In Bikram yoga class the other day during the almost impossible standing-head-to-knee posture, the teacher said that the pose is not so much about balancing on one leg as it is about finding balance in yourself and your life. That statement got me to thinking about how absolutely essential balance is to everything we do. I’ve come to believe that balance is the single most important, underlying key to happiness and success in almost every area of life.
All personality traits exist on a spectrum and aren’t good or bad by themselves. The unique manifestation of a particular characteristic in specific circumstances and even the intention behind it factor into its appropriateness and value in a particular situation. Achieving the delicate, elusive, ever-shifting balance of just enough, but not-too-much can mean the difference between happiness and misery.
Selfishness requires finding this tricky equilibrium.
Having had more than enough up close and personal experience with narcissists in my past, I always strived to be the farthest from anything remotely like selfish and bent over backward to be the exact opposite, an over-giver. I earned this title so well that I never got my own needs met. Not even close. A little selfishness is healthy and even essential to being happy, I’ve found. Balance.
The Dalai Lama had this to say about selfishness:
It is important that when pursuing our own self-interest we should be “wise selfish” and not “foolish selfish.” Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.
While giving, empathy, and altruism are seen as desirable qualities; even these traits can be taken to unhealthy extremes. Formerly an expert at this, I was the person everyone knew they could turn to for help moving, when they needed someone to watch their kids, when a school party needed organizing or baking or decorating. You name it. I did it. However, I neglected to take care of, give to, and help myself first – or last even. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even on my list and gave and gave until there was nothing left of and for me. Empty.
I used to act this way because I thought that my giving and doing were like an unspoken insurance policy. The more I gave to everyone else, surely, the more people would give back to me. Right? Wrong! I ended up attracting “takers” in my life who were more than happy to take and take and keep on taking. Because this was what I was comfortable with, I allowed it in my life.
While I was giving and giving, I became more and more depleted and resentful because I was getting pitifully little in return. I realize, in retrospect, that I was giving to get. That’s not giving. It’s taking. This scenario perfectly exemplifies the belief that everyone in your life is a mirror. The takers were reflecting back to me a part of myself which I didn’t acknowledge.
I’ve learned to say “No,” and to give to myself first. You have to take care of yourself before you have anything extra to give someone else freely with no strings attached. I sustained a brain injury,the result of a suicide attempt, which actually taught me how to make myself a priority and how to give to myself. I had to in order to recover, and I simply didn’t have the energy to do otherwise. Funny how life gives you the lessons you need.
In every situation, there is always a compassionate, caring way to respond which considers what is being asked of me, my feelings, needs, and happiness as well the desires and wishes of the other party. First and foremost, I need to be compassionate and caring with myself. My response doesn’t have to be yes or no and is usually something in between. Balance.
Finding balance is about learning to listen to and incorporate all of the wisdom available to you. A person will greatly benefit from allowing their heart, head, and gut to have input in directing their life and finding balance. In the past, my bossy brain dominated the show, incessantly chattering nervous nonsense, freaking out, and barking orders. The voice in my head used to be so critical, relentless, and just plain mean. Through practices such as meditation, mindfulness, thought reframing, yoga, and cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve calmed and taken control of my mind to find balance and happiness.
Oh, and as I’ve found more balance in my life, the one-legged yoga postures have gotten easier!
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yogendra174/