We often hear advice to ‘maintain a healthy balance’. Whether it’s in regard to a balanced diet, the balance of juggling family, friends and relationships or the elusive ideal of a work-life balance, we all wobble along various tightropes, desperately trying to keep in line. On being given such advice, it is easy to get lost in this idea of balance, causing many of us to overlook a crucial word: maintain. Balance requires continual maintenance.
As an individual with a somewhat pronounced all-or-nothing attitude, I have never been so great at balance off the yoga mat. As soon as my schedule begins to fill up, the things that are truly important to me are often the first to go: time spent in nature, reading a good book, exercise, dinner with friends, writing. The list is endless. I have often found myself attending yoga retreats as some sort of power-up during chaotic times – much like many of us trick ourselves into thinking that a long lie-in makes up for a sleep deficit which has crept up for weeks. Frustratingly, life doesn’t work that way.
In the final few days of a yoga retreat I attended recently, the inevitable gloomy exchange began popping up among guests; collective sighs of “back to reality soon” and “how on earth am I going to cope at work on Monday?” This universal sentiment is not exclusive to retreats. Anyone who has enjoyed even the briefest of holidays will be familiar with that sinking feeling of returning to ‘normal life’. It can even be enough to dull whatever adventure you are experiencing, limiting the benefits in the process.
This got me questioning the way in which we view holidays and in particular, the way we use the word retreat. Its synonyms invoke opposite ends of an emotional spectrum, from sanctuary and shelter, to recoil, run away and flee. Many of us see retreats or holidays as a means of ‘getting away from reality’, of momentarily pausing time. It is both strange and sad that so-called ‘normal life’ is so commonly viewed as an opposing entity to life on your travels. Surely they are separate moments on a continuum?
We can’t all run away to mountains, jungles or beaches and forever live a perfectly balanced and peaceful day-to-day existence, enticing as the prospect may be. Equally, during those brief moments where we create a sense of space and separation from our ‘normal life,’ or ‘reality,’ it is important to realise what an illusion it is to do so. The problem perhaps stems from a natural tendency to separate and compartmentalise aspects of our lives, creating struggles when we try to align them and tightrope walk in-between.
The first challenge in overcoming such struggles is to try and weave it all together, embracing all aspects of life as a whole. Looking at the way in which you approach a getaway could be a good place to start; try to ascertain what exactly it is about a retreat or holiday that gives you a sense of peace, freedom or space. Conversely, what aspect of your day-to-day life drives you to seek a momentary escape? Getting to the root of this and becoming aware of its impact on your daily life is a vital step in creating equilibrium.
The next challenge is maintenance. Actively maintaining this awareness will naturally nudge you into the necessary changes to make ‘normal life’ feel like less of a chore, less of a separate entity to that carefree holiday feeling. This could be as subtle as getting more sleep, prioritising time for yourself or creating more time for the things that are important to you. Then again, it may be as big as re-thinking your career or letting go of a relationship which is no longer healthy.
This isn’t to say that maintaining balance from this perspective is easy. Those who have ever attempted to walk an actual, physical tightrope will know what hard work is involved in something that can look so elegantly effortless. Nonetheless, hard work pays off. Maybe next time you go on holiday, you won’t be fearfully counting the days until you return to´normal life´…