I have a fantasy schedule for my balanced life. It involves me waking up every morning at 5:30. After a mindful and luxurious shower I go downstairs to meditate peacefully for half an hour. After that, it's a cup of herbal tea and a stroll around my garden. Next I take a brisk walk with my dogs, perferably by the lake near my house. When I return, it's a healthy breakfast, some light stretching and into the studio for work. That's just the morning.
In the afternoon I'll take two hours for undistracted writing followed by some stretching and then some office work. A quick lunch breaks the day in half, after which I'll dive into the tarot realm until 5:30. Time for a yoga class, art, a home cooked meal, and some light socializing. Oh, an time with my partner, gardening, maybe some reading. Err... it's looking a little crowded already. That's not accounting for the less glamorous tasks - meetings, chores, and anything unexpected. It must still be doable, right?
This scheudle haunts me.
I've written it down (and others like it) before, and that's usually where it stays - on paper. It then floats around in my head, taunting me while my day goes in complely different directions. Isn't balance all about precision? Carefully metering out time so that we can get it all done? Why, then, does making lists and schedules fill me with dread and pressure?
I've been thinking a lot lately about how we embrace the idea of balance, wrapping it in gauzy platitudes and inspirational quotes, while setting off to obtain it like ruthless (and organized) businessmen. It doesn't quite add up, does it?
There's a whole industry built up around it our idea of balance. Planners, productivity apps, books on self-care, and schmancy yoga pants... They all lure me in with their siren songs of "once you get this, all the effort of achieving a balanced life will fall away!" How could I have known I needed a special motivational date book with hand lettered quotes to unlock my true potential?
And yet even after I get the new meditation app, the eco-friendly glass water bottle, the pass to the yoga studio down the street... I still have to use it. Consistently. Day after day. I have to do the work to squeeze it in somewhere, to make the time.
This is why I have an issue with the way we fetishize balance. Often it's at the expense of its complexity. We gravitate towards the list making and measuring, forgetting that balance is a process and not an end goal. It's not the idea itself that's problematic, but how we use it.
So while my aims are pure when I set out to create my ideal schedule, my ego hijacks the whole process, boiling everything down into success or failue. This way, when something sets my schedule off course (which, surprise, happens frequnetly) I get a sinking feeling of anxiety. How could I mess us something so simple as a 6am yoga session?! I'm not on track anymore and my self worth takes a hit.
And just where is my "self" when I get sucked into the rat race of fake balance? Instead of focusing my scheudle around myself - what I want, how I feel, what brings joy and value to my life - I focus it on externals. It's almost as if someone is watching me, patting me on the back when I complete a task or judging me when I go off the rails.
Maybe there's something about the measureable nature of balance that makes it prone to our desire for control. If we can just get the timing down right, if we can just fit everything in it'll all be okay. We'll be okay.
Maybe this is why whenever I try to live out my idea of a balanced life I get a feeling of dread. It's just a lot of pressure. And, to be frank, I'm not the kind of person who likes to live in a strictly regimented way. To me it stifles the zany spontenaeity I need to feel alive and inspired. I get bored and put off doing what I actually care about. Walking the dogs seems like a chore, writing even more so, and even a self-care ritual can seem daunting and overly elaborate. That's no way to live!
What's the alternative then? Do we scrap balance and move on? I'm realizing that in theory I love the idea of balance, but in practice my mind latches onto it in a very unhealthy way.
Instead, I'm trying to focus on harmony as my guiding principal. Like balance, harmony is constantly shifting, but unlike balance it focuses on multiple parts working beautifully in conjunction with each other, a chorus of different thoughts, actions, and feelings adding up to something more than the sum of its parts.
For me a harmonious life depends on adapting my goals to what mood I'm in or whatever needs to be done most on any given day. If I'm sad, no big deal, maybe I need to sleep in a little later than usual, do some gentle yoga and cathartic journalling. I can keep social appointments to a minimum, and use the time to do more solitary office work.
Being in harmony with myself forces me to be mindful at all times. I have to know how I'm feeling or what's interesting me to direct myself where i need to go.
In this model, I don't have to love everything I do, just be aware that I'm making the choice to do them because they add up to something important. I find it much more empowering than setting up a list as if I'm giving myself homework.
I get to be an intrepid and dedicated adventurer instead of a scrambling worker and it feels so much more freeing and organic. Now that's the way I want to live and be in the world.