So many of us feel stressed out over the responsibilities and obligations that have taken over our lives. Certainly we need food, shelter, and clothing for ourselves and our families. Somehow, oftentimes in the process of providing these necessities, our lives have become seriously out of balance.
Our lives can become unhappy when our desires exceed our ability to acquire them. We sometimes cave into peer pressure and corporate advertising that convinces us to overspend or over-extend ourselves. It’s easy to see how living beyond ones means can lead to a very unsatisfactory life. Living beyond ones means can also be taking on too many responsibilities at work or not sharing responsibilties at home.
There are many people who also lack balance in philosophical or spiritual matters. They get lost in their pursuit of religion and spirituality so they lose touch with the realities of life on Earth and their dealings with other people. The Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in Space, the true miracle is to walk on Earth.” We might say that achieving a balanced life is the greatest miracle we can do.
The purpose of this post is not to provide bullet point tips on how to attain a balanced life. There are plenty of pages on the Web that offer these. I only want to reflect about my experiences as someone who often lives an unbalanced life. Nor is the aim to make excuses for anyone who lives an unbalanced lifestyle. Hopefully we can find our common humanity as we inch along the tightrope of life.
If we do nothing else, taking care of our physical health and well-being is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Personally speaking, when I quit smoking cigarettes and began paying closer attention to my diet and exercise, life became easier to manage. (I’m still working on getting enough rest.) I do know that when I eat wholesome foods, go for walks, and get enough sleep, that feeling balanced and happy are more easily accomplished. When we feel terrible, our attention becomes narrowly focussed on ourselves causing unbalanced thinking.
I share a “shiny object” mindset with crows and blue jays, sometimes to an alarming extent. Before I know it, hobby projects and stacks of books to read threaten to create imbalance. That’s why, from time to time, it’s necessary to assess my core values and reacquaint myself with boundaries.
This is where a physical calendar and planner help me out. I write major appointments and birthdays on the calendar that hangs in the bathroom. That way, I’m aware of priority events. In my physical planner book I keep a more detailed to-do list of the important tasks to take care of in the short term. I make sure to pencil in time for recreation and family needs too, so they don’t get overlooked. I also allow plenty of wiggle-room for unexpected surprises–unpleasant and pleasant.
Probably the most unbalanced aspect of my life has been in the religion/spirituality department. I never took a dilettante’s journey down the path of religion. It was full speed ahead on the straight and narrow. My wake-up call regarding radical Christianity was when a couple of fellow commuters dropped out of my carpool. One friend finally pulled me aside and said that my constant proselytizing turned everyone off.
Going off the rails with religion did nothing to advance and everything to diminish my spirituality. This realization led to a many-years-long reassessment of personal religious beliefs and exploration of the various major wisdom traditions of humanity. I’m grateful for the carpool wakeup call that made me more mindful of other mindsets and opinions.
Although maintaining spiritual balance remains difficult at times, it is something that mindfulness has helped maintain. For me, cultivating an accepting, inclusive attitude has done more in the way of personal happiness and balance that carries over into all other aspects, everyday. The middle way is certainly the best path for me.
In the end, cultivating mindfulness about ones daily routines and attitudes is probably the most effective attribute of a life in balance. When we are unaware of what we’re thinking and when we act on automatic pilot our lives get messy. Yet, everything we think and do has a great effect on other people and ourselves.
Mindfulness makes it easier to see our mistakes and to correct them. Balanced mindfulness of what we think and how we interact with others enables balance in living. The best we can ask from life is to live that life in balance.