Balancing the Mandala of our Lives


(Note: The art image I posted above is a Mandala: often a symbol of the universe, unity, and balance. It is a circular work of art, usually geometric in form, and often symmetrical. This image is a colored pencil drawing I made years ago while spending some time with Tibetan Monks as they made a sand mandala for peace. The aspect of the mandala that I am interested in today is the element of BALANCE. As beautiful as symmetry can be, what role does balance play in our lives and is it something we can strive for? I know if I drew a mandala of my life, it would not be graceful or symmetrical!) I recently read something about "balance," although I cannot recall the source, and it had something to do with the idea that "finding balance" is not an end goal. This got me to thinking. We don't find balance in our lives and then live happily ever after. Life is ever changing and our needs, skills, responsibilities, relationships, and interests change constantly. My mind was somewhat jolted by this obvious realization: We are forever doing the work of balancing and re-balancing our lives. Many times I hear clients state that they have the goal of having more "balance" in their lives. What they want is to have a sense of quality time and energy that is being divided up between areas in their lives such as work, relationships, hobbies, and finances, AND to have those areas be healthy and successful. It is a tall order and it is the ideal life we are promised we can have it we just work hard enough. Right? But "balance" really can't be the goal because balance is a moving target at all times. Life happens. Unexpected things turn up. We get tired, bored, obsessed, distracted, and change our minds. Its just natural that when we invest more in our relationships our work in the world might lag a bit. If we take care of our health our time spent in relationships and hobbies might be taken up. If we work all the time we might damage friendships and give up on leisure pleasures. If we worry too much we have a hard time finding joy and if we focus too much on fun and games we may find our finances depleted. And we may be trying to balance other factors in as well, such as spiritual well-being, being home owners, and volunteering. It is tricky business to strike a balance in our busy and complicated lives. How can we "have it all" and manage it in a balanced way? Maybe we can't. That is not the answer I want to give but I think it is the truth. To find even a sense of balance we really need to identify our needs and priorities first. What do we value and what are we unable to live without? We are pressured to do so much, too much, and when we can't keep up and succeed in everything we turn to self-loathing, shaming, depression, and exhaustion. As we have had to slow down in these passing weeks, many of us have had a chance to remember what it is like to stop the treadmill. While we are forced to stop engaging we may actually have a chance to re-orient ourselves, re-evaluate, and re-establish what is really important. We have to constantly weigh and measure our days. There are times we need to take care of a sick relative and other times we have to invest more in our job. There are times we have to take care of a leaky roof (I had to do that recently) instead of enjoying leisure activity. This constant experience of "shifting sands" beneath us can make us feel like we are not on solid ground. We fear we are not balanced and we are failing. What if part of our frustration and disappointment isn't related to the areas of our lives at all but rather the false assumption and expectation that we can have balance and success in all areas of our lives all of the time if only we got our acts together?? What would it be like to choose to believe that "balancing" our lives is an ever-evolving work in progress that is an ever-changing day to day practice? Achieving balance in all areas all at once isn't the goal. Our goal is to learn to flow between the areas as they ebb and flow around us. It sounds less stressful to me. I want to say to forget about getting balanced. Be human and embrace the beauty of asymmetry. The goal is to learn to gracefully re-balance and re-negotiate the terrain as needed. Resiliency, creativity, patience, curiosity, and flexibility are skills and resources that can help us do just that. Develop those. Look for balance over the course of a life-time. Life and time have a way of balancing things out. In the meantime, just be in the moment, whatever you are doing, and give up the balancing act. ~ Lori Sweet

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