Like water

6 min read

It appears balance for me is very different than what I believed it to be. I always compared balance to walking a tight rope. I only now realize that was a projection. I described with precision a deeply rooted belief I held about life. I was not allowed to do anything wrong. If I did something very bad would happen. I lived with a very small margin for error. This belief, which was affirmed in several areas of my life growing up, was giving me an awful lot of stress.. Stress I did not need in my life. How ironic, because in order to keep balanced, I actually need, more than most people, to avoid that kind of stress.

As you can imagine I did not quite manage avoiding stress in these past months. I tried to regulate it as best as I could. Some days and weeks that was easier than other. As I processed the idea of an adult putting their desires over my basic child needs, I simply wasn’t able to regulate anything. It was too painful. Alternating rage and grief were my dominant emotions. I was completely out of balance.

Somewhere mid-January, I realized that it would be easy to stay stuck in that mode for the rest of my life. To stay stuck in the unfairness of it all. The unfairness that someone did something horrific to me. And that I am left with the pieces. That I have to live with the consequences. Then, from my toes up, I felt a NO! rise through my body. I was not going to give this bogeyman and his actions any more power over my life. This entitlement to hurt was not going to give me these 40+ years back. It would only consume the rest of my life. That is not who I am. I decided then and there that I was going to use this experience as another opportunity for transformation and growth. In that moment, I chose to focus all of my energy on gratitude instead. Two months later, I am feeling more balanced than I ever have in my entire life.

It all makes sense. Many people who experience abuse, become their own abuser. I was no exception. I was forced to do things I did not want to do, be someone I was not. Somehow this translated into me always forcing myself to do things I believed I had to do even though I did not want to. It turns out this self-forcing was the great imbalancer. Without me being aware, this tension made the tight rope sway with force. And if I did not want to fall, I had to do my utmost best to regain my balance again and again and again.

In recent years, I had become better at managing this imbalance. I discovered I was forcing myself most of the time. And I had started to love myself more in order to force myself less. It worked to a certain extent. But as I had not taken away the cause, I kept struggling. Today, as I am aware of how this trauma has impacted me, this whole tight rope artist analogy suddenly is not resonating anymore. It feels more natural to think of myself as water. It seems to better fit who I am. I already knew I was very adaptive. I resisted it because I believed it was a negative characteristic. It isn’t. I just had to learn to become aware. Of when I was adapting and why.

And now, I am learning that I also am very flexible by nature. I can be flowing, gentle as a stream, raging as a spring current, thunderous as a waterfall. I can be still as a lake, wide and deep as the sea. I can be soft like rain, hard as ice. I can transform from water to vapor and from water to ice. I can nourish and destroy. In Taoism, the Sage is likened to water. He can become whatever is needed to the situation. Even though I have read the Tao Te Ching many times, I never realized this until now. The Sage is extremely adaptive. And it is seen as something to aspire to.

A long time ago, during an NLP-training, the trainer said about me that he had never seen anyone adapt as easily other’s needs as I did. Back then I saw it as something that was very wrong with me, as if I somehow had taken people-pleasing to the next level. These days, I’m learning it is a strength. It’s like Bruce Lee said: ‘Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into  bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or it can crash… be water, my friend.” I am learning to embrace this fluidity, to celebrate it as the essence of me. It feels like coming home to myself.

I am learning too that in order to not be all over the place, I have to have clear boundaries, within which I can function optimally. Think about the borders of a stream that guide the stream, or the borders of a lake that contain the lake. For me, these boundaries manifest as structure. Healthy habits and a scheduled day. Not extremely strict and meticulous, but rather loosely. It is more about a choice how and where to direct my energy than it is about a detailed and specific plan I must follow. Because when the boundaries are too narrow, even the gentlest of brooks can become a roaring torrent.

Water needs these boundaries, be they natural or cultivated, to have a direction. Water that is spread on a plain is simply absorbed by the earth and returns to source, or it evaporates. If I want to realize my dreams, then I need to commit. At the same time, I am learning that commitment is different than force. I don’t need hard discipline or strict schedules, I just need to choose the path I want to follow, at least for now, and let myself be carried by the stream. I just need to trust the current. 

With every step I take I feel so much freer than before. It is so good to be me. I am actually starting to like being me. I already liked myself, but for the first time in my life, I am starting to like what it means to be me.

May you too, discover what balance means to you, and how you can live life in a way that not only respects but fully embraces who you are.

If this resonated with you, then consider sharing it with someone who will love it too or could use it in their lives right now. And while you’re in the flow, you may want to subscribe to my newsletter as well. I’ll send you an email from time to time to keep you in the loop. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you. Scout’s honor.

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illustration by me

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