Life Balance

We hear the term “life balance” a lot – but what does it really mean? And how do we find and maintain it?

I think there are two answers to these questions. The first has to do with looking at the various roles and responsibilities in our lives; and accurately and honestly assessing how we’re establishing our priorities and directing our energy. The second, I believe, has to do with recognizing and managing our internal conflicts.

I like to think that we’re never truly “balanced” – but that at any given time we’re either moving toward balance or moving away from it. Moving toward balance means taking the time daily to take stock of our tasks, sorting out what’s most important, and working our way through the list – while continuously and effectively monitoring and adjusting the energy and time we’re devoting to each one. If we feel reasonable healthy on all levels, its probably safe to say we’re moving toward balance.

It also helps to do this mindfully: we see and assess things more accurately and effectively if we’re really “present” in all of our actions and interactions. It’s easy to engage mindlessly in doing the things we need to do, and in being the people we need to be – but successfully “checking everything off the list” doesn’t necessarily mean we’re moving toward balance. When we act in a rote and mindless manner we become disengaged from our emotional and spiritual selves. And we can’t experience a move toward true balance without those.

 


Mindfulness for Stress Reduction and Better Sleep

Mindfulness is a simple concept; although not always easy to employ. It simply means (according to at least one definition) just being here right now. Non-judgmentally being with this moment. And this moment. And this moment…

Our bodies do not easily differentiate fantasy from reality, so when we’re ruminating about the days’ events or about what’s going to play out tomorrow, or bodies respond as if the mental scenario we’re playing out is really happening. The body then goes into its stress response and we can’t sleep. Or digest well. Or relax. Or think clearly.

So during the day it helps to remind ourselves to just be right here right now. If we take a moment, use the breath as an anchor to just be really present (just observing the breath going all the way in and all the way out, without trying to control it in any way), we realize that literally nothing is really going on at this particular moment: the stress we feel is purely a manifestation of what’s going on in our head at that moment.

I had been giving a workshop sometime ago about sleep, when one of the participants shared a great strategy. It’s something I continue to use regularly, and I wish I knew who he was so that I could give him proper credit. He did not call it mindfulness meditation, but as he explained the simple technique I knew that that was exactly what it was:

The next time you have a hard time sleeping, particularly because you’re ruminating, the first rule is to remember that just by lying there you’re getting most of the metabolic rest you need. So don’t stress about trying to sleep. Don’t even try to sleep – that only makes things worse. Rather, try slowly and persistently saying ‘Goodnight’ to every little piece of your body: “Goodnight toes. Goodnight balls of the feet. Good night tops of the feet. Goodnight ankles. Goodnight calf muscles…” You get the picture. And when you start to drift off or wander, force yourself to continue with the exercise.

This exercise may sound silly, but it’s very powerful in its simplicity. What you’re doing is automatically relaxing every part of your body simply by focusing on it. And when the body is relaxed, rest comes more easily. The other thing you’re doing – and this is where the mindfulness comes in – is stilling the mind. When you’re focused on each part of your body, you’re not thinking about the day or about what’s in store tomorrow. And when the mind is calm, rest comes more easily.

So if you find yourself stressed from time to time (as we all do), try cultivating more mindfulness during the day: just stop and be present with whatever you’re doing, so that you can make clearer choices. And if you find yourself carrying it with you to bed, try this simple exercise before reaching for the sleeping pills or the bottle of wine!


Stress Management and the Art of Being

It’s important to learn to just ‘be’ sometimes if we don’t normally make the effort to do so.

We can easily get caught up in all the things we need to do, and rationalize to ourselves and others why we can’t take a break. Granted, there are certainly times when it’s not realistic to stop what we’re doing – but how often do we fool ourselves into thinking that this is always the case? It helps to examine our assumptions about this, and ask ourselves if things really will fall apart if we just stop for awhile.

We can also ask ourselves honestly if there are other reasons for our perpetual motion: perhaps it’s uncomfortable to be alone with our thoughts. Or perhaps we feel a sense of guilt when we’re not contributing. Or maybe we simply haven’t learned to be any other way. The point is that we need to re-examine where we can give ourselves the time and space sometimes to regenerate and just contemplate about nothing – and learn to trust that it’s okay to do so.

However, if you truly are a “doer” (and you’ve established that you’re not avoiding anything or perpetuating any false rationalizations by always “doing”), then perhaps try doing more things from a state of just “being” – in other words, where you can experience that sense of flow. Try doing something with your family just for the sake of spending time: really ‘being there’ with them without ruminating over the tasks you have to accomplish today. Go for a run and ‘get lost in your thoughts’ along the way. Hit the highway for a day-trip to nowhere. Write something just for fun…