Today, March 20, is the first day of the solar new year, otherwise known as the vernal equinox, the first day of spring and one of two days each year when the hours of daylight and nighttime are equally long. The word "equinox" actually derives from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). As the earth's angle of inclination towards the sun changes throughout the year, lengthening or shortening the days according to hemisphere and season, there are two times a year when day and night are of nearly equal length: the spring and autumn equinoxes. These celestial times have been recognized for thousands of years among all cultures and have given rise to a significant body of seasonal folklore and ritualistic traditions. Across all cultures and spanning centuries, spring is celebrated as a time of renewal as lengthening sun-warmed days take the place of the short, dark and cold days of winter.
Though there are many superstitious beliefs around the equinox, one of the most prominent is that you can stand a raw egg on its end on this day, and this day alone. Apparently this phenomenon has been attributed to the "special gravitational forces" that arise due to the sun's equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox.
It's not true. You can stand a raw egg on its end anytime.
However, the principle that a feat of precarious balance can most easily be achieved on this day got me to thinking about the principle of balance and the notion of integrating more balance into our daily lives. What better time to start than on the vernal equinox, in spring, when the planet is most astronomically "in balance"?
Hasn't the quest for "balance" become a constant refrain in our hectic 21st century, techno-driven, globalized world? The numbers on a clock mean very little now, with the ability to communicate 24 hours a day with people in time zones on the other side of the earth. Yet, people are forever striving for "work-life balance" even as they work more hours, blur lines between work and home, and utilize mobile and wireless technologies to stay "connected anytime, anywhere." As a result, people become mentally, physically, and emotionally drained and exhausted, throwing themselves even more out of whack as a result.
Spring, specifically the vernal equinox, is the perfect time to reassess the balance (or imbalances) in your life and take stock of areas in your life that you need to replenish and renew, and reduce those that are depleting and draining. If the unfolding events in most days seem to direct (and maybe overtake) you, it can be nearly impossible to even think about how to refocus and redirect your energy. Here are five simple ideas to help get you started on rebalancing... These are things I have integrated into my life that I have found help me regain a sense of balance and equanimity.
1) Spend a few seconds focusing on your breath. Note I didn't say "minutes" - just spend the "seconds" it takes to count just 10 breaths. I find that before I do anything else in the morning, focusing on my breath helps me focus my mind before I have to get up and face the day. Often, this simple act helps me to plan for, and subsequently approach the course of my day with a feeling of control and enthusiasm. Whenever you focus on your breathing, you're in the present moment. And what is balance if not being fully present in the moment? Focus on your breath anytime throughout the day, particularly in moments you feel stressed, anxious, tense, bored, or overwhelmed.
2) Plan and cook one meal a week. Think carefully about what you would like to eat, how it will taste, nourish your body, and energize you. Plan it out and take the time to prepare it from scratch. It doesn't matter if it's a simple salad, a pot of pasta, or a five-course meal. Just plan it out and "cook with love." I used to never cook. Now I cook meals from scratch four, sometimes five nights a week. I feel so much more connected to flavors, innovation and creativity, and my body. Not to mention, I have become a pretty awesome cook, if I do say so myself.
3) Spend some time outside each day. I know I can become fully "tunneled" into the virtual world of my computer screen, and find entire hours have completely slipped away. Whenever this happens, I usually find that along with the disappearing time, my neck and back have stiffened and cramped, my head is swimming, and my vision has blurred. These are all signs that it's time to physically get outside into the real world and inhale some fresh air. Connecting with nature has been shown to have a direct impact on people's moods and productivity. And not just when it's sunny, which for me, is a hard pill to swallow. But I try to get out, even when it's raining, or worse.
4) Get some exercise. Exercise is a natural mood-lifter, depression-antidote, fitness-enhancer, etc. We have all heard the benefits, yet many people still feel as though they don't have the time to fit a half-hour of exercise into their day. It's easy if you can integrate this with #3 above! Get outside a couple of times a day: go for a walk to grab your lunch, walk or bike to and from work if possible, walk your dog, plant a garden (hey, it's spring after all!), hike a trail - all of these are very viable forms of exercise that will also have you soaking up some Vitamin D from the sun and absorbing the benefits of fresh air and green space around you!
5) Express gratitude. Psychology research has shown that one's level of happiness is very stable over the long-term, regardless of external events. That means that whether a person won the lottery or suffered a paralyzing accident, that person will return to their usual baseline level of happiness in approximately three to six months. It's not what happens to you in your life that makes you a happy (or miserable) person; it's your internal frame of mind. If you're a pessimist, reading this probably didn't do anything to raise your hopes of happiness.
However, one thing that can increase overall levels of happiness permanently is through consciously expressing thanks (yes, even for die-hard pessimists). A leader in the relatively new field of positive psychology, Dr. Robert Emmons, discusses the "psychology of gratitude" in his new book, Thanks, as well as his more academic text, The Psychology of Gratitude (Series in Affective Science). Emmons conducted an experiment in which he asked people to either 1) record things that they were grateful for, 2) record neutral events with neither a positive nor negative attribution, or 3) write down events that annoyed, angered, or upset them. The three groups did this once a week for ten weeks, and those who were in the "gratitude group" were 25% happier at the end of the study than when they started the study, and happier than those who recorded either neutral events or, the group that fared the worst, those who wrote down things they were annoyed or upset by. "People in the gratitude condition were more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives, and they even did almost 1.5 more hours of exercise a week." Research has shown that the content of the event a person is grateful for is much less important than simply feeling grateful.
Of course, taking time out each day to -- breathe, walk outside, prepare and eat food, and say thank you -- may be too overwhelming to consider packing into an already full schedule.
...Or perhaps not. Taking the time for these obvious necessities of life may be just the first small steps to a more realigned - and balanced - life.