Balance Beyond the Pie Chart
By Carla Goldstein, Director, The Women's Institute at Omega
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I marvel at seagulls when they rest on one leg and face calmly
into the wind without toppling over. If only finding balance was
that simple for us human beings. In a world filled with paradox,
chaos, and constant change, navigating life with any sense of real
balance can seem impossible.
In magazine headlines “finding balance” is often talked about
as a lifestyle quest, with an emphasis on living a full life. We
are encouraged to plan our activities so that they are evenly distributed
around a pie chart of life’s important areas: family and friends,
creativity, career, romance, health, money, personal and spiritual
growth, and physical environment.
The pie chart is a great tool for self-reflection. The first time
I did it led me to big insight. But it’s missing an important concept
of balance – the alignment between one’s inner most values and
outer world actions. Being well-rounded in activity doesn't guarantee
that you are living by what you personally value most deeply.
Trying to fill in each area of the pie chart
can lead to a lot of "shoulds" that actually keep you
away from following your own map and listening to what is calling
you most. Also, a balance template overlooks the natural ebb
and flow of life that allows one area to blossom while another
is quietly ripening.
Questioning our sense of balance from a values-based perspective
might seem unnecessary for people who consider themselves activists
because our activism usually grows out of passionate caring for
others. Yet, when I examined the alignment between the why and
how of my activism, I had a big aha! Love for others was my motivation,
but my actions were not filled with loving activity. In fact, from
the perspective of aligning values to action – I was way out of
As a reproductive rights activist, my actions
were fueled by an automated anger and carried out in repetitious
competitive maneuvering against my "enemy." I was looking
to trump, silence, and devalue the “other side.” I was a name
caller. I refused to see the full humanity of those whom I felt
threatened my sense of truth and what is right. I was cultivating
more of what I did not want to see or experience in the world.
When I realized the gap between my motivation and my actions,
I began to make changes. I did not give up my deeply held convictions,
but I started paying attention to the process by which I sought
them. In what could be thought of as coming full circle, I began
leaning into the historical phrase “the personal is the political,”
and looking for the equilibrium between my own personal and political.
I also realized that balance is not a static state, nor a final
destination point. It is a way of being that recognizes life is
about relationships and is always in process, variable, active,
and dialectic. Like an airplane that does not simply fly via a
straight line from point A to point B, but instead has to constantly
correct itself by flying in little vectors off of the straight
line route, we can work with the idea of balance as a values-centering
tool, a guide post that brings back, again and again, to what we
Living in balance this way opens up the field of possibilities
for our activism to be about everything we do. Instead of focusing
primarily on the issues from a systemic perspective alone, like
a public policy issue, debate or campaign, we can take responsibility
for the impact of our whole lives and remember that every action
counts and has the potential to set in motion that which we most
want to manifest in the world.
Balance Reflection Exercise
A good way to begin thinking about this kind of balance is to
make up a list of things you most value in life such as peace,
creativity, freedom, learning, healthfulness, strength, and so
on and evaluate how you are living in relationship to those values.
Are you living peacefully if you value peace? Are you making healthful
choices if you value health? Are you living with strength? And
if your values change, are your actions adjusting to reflect what
you care most about?
Once you’ve done the values-to-action audit, you can see where
changes need to be made to bring things into closer alignment.
Over time seeking to narrow the gap between what we hold dear and
what we do becomes a way of being. We can learn to hold it with
the compassionate understanding that being in balance is not a
steady state but a way to work with the opposing forces life puts
in front of us.
Carla Goldstein, J.D., is Omega's Director of External
Affairs and Director of The
Women’s Institute at Omega. Carla is
an attorney with 20 years of experience in public interest advocacy
and has worked extensively in city and state government on issues
related to women's rights, poverty, public health and social justice.
She has contributed to over 100 city, state and federal laws. Carla
has appeared on local and national radio and television and makes
public presentations to a wide range of audiences on issues related
to women’s empowerment and activism. Prior to joining the Omega
Institute, Carla was the VP for Public Affair sat Planned Parenthood
of New York City where she directed the agency's advocacy and strategic
communications work. She also served as the founding director of
the PPNYC Action Fund, the political arm of PPNYC. For eight years
Carla was an adjunct professor at CUNY Queens College, where she
taught, “Law and Social Justice,” a course designed to empower
students to be effective advocates for progressive social change.
As part of Omega’s Faculty, Carla teaches “Spiritual Activism,”
a workshop designed to help people develop their activism in creative
ways that align with their values and lives.
Join Carla Goldstein at Omega's first Women & Power Retreat, July 8-10, 2011. The weekend retreat features a daylong experiential session with author and life coach Martha Beck, and keynote talks from Elizabeth Lesser, Sapphire, and Mallika Dutt, and offers a chance for women to slow down, go within, and learn to access our inner strength and full aliveness.
Click here for more information
Founded in 1977, Omega is
the nation's largest holistic learning center whose mission is
provide innovative educational experiences that awaken the best
in the human spirit, providing hope and healing for individuals
and society. Every year more than 20,000 people attend workshops,
retreats, and conferences on its 195-acre campus in the countryside
of Rhinebeck, New York, and at other sites around the country.
Women’s Institute, a dynamic new component of Omega, is
dedicated to empowering women around the world. It has grown
out of the momentum created by the annual Women and Power conferences
that Omega Institute has presented in partnership with V-Day
since 2002. It seeks to sustain throughout the year the community
and inspiration generated at the conferences. Women’s deep wisdom
is essential to the creation of a more sustainable and loving
culture in every facet of life, from the personal to the political.
The Women’s Institute provides opportunities for women and men
to inspire and strengthen their visions and authentic voices
through unique learning and community building experiences.
For more information, visit www.eomega.org.