A fine balance

January 2015

By Suma Varughese

To attain balance in body, mind and spirit, is no small matter. It calls us to free ourselves of the pull and push of craving and aversion, and of the emotional and psychological needs that keep us in thrall, says Suma Varughese

 A friend of mine still has not forgiven her father for an incident that happened many years ago. She was a college kid then, and while driving the family car, she had an accident that all but wrecked it. Thoroughly shaken, she came home to a ballistic father whose rage could not be appeased. She is angry with him not because he bawled her out, but because he did not even notice that the car may have been totalled but she, his daughter, had had a miraculous escape.

On the other hand, a Facebook story shares that when parents call their children on their mobiles, and do not get a response, 99 per cent immediately jump to the conclusion that their child is either dead or dying. Only one per cent entertains the sane thought that perhaps they did not hear the phone, or were not near the phone!

Balance. How hard it is to achieve. And yet, how necessary. To respond appropriately to any person or situation. To be always correct in all things. To subscribe to the Buddha’s ideal of the Middle Way. As Eliza Doolittle would croon, “Wouldn’t it be loverrrly?!’’

Is such an ideal achievable? Like all absolute ideals, it too has its basis in the spiritual journey and it will be realized in its full perfection when we reach the end of that journey – when the ego has dissolved and the individual entity has merged with the larger consciousness.

But even if we never get there, the balance journey is a crucial one for any level of happiness, health, peace and success.

Towards mega balance

While the quest for balance has always been critical for human happiness, history offers vivid proof that most of us have failed to get there. The bloody and brutal battles and wars, the sheer scale of inhumanity of man against man testify how much we have been in the grip of our lesser desires such as the lust for power, possession and conquest, and negative emotions such as anger, resistance and reaction.

Even when it comes to individuals, I am going out on a limb out here and asserting that the public space has not been too privy to examples of perfect balance. Even geniuses, it was popularly considered, were flawed in one way or the other, as if to make up for their considerable gifts. It was pretty much a given that they would be, at best, eccentric, or at worst, alcoholics, sexually promiscuous, or mentally unstable. We only have to look at the evidence furnished by writers and artists like Doestoevsky, Piccasso, Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, and others to see that balance was completely off the map. Even enlightened spiritual masters may not have balanced every aspect of themselves. Many owed their spiritual evolution to their powerful right brains, but quite often their less able left brains put them at a disadvantage in practical matters. Ramakrishna Paramahansa or even J. Krishnamurti, were rather helpless when it came to worldly matters. Many lacked organisational skills or some vital part of human capability.

Our present times are pushing us to achieve balance individually at all levels. Whether we are men or women, existence is coaxing us to balance our male and female energies. Whether we are right- or left-brained, we are being goaded to develop a whole or balanced brain. Whether we are head people or heart people, we are meant to straddle the opposite dimension. Being thinkers or doers will not do, we are meant to be both.

Collectively too, nature is pulling us towards perfect balance. The East and West, who Rudyard Kipling had once considered inimicable, are steadily coming together. The East, the zone of the right brain, and the West, the zone of the left brain, are exchanging their skill sets, and developing the neglected part of themselves, and therefore arriving steadily at a middle ground.

It is a breathtaking prospect. Both collectively and individually we appear to be poised to achieve total balance. It is the call of the times, and an indication that we truly are moving towards a new era of evolution on Planet Earth.

The journey begins

The movement towards balance is nothing more or less than the movement towards enlightenment, for balance only happens when the pendulum swing of craving and aversion begins to slow down, if not actually cease. As long as we are in the hold of compulsive likes and dislikes, desires and distastes, we are not in our control, and therefore cannot achieve balance.

I have a friend who is a compulsive flirt. She loves the attention she attracts from men, and cannot give it up, although it has virtually destroyed her marriage. In my own case, my addiction to food has caused me great suffering, and plunged me into many ailments such as asthma and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is only through diligent inner work that I have largely healed myself of the ailments, and have brought my food addiction to a more controllable level.

Indeed, when I first awakened to the spiritual path, and started the work of inner cleansing, I was aghast to discover what a momentous task was before me. Having spent 16 years in a low-grade depression where I had more or less let myself go, I found that I was in a state of deep lethargy or tamas. And here I was trying to make my way into satva and then beyond! Furthermore, I found myself with little or no discipline, self-control, focus, concentration, sense of organisation or self-esteem. Naturally, my journey has been extremely turbulent, with huge swings of the pendulum leading me from compulsive impulses to equally compulsive resistances, giving me, and those around me, great pain.

Fortunately, my inner sadguru was active and led me steadily and surely, if slowly, along the tortuous path, until I have reached a stage where balance is coming more and more easily and effortlessly, and consequently I can feel that the compulsions that so drove me are winding down. And my discoveries on the journey towards balance have been delightful.

In everything we need balance. My mother was fond of saying that even amrit, taken excessively, can turn into poison. Working too hard and for too long can cause burn-out; playing too hard and for too long can create all kinds of disorders depending on what is our notion of play. Sleeping too much is as undesirable as the bane of our times – sleeping too little. Too much doing and too little being is as bad as too much being and not enough doing. Spending too much time on serving society and not enough time on serving family is as damaging as focusing exclusively on the family and ignoring the community we live in. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest Indians of recent times, was guilty of an act of imbalance – he prioritised his mission of earning India’s independence over focusing on the needs of his children, particularly the eldest Harilal, who became a wayward rebel. Alas, society flayed him for this lapse, and although it still grieves me that a man of such greatness should be disproportionately castigated, I do have to agree that his lack of balance damaged Harilal.

Freedom from needs
For true balance to dawn, we also need to be free of our emotional and psychological needs. As long as we strive for the love and approval of others, we will not be free to respond to them appropriately. As long as we wish to control and dominate over others, our responses will seldom be moderate or reasonable. Psychotherapist and facilitator, Sampoorna Garine, shares, “My extreme need for perfectionism at one stage in my life used to cause me great anger and discomfort. And would be directed at my associate who was just the opposite. Eventually, I realised that I had the choice of accepting her as she was, or continue to have heartburn over her inadequate ways.”

01Ellaeenah Niloufer, a counselor, life coach and channel, shares, “Imbalance between spirit and ego had caused me to be in so much inner pain that it would be expelled as harsh anger upon those I was closest to. But each time I did this, I disliked myself more, and this only led to greater imbalance. This vicious circle continued till I became a mother. The love that I saw in my children’s eyes impelled me to find the real ‘me’, and to face truths about my role in my experiences that I had earlier preferred to burden others with.”

In short, balance happens only through freedom, when we are under nobody’s control but ourselves. Then balance naturally unfolds, and enables us to be appropriate at any moment.

sampoornaSays G.L.Sampoorna, “Balance is the act of being centred, through an appropriate usage and distribution of energies. It is achieved by the use of the ideal proportion of energies. It is the merging of polarities, the integration of two opposing poles, which allows us to live with moderation as a way of life.”

Vidushi Luthra, a young spiritual adept who has founded an organisation called Rudra Universe, adds, “A balanced person is one who is able to gracefully accept the polarities in life and go through both with samaanbhava. Such a human neither lives in content nor discontent for he is beyond both; beyond the identification of man or a woman, beyond the negative and the positive. Balancing needs discipline, peace, agni, samarpan, and truth.”

The play of balance

So how does balance work out in the real world? Perhaps the most important thing to understand about balance is that it is not about a predetermined apportioning of time and energy to all one’s duties and activities. It has little to do with a regimental lifestyle which has a time for everything. It is not about getting up at 6 am, drinking tea at 6.05 am, reaching work at 9 am, leaving work at 5.30 pm, having dinner at 8 pm and going to bed at 10.  In fact, such schedules when rigidly clung to, often betray the lack of a natural and spontaneous sense of balance.

Says Divyaa Kummar, a Mumbai-based spiritual teacher and healer, “Often a strictly ‘imposed’ rigid balance on self stems from a deep sense of imbalance – and fear of that imbalanced self!”

Real balance is a dynamic active state where we respond to a situation moment to moment while looking at it on the whole. There is no preconceived notion, no acting from rules, regulations, principles and ideals. This kind of balance may require us to work extremely long hours while in the midst of a project, and make up for neglected aspects of our lives later. Or it may cause us to let go of a prestigious  project because the family is in need of us. It is balance of our lives as a whole, and the result is a sense of peace and fulfillment, a feeling that all aspects of our lives are in sync, and nothing neglected or disproportionate.

Says Sukhvinder Sircar, writer and votary of the Divine Feminine, “Balance is a continual dance, and imbalance is a very integral part of it. Every imbalance pushes me to a greater balance. It’s like tightrope walking. One is constantly tilted either on one side or another. A tightrope walker keeps advancing on the rope in constant awareness of where the balance will happen. Balance is always dynamic. When we are constantly in adjustment to what is present in the now, it is a beautiful dance of balance.”

sukhvinder

She adds, “When a child is young, a working mother may be spending much more energy in the bringing up of her child than on her career, but for that time, that is the work-life balance.”

Divyaa Kummar elaborates, “Balance is like a home – the rooms are of different sizes based on the role each room plays. Thus to me living in balance is when I can devote my energies flexibly and adequately to whatever my Now comprises of! For example, if there is a family wedding going on, I would spend more time and energy with the family, helping in whatever tasks are on hand, even dressing up as required and participating in the late night occasions. On a more regular basis I try to remain in sync with my nature and the nature of my work – which is waking early, doing my meditation and writing, going for a walk, spending time with my family, looking into the house, then spending the day reaching out through my sessions and classes etc; reserving the evening to relax, and going early to bed!”

Educationist and poet, Harvinder Kaur says passionately, “A human life may be there to live out a certain dimension in a certain depth, which means you’ll have to let go of the others or not pursue them with the same intensity. To me, recognising this inner rhythm and purpose, and living it, is balance.  There is something we bring with us when we are born, a life flow.  Being in rhythm with that allows us to feel an inner resonance and that is balance.”

Finding balance

I am recognizing this for myself as I go along on my own journey of finding balance. For instance, the last one year has caused me to travel almost every month, either on family duty, work or pleasure. I am thrilled with this new development for I love travelling, but it has meant that in order for me to execute my job as editor effectively, I have had to work very hard on the days that I have been in Mumbai, whether it meant working late into the night or over weekends. In other words, in order to attain a greater work-life balance, I have had to let go of the smaller work-life balance of having my evenings and weekends free.

I also discover that balance moves you away from very rigid or absolute rules and towards a more spacious, holistic space. For instance, I used to be rigid about exercising or going out for a walk every single day, and if I defaulted on this, I would beat myself up. My greater balance helps me today to recognize that it is okay to skip the walk a couple of days a week (or for that matter almost entirely during winter in order to not expose oneself to smog), as long as my health does not suffer.

Balance also helps you to take decisions from a rational perspective. For instance, I usually buy vegetables from the station where they are fresher and considerably cheaper than from where I stay. Earlier, I would have heartburn if I bought from my neighborhood greengrocers.  Today, I am recognizing that no matter how exorbitant the price, it would not burn an irreparable hole in my pocket; and that if I have to buy veggies, I have to buy veggies! Similarly earlier, I would take a train to work regardless of circumstances. Now I evaluate the urgency, and when I need to I take an auto.

Even my cooking, I find, is benefitting from my increasing balance. Earlier, driven by a need to make the food tasty, I would use too much oil or condiments. Now, I find that all ingredients are in proportion, and consequently the food is far tastier than before.

Similarly, others have their learnings. Says Sampoorna, “My life is an ongoing process of learning to balance. Just as I think my life is in balance, something will crop up to show me I am off course, pointing out the lack of balance in some area. When I identify it, I focus on re-aligning my thinking and attitude and bring a change in my way of living. I sometimes find it annoying and sometimes it is good fun, like playing a game.”

Adds Sukhvinder, “My personal search for balance is a deep journey of acknowledging and gathering all aspects of myself. This required many journeys into the dark to retrieve the denied, forgotten, unconscious  aspects. Sometimes, I seek Goddess Lakshmi’s inspiration from her four hands denoting dharma, artha, kama, moksha and the divine balance between them all.  Sometimes, I seek the guidance of the Devi’s three eyes to integrate that which is manifest and unmanifest.”

Sukhvinder makes an important point when she says, “Usually for me, whether I have been in balance or not is something that gets clear for me in hindsight.”

And how does hindsight show this to us? Through the painful consequences that unfold. Lack of balance inevitably draws pain into our lives. And the reverse is true too. So when pain visits us, we can know that we have defaulted on balance in one area or other.

Katherine Keefer, a US-based poet and sculptor, says, “For several years I was teaching school in what we call the inner city. Many of the children have been traumatised and needed a lot of patience and emotional support. At the same time I was helping my husband on public art projects, as well as driving up to help my parents on the weekend. I was exhausted.  I didn’t have the energy I needed for my job, or for my marriage.  I tried to fix this by taking a temporary leave from my job. It was, however, too late to save the marriage. The marriage may have dissolved anyway, but being so tired did not help.”

One thing though that can cue us as to whether we are in balance or not is to evaluate if what we are doing is coming out of freedom or compulsion. When we act out of compulsion balance is unlikely to occur, whether it is about the amount of time we spend on facebook or whatsapp, or how much money we spend on clothes.

Return to balance

Assuming we have fallen out of balance, is there a way we can return to it? We all have those days when we feel emotionally febrile or fragile. Days when we become overwrought and everything seems difficult; or when our triggers are pressed and we react with lamentable excess.

The simplest and trustiest way to return to balance is through our breath. Every time we are in danger of losing our balance – of reacting in anger, of plunging into lust or greed, of taking the easy way out – all we need to do, though it is never easy to be aware enough to do it – is to breathe. The breath returns us to ourselves, it helps us to anchor and centre ourselves, and in doing so, it helps us find our balance.

Yet another way to return to balance is to do a few yogic balancing exercises such as parvathasana. As we strive to find our balance physically, we will also arrive at it spiritually and emotionally.

But of course, these tools can only help us in the short term. For us to achieve balance consistently and continually, there is no way out than that mandatory inner work. The work of knowing yourself, of healing your wounds and hurts, of strengthening your strengths and weakening your weaknesses. Of growing in love, faith and acceptance of your self.  Then we become capable of holding our balance even in trying circumstances. We become the kind of person Rudyard Kipling’s eulogised in his poem If, where he says, “If you can keep your head when all about you

 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” 

Sampoorna recalls one such situation. “There was once a hissing sound in my house, and I found there was an electrical fire. I was alone at home. The main switchboard was under the staircase, behind a locked door used by tenants upstairs. Being a working day, they were unlikely to be there and I didn’t have the key. Even as I expected myself to panic, I found a wave of calm take over. My mind and body slowed down, I felt a shift inside, an adjustment happening within, balancing my body and mind. Each thought became crystal clear and every movement was crisp and deliberate. I was in the moment. I rang the bell and fortunately, all was well. The process I went through is an experience I remember in awe.”

Ellaeenah says, “In the very recent past two very dear persons made me experience much pain due to their lack of integrity and betrayal of bonds that were sacred. The pain of this discovery was so overwhelming that I was in complete imbalance for a couple of days. Then Spirit gently spoke to me. What it said surprised me into instant balance. Spirit spoke to me of the inner pain of these dear ones that had turned them against me, a person I knew (even in my pain I knew this) they loved deeply. The inner balance took away every vestige of the pain I felt and made me reach out to them in order to alleviate that inner emptiness in any way I could. Inner balance strengthened the sacred bonds which imbalance could have so easily severed for good.”

Balancing the elements

When we achieve balance we also create balance in the elements of which we are composed – earth, fire, water, air and space.

Most of us have an imbalance of these elements, which can be determined by our Zodiac signs as well as the Ayurvedic classification of vata, pitta or kapha. Satish Kaku, a Mumbai-based spiritual teacher, explains, “In ayurveda, imbalance of water and earth creates kapha, imbalance of fire and water creates pitta, and imbalance of ether and air creates vata.”

When I started my healing journey, as a Cancerian born in June, and as a dominant vata-kapha type, I knew that I had an excess of water in my system which kept me sluggish and tamasic, and an excess of air, which kept me unstable, and hyper. I had a deficiency of fire and earth. I am unsure of where I stand when it comes to space, so hallelujah, perhaps at least one element was in proper proportion! Over time, as I worked on myself, I became action-oriented and dynamic, testifying to the increase of my fire element, and also more grounded and stable, testifying to the increase of my earth element.

Recently, while on holiday in Goa with a friend of mine, who was a kapha vata, she declared after watching me wake up in the morning and get ready for the day without lying around lazily, that I must have some pitta in me. I felt quite vindicated!

When we are in perfect balance, all qualities unfold within us, even those that appear opposing. Effortlessly, we are at one and the same time, loving but firm, tough but tender, gentle but strong, assertive but respectful, serious but playful. We can be anything and everything the moment requires us to be because in our freedom, the whole palette of human choices opens up to us.

But there is a stage even beyond that when the person disappears and only the balance remains.

Says Vidushi Luthra, “ I am nowhere in the balancing journey.”

Satish Kaku too says something similar, “I am nowhere and everywhere. Once you realise yourself as love, you see yourself everywhere. You are in the world but not of the world, you merge with universal soul. So as ‘I’ it stands everywhere but still ‘nowhere.’”

What else is there to say?

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