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On Balance

If you’re like me and subscribe to many astrological newsletters and podcasts (or even just one), I would be willing to bet that the theme of balance has been a consistent one across all of them since last week’s equinox, the sun’s entrance into Libra, and the New Moon in Libra earlier this week. If this isn’t you, here’s the quick and dirty version: the autumn equinox is the same day as the start of the sun being in the sign of Libra. Equinox, meaning “equal night” in Latin, is in reference to the fact that the day and night are of equal length on this day. The symbol for Libra is a set of scales. Equal day, equal night, scales… you can see why balance seems like an appropriate theme for this time of year. Libra is also known as a cardinal sign; like the other three cardinal signs, each aligns with the beginning of one of the four seasons. Not surprisingly, cardinal signs are known for their energy of initiation and beginnings.

“Time to find balance!” says Libra.

I’m not so sure about the concept of balance and how I often hear it used.

Like most things, I believe that nuance provides much more fertile ground for anything surrounding communication and understanding. Generalities and platitudes can range from useless to misleading when it comes to deep personal work.

When I was working on the copy for my website, I initially used the following on my homepage: “find balance through a holistic approach.” Balance, I thought. That’s what we’re all striving for. A perfect evenness that hangs in space, almost with defiance. I remember seeing the street sign of the same name in San Francisco one afternoon when walking around on my lunch break during a time when I was feeling overwhelmed at my job as a young architect. I took it as a sign that balance was what I needed. Being a millennial twenty something, I even briefly considered getting a tattoo of the word as a reminder of this moment of change in my life (it felt a lot less special for some reason once I learned that the street was named after the Gold Rush ship Balance that may be buried under the street. What can I say, I had dreamed up an origin story about someone who was simply inspired enough by the concept of balance to name a cute dead end street after it and something as concrete as American history just wasn’t good enough for something as concrete as body art for me).

Here’s what didn’t happen after that seemingly fateful afternoon: a switch flipped and I made immediate and lasting changes where everything was finally different.

Nope. Not even close.

There is no one thing that will make the switch flip. Even if it seems like change wouldn’t have happened without that one thing, the truth is that change wouldn't have happened without all the other things. Change is the cumulative effect of several events. It’s romantic to think there’s something so important that would have that kind of power, but that’s a belief I have slowly shed as time has passed and both disappointments and triumphs have shown me otherwise.

Balance does exist. But it is fleeting and temporary. Even the reality of the equinox illustrates this. There are two a year, but the preceding and following days are immediately slightly longer or shorter. So why does it feel like we are constantly chasing this concept as a society? That question deserves an entire post on its own, but for now, it feels important to acknowledge that we are inundated with the belief that equilibrium is the only right place to be.

In her book Energetic Herbalism, Kat Maier discusses the notion of homeodynamics in comparison to homeostasis and how the former is beginning to replace the latter. She writes, “Homeodynamics more accurately describes the fluidity of the natural world, the constant movement that characterizes life. Stasis is described as a period of inactivity or equilibrium. In regards to life-forms, though, long-term inactivity equals death. A living organism may pass through a point of equilibrium but as a living, self-correcting system, it is constantly adjusting its internal milieu with that of the environment.”

I instantly fell in love with this passage, as fluidity is a concept that I deeply identify with. I remember one moment in therapy a few years ago where the therapist asked me to finish the sentence “I am” after a somatic exercise. To my surprise, the statement that came out was “I am not static.” I didn’t realize until that moment how much stillness and plateau both constricted and terrified me. Not stillness in the sense of sitting still during meditation but the lack of movement in terms of freedom and growth. Balance or equilibrium is stillness, in its own way. To me, this is intimidating and often a Sisyphean task. Especially when presented without the context of homeodynamics. But with this context, balance makes a lot more sense. It is a moment along a continuum that is made up of many other moments that together make up life. It would not exist if not for the other points that define it.

I was one of those strange people who experienced more points of balance during 2020 than I had at any other point in my adolescent and adult life. I attribute most of this to my privilege as an able bodied, employed, housed, and straight-passing white woman - without it, I would not have been able to take the time and space to do lots of healing work. But as soon as my routine changed vastly with the start of an intensive herbal apprenticeship in 2021, those serene moments of balance became increasingly less frequent and quickly so. I am grateful for the relationships I built with my plant allies during that time, but they alone could not push me back towards balance. I knew that the foundation I had built was not durable, as I thrived within the opportunity to significantly pare down what I did and who I saw that defined the early days of pandemic restrictions in the Bay Area. With the world slowly shifting back to much of how it operated prior to March 2020, I struggled to keep the routines that had helped me feel the most physically healthy I had ever felt. Sure, I still had moments of balance and they were beautiful and important in their own right, but they felt more fleeting than ever before.

As life got busier and I tried to find boundaries for myself that were appropriate but not suffocating, I felt like I was chasing my tail. I would start to establish a routine I desired in one area, only to totally let go of an intention for another. Looking back, I think using extremes to try to force myself back into routine is where I went wrong. My spirit seemed to rebel against these sudden swings, leaving me disappointed in and frustrated with myself for not being able to do things that seemed so simple. I struggled with eating healthy food, practicing good sleep hygiene, and exercising regularly, so it’s no surprise that making changes was hard, as all of them are interconnected with feeling good on a regular basis. The one thing that had been consistent for the last fifteen months was taking a daily custom herbal blend. I had been adjusting it seasonally, but when I hit a new low, I decided it was time to completely revamp it. Every time I took a dose, I treated it as a ritual of intention: make choices that benefit past, present, and future versions of me. I chose Lion’s Mane to help bring me back to center, Shatavari to nourish my nervous system, Bacopa to help me find motivation, Gymnema to support my blood sugar, and Chamomile to encourage calm in the face of everyday stresses of life. I also included the flower essences of California Poppy, Clematis, and Tansy for their ritual guidance while I worked to unwind unproductive thought patterns and daily habits. It didn’t happen overnight and I still catch myself floating in the direction I don’t wish to go sometimes, but the cumulative changes have been staggering. Not because of a number on a scale or a PR in the gym, but because of how I feel when I wake up, throughout the day, and before I go to sleep. I’ve finally been able to make lifestyle changes that I’ve wanted to for quite some time now, like cutting out caffeine and cooking diverse, fresh food at home more often than not. I feel content more often than not. I know that new challenges will arise and balance will feel like a less common experience in some facet or another in my life at some point again. And again, and again, because that’s just the ebb and flow of life. But each time, I focus on the tools that help me make those micro adjustments so that I can respond to my environment as each phase of my earthly existence unfolds with the changing seasons. One tool alone will not do the trick, but many together after lots of trial and error may very well.

I am personally using the initiation of fall, Libra season, and this New Moon to be grateful for the tools I have learned to keep me within arm’s reach of balance, but also as a reminder to be kind to myself when balance doesn’t feel so close. Resilience is my end game, which is why it is the word I decided to use instead of “balance” on my homepage. Balance will reappear when there is resilience, and resilience will carry me through even when balance is nowhere to be seen.

The humble but striking first bloom of one of my favorite plant allies, German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), in my backyard.

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