Op/Ed

Ways of seeing: ‘Balance’ proves elusive goal

I have a recurring nightmare. Set in a landscape of my childhood, my family’s ancestral Florida lake house becomes swallowed by rising water. I’m stranded on the dock as water rises all around me. I awaken filled with anxiety, about being swallowed by something that I can’t control, the fear of being surrounded by unknown depths and darkness.

For the past year or so, a similar feeling has crept into my belly as I watch the Green Mountains enter drought. The forest pathways I walk daily are dusty, the garden is so parched it seems her thirst can never be quenched. What once felt like abundance now feels like a precious resource that must be meted out carefully. A deep uneasiness settles around me and doesn’t abate upon waking.

Earlier this summer the rains came back, drenching the land for what seemed like weeks. The rain gauge by the garden gate emptied daily, not weekly. Inches accumulated. Mud tracked into the house, picnic blankets soggy, beach towels on the clothesline leaden. The river rushing, brown and deep.

At first, it felt so welcome. I stood outside and let the rain kiss my face. Gratitude for the gathering clouds, and the humid, dark summer days. Yet as the steady rain continued to fall, the uneasiness slipped back in. Will not-enough become too-much? Will the pendulum swing too far?

This has taught me that I thrive in balance. In the extremes, I feel untethered.

Early summer also saw life picking up. Social gatherings, summer camps, even trips to town for errands. Work life increased in pace too: where my days recently consisted of “only” Zoom meetings and a few scattered moments to do other work, they’ve now — expanded — fractured — to include all that, plus in-person meetings, and commuting. I’m exhausted, drowning and parched at the same time. With this, the uneasy, ungrounded feelings are reemerging.

I alone cannot bring balance into the larger systems that I am enmeshed within. I cannot dictate the waves of the pandemic and how they will shift the rhythm of my days. The rain will come, or it won’t. But the balance I’m seeking outside might be found within, with intention.

Foundational to this calibration is cultivating awareness of both my internal landscape and the larger world. What’s happening in me? In my world? How is my energy? What is needed to meet the world today? What is needed right now? What is coming? What can I shape? What will shape me?

When work life gets full and begins to burst at the seams, it’s time to clear the social calendar and rest. When work life reaches a lull, making plans to gather, to play together, or stay up late around a campfire will bring balance. I can’t do it all. Doing it all feels like too much, a deluge. But doing too little feels like a drought. How can I navigate to the sweet spot?

It means saying no more often than I’m used to (or want to). It means actively cultivating enough rest to balance out the shifting rhythms. It also means I need to watch which way the wind is shifting: Am I entering a busy season? How can I ready myself with enough flexibility to meet the moment with grace and groundedness?

There is so much I cannot control, like those rising waters in my nightmare, but I’ve learned I can shift my center — my patterns and habits — to find something close to balance and meet whatever comes. Balance isn’t static; it’s more like a constant dance, my feet shifting as the dock rises and falls on the water beneath.

Emily Hoyler lives in the woods of Ripton with her husband, three children, a dog, a cat, 19 chickens, and assorted other wild things. She works as an educator, facilitator, and climate activist.

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