In my mid-twenties, I began to crave balance. I extracted myself from my family of origin; gave up my lifestyle of travel and partying; and settled down with a man, a job and a home.
Despite the absence of my long coveted freedom, I was surprisingly happy; so I went in search of even MORE balance: cleaning up my diet; incorporating regular aerobic activity; guarding my sleep; attending Al-Anon meetings; delving into spiritual texts, and even taking fiber.
While friends and family members suffered lives strewn with chaos, I strode steadily along my neat and narrow road. I was so carefully balanced, that by the time I had kids, I tipped right over.
Children challenge a life reliant on balance. (Duh.) Parenting by nature inhabits a world of extremes. The most vigilant of those among us, however, will keep at it. We’ll institute feeding schedules, bedtimes, chores and limits. We’ll carefully carve out our own time to force our lives back into balance–like shoving feet back into a pair of pumps at the tail end of a wedding reception.
Yoga provides a quick fix. An hour on the mat, and even the most harried parent will find that sweet gift of “equanimity.”
I love that word. It represents everything that is perfect about balance. But don’t expect it to last. The moment you re-enter family life, you’re knocked on your ass.
Until you stop trying.
In his book, The Three Marriages–Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, author and poet David Whyte claims that “Poets have never used the word balance. It is too obvious and therefore untrustworthy… and seems to speak as much as to being stuck and immovable.”
Whyte suggests that balance is overrated and self-defeating, often leaving people feeling frustrated and exhausted.
This makes me think of the difference between my two favorite yoga teachers–the one who came before my children, and the one who came after. I’m forever grateful to Ann for forcing me out of my mind at a time when it defined me, but my current teacher, Scott, is a better fit for my life now.
His approach is ecclectic, incorporating silence and silliness, focus and distraction, chanting and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Scott encourages us to do a pose “our” way. He reminds us to go to the “steady edge” of our own stretch. He asks us to breathe “santosha” (contentment) into each pose as we express it, no matter how it looks.
I can bring my “whole” imperfect self to Scott’s class, and this resonates well with David Whyte’s advice about integrating work and family and self: “Separating these aspects from each other in order to balance one against the other serves to destroy the fabric of happiness itself.”
Whyte emphasizes the integral connection between the core commitments of our lives, telling readers to “stop trying to work harder in each of the marriages and start to concentrate on the conversation that holds them together.”
This reminds of the unique way that Scott leads the class through balancing poses. First of all, he guides us to use the wall for support, and then he tells us to let the “falling” out of the pose be a part of its full expression.
Whyte claims that this sense of “unbalancing” must take place in life in order to push us into a new and larger sets of circumstances.
Does this sound scary to anyone else? Especially to those of us who have held our lives together with a fierce commitment to balance?
“Get out of the dynamics of self-entrapment,” says Whyte, “and fall in love–with a person, a future, a work, or with a new sense of self.”
This is the fragile place of imbalance and expansion where I find myself now.
On a recent trip to Chile with my new job, I discover that I can survive without sleep, that I can navigate unknowns in a foreign country (five-thousand miles away from my family), and that I can drink wine with every meal and still be productive.
This experience of freedom from balance allowed me to say yes to the idea of celebrating my 21st wedding anniversary with a large party shortly after I arrived back home.
When the week before the event was loaded up at work, I held onto my new found sense of freedom from balance; and when I was completely tipped over by the news that my date didn’t fit into the calenders of my precious out of town friends and family, I challenged myself to breathe santosha (contentment) into my choice no matter how it looked.
Dozens of local friends joined us for an evening of celebration, but none needed the space we rented for overnight guests so we decided we’d use the space ourselves.
“Why would you sleep on camp bunk beds when you could go home and be in your own bed right across the road?” my sister asked. I’m not sure she’d understand if I said: freedom.
I lay there on that thin cot into the wee hours of the night, with the rocking and squeaking of the metal frame, acutely aware at how I had chosen passion over balance again and again, even in this small way.
I woke weary and eager to see how this willingness to “fall” might expand the conversation of my life even further.
I thought back to the anniversary ceremony that my husband and I included in our celebration. We decided against the traditional “renewal of vows” in favor of an impromptu honoring of each other.
21 years earlier, we stood on a carpeted altar, face to face, holding hands, repeating words from a minister. Now we stood apart, among friends, flanking a camp stage like opposite pillars of strength.
From that unplanned distance, we spoke words of respect and appreciation and love–a conversation that wove our hearts and our witnesses together.
The next morning, after we finished cleaning up the camp, we danced to our wedding song that we had neglected to play the night before.
Casey drove the first of our cars across the road while I walked home alone.
When he returned by foot to fetch the remaining vehicle, we arrived at opposite sides of the pond at the same moment.
Immediately, I saw us in the roles of the story he’d shared during his honoring of me. It was a lovers myth with the God Shiva and the Goddess Parvati. They too went off on their own to nurture their strengths and visions, and then joined together for a thousand years in “love play.”
As Casey stopped to visit with a neighbor who passed him on the road, I crouched down to dip my fingers into the cool spring waters of the pond and dab them on my third eye. As he finished up the conversation, we each stepped up onto the dock that spanned the pond and walked toward the other.
Half-way across, we met at the damn, where the waters rushed into the stream, heavy from a week of constant rain. We shared a final celebration embrace, and then continued on our separate ways.
There was a time when our fierce dependence on balance demanded that Casey and I choose the safety of togetherness over the risk of differentiation; But we’ve discarded the weight of that balance in return for a thousand years of love play.
Kelly Salasin, May 22, 2011
The Three Marriages, David Whyte, Riverhead Books, 2009.
For more information about Scott Willis and Hit the Spot Yoga, click here.