by distancing and disengaging. Women, on the other hand, tend to over-function in this area. When we do not put our primary emotional energy into solving our own problems, we take on other people’s problems as our own.
If you put an emotional under-functioner and an emotional over-functioner in relationship, the over-functioner will express more than their share, and their partner will be off the hook for expressing their emotions. The over-functioner will clamor for more expression, causing the under-functioner to retreat to their comfortability of logic and intellect, creating a vicious circle. If women adopt this traditional role, we become the rescuer. We behave as if it is our responsibility to shape up other people or solve their problems, and further that it is in our power to do so. This is a recipe for disaster because we allow our sense of balance to be dependent on the actions of another. When they don’t behave the way we want, we experience annoyance, anger or despair. Perhaps then we redouble our efforts, likely triggering the other person to retreat back even further into under-functioning. The most difficult thing for an over-functioner to learn is how to help less. Learning to be “not helpful” requires that we begin to acknowledge that we do not have the answers or solutions to other people’s problems. In fact, we don’t even have the answers to our own. In helping less, we create the space for the other person to step up, solve their own problems, express their own feelings. Rather than offering help, we can offer our authentic vulnerable selves. As we share our personal struggles and uncertainty, it encourages others to touch their own vulnerability. (Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger)
Another dichotomy exists between “emotional pursuers” and “emotional distancers.” “Emotional pursuers” tend to reduce their anxiety by sharing feelings and seeking close emotional contact. They place a high value on talking things out and expressing feelings and believe others should do the same. They might feel rejected and take it personally when someone wants some time or space alone, at which point they either pursue harder or coldly withdraw. “Emotional distancers” tend to reduce their anxiety by intellectualizing and withdrawing. They take pride in being self-reliant and private, so have difficulty showing their needy, vulnerable or dependent side. If they feel anxiety in a personal relationship they throw themselves into their work. They may cut off a relationship entirely when things get intense rather than working things out.
Harriet Lerner describes the dance between the emotional pursuer and the emotional distancer. When the waters are calm, the pursuer and the distancer may seem like the perfect couple. When the waters are rough, however, each exaggerates his or her own style and the trouble begins. The more he distances, the more she pursues. The more she pursues, the more he distances. She accuses him of being cold, unresponsive and inhuman. He accuses her of being pushy, hysterical and controlling. Feeling rejected and fed up, she at last proceeds to go about her own business. The man now has more space than he is comfortable with, and moves closer to her in the hope of making contact, but it’s too late. She says “Where were you when I needed you?” At this point distancer and pursuer may reverse roles for a while, until they fall back into old patterns, and the whole cycle begins again. (The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner)
You may also relate to the imbalance of the over-involved mother and under-involved father (or vice versa, again these gender roles are often a result of societal conditioning). The over-involved mother may complain and want the father to be more involved with the kids, but then she inadvertently reinforces these roles by micromanaging his attempts to do so. The over-involved mother may have difficulty accepting her child’s feelings (anger, sadness) without rushing in to make things better -- giving advice, reassuring, changing the subject, cheering the child up, trying to convince the child that he doesn’t or shouldn’t feel that way. All these tactics prevent the mother from being fully present with the child and allowing them to express their full range of emotions and thoughts. When we learn to stay in our own skin and avoid assuming an overinvolved or fix-it position, children (no matter what age) demonstrate a remarkable capacity to manage their own feelings, find solutions to their problems, and ask for help when they want it. (Harriet Lerner, Dance of Anger)
This same spectrum of involvement can be seen in romantic/domestic partnerships. The over-involved person may push her partner to finish a task, and in response he would procrastinate even further, which causes her to push harder. This behavior actually enables the under-involved person to retreat even further. His anger over being pushed gives him an excuse for not completing the task and protects him from feelings of guilt for not contributing. Her attempts to change him, only made it easier for him to avoid confronting his own issue.
It seems to be a universal truth that it is not what you do, but how you do it, that is important. To strike a balance, the over-functioner / the pursuer / the over-involved one, must learn to back off and put their energy into their own life. The key is to do this without hostility. If it is done from a cold, reactive or manipulative place (i.e. playing hard-to-get) it will only temporarily reverse the cycle or have no effect at all. However, when we turn our attention to ourselves with the intention of taking charge of our own fulfillment, it allows our partner the space to change, but also we find peace and joy no matter what happens in our relationship. (Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger) It may seem unfair that it is the overinvolved one who must most often break the cycle, but the reality is that until we focus on our own side of the street, the other person won’t have the space or time or inclination to clean up theirs.
Another fascinating aspect of balance is in our physical body. Ayurveda, the traditional Hindu system of medicine, is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. In Ayurveda, there are three “Doshas,” which are present in different proportions in every individual and affect the physiological functions of the body. Once you know your Dosha(s), you can not only take comfort in knowing so many of your characteristics and tendencies are perfectly natural for you, but you can also access recommendations on diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle. In order to determine your type, there are many online questionnaires. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalized and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your Dosha type. Each person has all three Doshas, but usually one or two dominate. Various Dosha proportions determine one's physiological and personality traits, as well as general likes and dislikes. It is fun to explore the diet and lifestyle routine that fits your mind/body constitution.
Vata Dosha. Vata energy controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat. Vata types are creative, quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget. They are often slender, tall and fast-walkers. They have a tendency toward cold hands and feet and discomfort in cold climates. They have an excitable, lively, and fun personality. Their moods are changeable moods and often have an irregular daily routine, with high energy in short bursts and a tendency to tire easily and to overexert. When in balance, they are full of joy and enthusiasm and when out of balance, they respond to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety. There is a tendency to act on impulse, often have racing, disjointed thoughts. They generally have dry skin and dry hair and don't perspire much. When in balance, there is creativity and vitality. Out of balance, there is fear and anxiety. General Health Tips for Vata Types: Maintain regular habits, try to eat and sleep at the same time every night. Get enough rest and choose foods that are warm, cooked, nourishing, and easy to digest. Sweet berries, fruits, small beans, rice, and all nuts and dairy products are good choices for Vata types. Exercise intensity should be moderate, such as a meditative form of yoga, Tai chi, walking, and swimming. Avoid strenuous and frantic activities.
Pitta Dosha. Pitta energy controls the body's metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body's temperature. Pitta types have a medium physique -- strong and well-built. They have a sharp mind, good concentration powers, are orderly, focused, assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best. When out of balance, they can be aggressive, demanding, and pushy. They are competitive, enjoy challenges, are passionate and romantic. They have a strong digestion and strong appetite, to the extent that they get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal. When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry. They often have fair, reddish skin or reddish, often with freckles and sunburn easily. They are uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, which makes them very tired, and they tend to perspire a lot. They have good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian. They are subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger. When aggravated, susceptible to feeling negative emotions like hostility, hatred, intolerance, and jealousy. Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes. General Health Tips for Pitta Types: It's important for Pittas to keep cool by avoiding overexposure to direct sunlight and fried and spicy foods. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, overworking, and overheating. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits that are watery and sweet, especially cherries, mangoes, cucumbers, watermelon, and avocado. Have lots of salads with dark greens such as arugula, dandelions, and kale. Avoid conflicts. Cultivate the virtues of honesty, morality, kindness, generosity, and self-control.
Kapha Dosha. Kapha energy controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system. Kapha Types are easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced, affectionate and loving. They are forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental, stable, reliable and faithful. They are physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build. Kaphas have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is a steady and enduring energy. They are slow to speak, reflecting a deliberate thought process and slower to learn, but with an outstanding long-term memory. They have soft hair and skin, a tendency to have large "soft" eyes and a low, soft voice. May be prone to carrying a bit of extra weight, and may also suffer from sluggish digestion, and sometimes depression. They are self-sufficient, gentle, and have an essentially undemanding approach to life. They are often in excellent health, with a strong immune system. They are very calm, and strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings. They are not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others. They tend to be possessive and hold on to things. They don't like cold, damp weather. Their physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). When in balance, they are loving and forgiving. When out of balance, they may be insecure or envious. General Health Tips For Kapha Types: It's important to be active on a daily basis. Getting out of the house and actively seeking new experiences is also recommended. Be receptive to useful change, and be intentional in implementing life-enhancing actions. Choose foods that are light, warm, and spicy. Tea with dried ginger and lemon is a great pick-me-up for Kaphas. Avoid heavy oily and processed sugars, which are detrimental to Kaphas. Use lots of spices such as black pepper, ginger, cumin, chili and lots of bitter dark greens.
As we seek balance in all the areas we explored above, it is important to keep perspective. The balance between too much future (worrying, anxiety, stress, fear) and too much past (regret, sadness, bitterness) is found in the present. (Eckhart Tolle, the Power of Now). If we can find simple daily practices that keep us grounded in the present, we can step outside of the flurry of activity and see the bigger picture. Scientists call this “self-distancing.” It allows us to think more clearly about our problems, as well as to reduce our stress response and our negative emotions. It allows us to get beyond our own self-interest and into a perspective that takes into account the interests of others. Archbishop Tutu calls this “god’s eye” perspective. From this place, we can adopt the attitude of “No Big Deal.” Our spiritual practices, including meditation and yoga, teach us again and again not to turn things into such a big deal. It is a paradoxical idea, but we need to honor things completely and at the same time not make them such a big deal. By acknowledging whatever happens open-heartedly and open-mindedly, we can maintain a sense of peace in the storm. So allow your exploration into balance to be just that. Approach everything with a sense of curiosity and allow space for imperfection. Be balanced in finding balance! Enjoy the ride.
**For more information, check out these insightful works which formed the basis for this article: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, How to Meditate by Pema Chodron, The Book of Joy by the Lama, Dalai, Tutu, Desmond, Abrams, Douglas Carlton.