I used to endeavor to live a balanced life.
I used to think that if I controlled and managed everything in my life just right that I would be happy. If I could carve out the exact right number of hours for family, work, health, recreation, etc. that I would have the right formula for success. If I didn’t get angry, if I didn’t get sad, if I didn’t get in situations that brought up my “negative” emotions I could stay in a comfortable place. I could avoid confrontation. I could avoid criticism. I could avoid disapproval. I worked hard at this, trying to stay on an even keel at all costs. And the cost was huge.
I found that striving for balance was a constant inner struggle.
I found that in order to be perceived as being balanced and in control, my inner battle with myself raged. I confronted myself when I couldn’t control my anger. I criticized myself when I ate the wrong food, or too much of it. I disapproved of myself when I did not meet the standards of perfection that I thought would guarantee a happy and balanced life. I was miserable, yet I kept at it convinced that if I was able to live in the narrow bandwidth I could accomplish my goal. I was still working as a Project Manager in construction at the time. We were doing start up on a new building, and we were trying to get the set points on the building’s control system to work properly. The set point spread was 4 degrees on the heating and cooling system. If the temperature went 2 degrees higher or 2 degrees lower than the set point the heating or cooling would come on, depending on the season. I wanted a set point. I wanted an automatic setting that would ramp my emotions up or down if they got 2 notches away from my ideal state of tranquility.
Another way to look at it is to imagine a teeter-totter. I loved going up and down on one at the park when I was a child. It wouldn’t be much fun if it stayed in one place. Or imagine standing on it in the middle and balancing it. Think of the struggle it would take to get it to stand still.
The harder I tried to live a balanced life, the harder it became to try to stay in the place that I thought would give me balance. Staying in that place also assured that I didn’t have to be seen. I thought it would be a comfortable place to be, an invisible, calm, small place to live.
And then my daughter died. I found out that I couldn’t control anything.
My life was thrown into a chaos that was beyond anything I had previously been trying to avoid. I didn’t have the strength to figure out how I had let this happen. I knew at some level that it was not my fault, yet for a while I blamed myself. I was tossed into an inferno of devastation.
When I began to emerge from this place and looked around at the destruction that was my life I had a choice. I could continue to try to put my life in an order that resembled my former life, or I could open my eyes wide and ask, what now? That’s what I did.
I had already been to the depths of despair, the place I thought I could manage myself with enough control and force. That had me struggling to be perfect and beating myself up when I couldn’t reach my idea of what perfection was for me in any given moment. Instead I chose to live an unbalanced life.
Living an unbalanced life means that I get to live fully as myself. I get to feel the full spectrum of feelings in all of their messy glory. I choose to live here, without a set point to regulate my emotions. Yes, it means that sometimes I am sad, fearful, or feel down. I’ve found that when I allow myself to engage with those feelings fully, I can move through them and feel exhilarated, excited, and joyful. So these days I choose to live an unbalanced life, a life that is messy, chaotic, creative, inspired, and imperfect.