bal·ance (noun) \ˈba-lən(t)s the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall, the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling, a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance
Oh, the oft-mentioned, rarely-attained dream of balance. I like to imagine that balance is similar to my favorite breakfast -- peanut butter toast. I wake up most mornings with the intention of having breakfast in general, and specifically, peanut butter toast. It goes with everything, which I appreciate when deciding between iced versus hot coffee. It is nutritious and tastes delicious. It's relatively cheap (unless you decide to swap out peanut butter for overly priced almond butter, which sometimes is necessary) and easy to make. It's portable; I can eat it standing up in the bathroom, sitting on the couch, at my work desk, in my car. It can also sub for lunch or dinner in a pinch.
(Stay with me.)
On ideal mornings, my peanut butter is distributed evenly and perfectly across my toast, which I eat as slowly as I like. But most mornings aren't "ideal" in the least. When I spread peanut butter across a piece of toast, it's rarely even. It often depends on the type of butter purchased -- smooth and creamy, crunchy and thick -- and inevitably it gets too thin on some corners of the toast and overly slopped on others. Every day, the peanut butter spreads a little differently, but it's still delicious and still counts as breakfast. And some mornings, I don't have time to make or eat it at all; it just doesn't happen, even if I want it to.
Balance is kinda like that. According to the above definition, it's a state where our weight is spread equally so we do not fall or lose control. So we don't fall off our bicycles. So we have the perfect ratio of peanut butter on our toast.
But if I imagine a balance scale, my life needs about 25 little bowls. Like you, I've got multiple categories vying for importance. Family. Friends. Health. Faith. Career. Relationships. Bills. Cleanliness. Rest. Activity. Inspiration. Creative Output. Appointments. Pets. Homes. Food. Community. Hobbies. Schedules. Etc. Not to mention how these categories adjust based on the time of year, with school and sports and vacations and holidays.
And I'm supposed to keep them all at the same level, all the time? It's impossible. Usually one is overflowing, one is totally empty, one's chain snapped in half, one is half-heavy, two are aligned at the same level, and one has completely disappeared. I mess up and say the wrong thing and forgot my to-do list and don't live up to my intentions and eat too much chocolate and sleep through alarms and spend money over budget, and more.
Which basically means that I "fail" at balance all the freaking time -- because I fall and lose control a lot. That's okay. The problem is that "balance" is too big of a concept. We hear "balance" and think "do all the things, perfectly and at once."
In yoga, we practice our balance during certain poses and the temptation is the same -- hold balance with ease, without a single wobble. I may try to move to handstand by gently lifting my leg instead of throwing it or kicking it up. I may try to find a slight pause, stacking hips over shoulders, and when my feet reach skyward, I may press into my hands to feel more grounded. I might pull my core in tight, flex the soles of my feet toward the ceiling and focus on all the little things I can do to STAY UP AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. And usually after about one breath, I come down, and think about all the ways I didn't do it "right." I admire the yogis who can go up in handstand easily and hang out there for what seems like forever, and handstand seems like such an "ideal" yoga posture -- because, all "good" yoga students need to be able to do handstand, right?
This is how we typically think of balance -- as if it's a place we can get to, if we do everything right and carefully, and once we arrive, we STAY there with all the other good, perfect people who have managed to figure it out.
Except ... we're wrong. Balance isn't a place; It's an ideal state, an archetypal idea. Balance isn't a set point of arrival; it's a back-and-forth, short-term position. Really, I think the only thing we should be aiming for is the third part of that Merriam-Webster definition, in which balance is when different things have an equal or proper amount of importance. But what happens when something is important to you, and yet you only prioritize it half the time? Does that mean you're not balanced? Does that mean you're failing?
No. Lots of things are likely important to you, and these are probably the things that theoretically you want to give equal weight in your life. Maybe some days you do, but lots of days, that's probably not the case because it isn't realistic. Nobody can give 100% at all times to multiple priorities. That's why you must make choices as you see fit; balance shifts all the time -- based on different periods of your life, different times of year, different challenges and endeavors. Balance also looks different on every person; the things you might choose to prioritize may look like the opposite of balance to someone else.
Life also gets in the way. How often have you planned out your day to be just so and then the universe doesn't adhere? That happens to me constantly, and it can be frustrating, until you accept that balance is only an intention, and you can only do your best at prioritizing what's important to you each day as it comes. Sometimes that priority takes shape for an hour, or five minutes.
In yoga, poses always balance each other out. Inhales are followed by exhales. You push your body, and then you pull back to rest. Over and over. You find strength from the ground up, whether your feet are on the ground and everything looks normal, or your hands are on the ground and your world is upside down. You make small adjustments here and there, and learn where to hold on, and where to let go.
Balance is really a dance. So as you seek that equilibrium, in life or in your practice, find peace in the fact that it'll always be fleeting.