Lessons from a Life: Balance


Lesson #5: Pay attention to health

Here is my favorite story about Gandhi taken from his memorial website:

One day a mother came to Gandhi with her little boy for help. She asked Gandhi, Please, Bapu, will you tell my little boy to stop eating sugar. He simply eats too much sugar and will not stop. Gandhi told the mother to leave and come back with the boy in three days.

The mother returned with her son and said to Gandhi. We have come back as you asked, Gandhi turned to the boy and said, “Young boy, stop eating sweets. They are not good for you.”

The mother then asked Gandhi, “Bapu, why didn’t you tell my son that when we first came to see you? Why did you ask us to leave and come back in three days? I don’t understand.”

Gandhi said to the woman, “I asked you to return with the boy in three days, because three days ago, I, too, was eating sweets. I could not ask him to stop eating sweets so long as I had not stopped eating sweets.

This story has been on my mind A LOT over the last two weeks as I contemplated writing this blog on balance while being out of physical balance.  I am happy to report that thanks the readers of this blog, I have dialed up my daily spiritual practice and for the first time in months, have walked or done yoga for a minimum of 30 minutes daily for 11 consecutive days.  

I have learned most of my lessons on balance from being off the physical balance beam. Paying attention to my health and body in a compassionate and healthy way has been and continues to be a struggle. In my tweens, I developed a periodic but debilitating eating disorder that I was not able to heal in my early 30’s. In my twenties, I used work, over exercise, shopping, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes as a way to escape, myself and my emotions. Balance in that decade of life was about balancing my addictions in a way that allowed me to live and appear OK. I was not OK.

In my early thirties, after giving up nicotine and mind altering substances (except sugar)  I took on healing, health and seeking balance as my mission. I became a certified yoga teacher, spent all of my disposable income on spas, retreats, healers, gyms, therapy and started a well-paying career where I was able to teach others about balance. I was athletic and completed a 1200 mile bike ride. I was good at my job and I got a master’s degree. I remember one of my friends asking me when I was 39, “Don’t you ever get tired of all this self-care?” I laughed and answered, “No!”

In my forties, I became an entrepreneur, spiritual seeker and artist. My life and income became more creative and unpredictable. My more constant commitment to my health took a hit. I gained weight. I lost weight. I got fit. I lost my fitness. I lived in three states. I wrote and invented things. I stayed sober. I struggled with asthma, depression, dental problems and developed planter fasciitis. For the most part, I was happy, healthy and was able to help others. My life became messy, adventurous, relaxed and real.

Today I am 54 and going through menopause as I write this. I have more body fat then the 39-year-old version of me. I spend less time thinking about my body and my health than I ought to but I am not obsessed or as critical of it.  My definition of health now expands beyond the physical to include intellectual, emotional and spiritual health and I would give myself high marks for three out of the four areas. My opportunity now is to focus on my physical health in a gentle but effective way. Balance for me today is remembering to drink more water than coffee instead of working out 10 hours a week…

How are you doing with your own sense of balance? Rate yourself from 1-10 for the following areas:

  • Physical – Take care of your body
  • Intellectual Exercise your mind
  • Spiritual – Nurture your spirit
  • Emotional – Tune in to your feelings

Choose the one with the lowest score to focus on this week. Spend time to reflect on what are you doing well in this area and what subtle changes you can make this week to make an improvement.

Laurel Donnellan

CEO and Founder, Bright Livelihoods

Laurel’s mission is to help people find their home in the world of work. She has 30 years of experience as a leader, educator and coach and has degrees from Cornell and Columbia.  To request a private half-hour coaching session with Laurel, e-mail us at info@brightlivelihoods.com.


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