This Autumn I hit upon a very simple recipe for a more balanced life. You could call it “the litmus test”  (and it is the second definition given here that I am interested in):

litmus test  n.
1. A test for chemical acidity or basicity using litmus paper.

2. A test that uses a single indicator to prompt a decision: “The word ‘hopefully’ has become the litmus test to determine whether one is a language snob or a language slob” (William Safire).

As Jack Frost has arrived in London and we rapidly approach the Winter Solstice (the great turning point!) , I thought I ‘d share the recipe. It is very simple:

For every single relationship in my life I ask myself just one simple question: is this relationship balanced? Is there fair energy exchange? Does what I receive match the energy I invest? (This is very much related to joy: truly balanced relationships are JOY-FULL).

And if I arrive at the conclusion that no: things are 60 – 40 or 80 – 20 (or even 95 – 5, this has been known to happen!) , I make tweaks. I do not announce a revolution and trumpet the changes off the rooftops. I just give myself permission to step outside the established pattern, to not respond the way people expect from me.

Now I appreciate that we all have relationships where The Litmus Test cannot be applied in a straightforward way. The most obvious example of this is the relationship between parents and children. We honour our parents and it is the duty of parents to give to their children who, one day, may well give to their own children in the same way. (This is the great cosmic version of our modern “giving forward concept”).

Work  relationships are tricky too: when you are paid to perform a job, where do you draw the line? Do you go “above and beyond the call of duty” or not? Or just  a bit? Are you valued for going the extra mile?!

My younger self wasted a fair amount of time trying to define relationships as “good or bad” and people as “generous and selfish” etc. I now know that all of us have all of these aspects in equal measure.  And we all bring out different facets in different people. This is why we may never quite agree in any take on any  situation or person – and that is fine! This is the rich Tapestry of Life!

So this Autumn I have done my spiritual homework. I have gently put everything on the cosmic scales. Whenever I have perceived an imbalance in give and take, I have renegotiated – most of the time just within my inner world. I have said no to more things. I have told people that I was not going to prioritize doing whatever they expected me to do. I am also slowly learning The Art Of Not Responding To Emails. I let things drop. Time and energy are precious resources.

Then I am learning the trickier lesson that I have often agreed to co-create imbalances out of compassion: I felt sorry for people, I wanted to help them, make a difference. This is the Do-Gooder instinct in me that I now keep an eagle’s eye on. It is also the maternal instinct in me going strong (some of my friends call me Momma Bear!) I have learned the tough but liberating lesson that the only people in the whole world I actually need to mother are my three children – and no one else. It sounds so obvious doesn’t it? Yet I have fallen for that one many a time…

The most wonderful thing is that I have been able to move through this process (applying The Litmus Test)  without being sucked into great moral judgments or character assassinations  (on either  myself or others!) . The truth is that when there is no fair energy exchange in a relationship, all joy seeps away and resentment will build up. Not acknowledging or expressing this just leads to some inappropriate explosion (or “acting out of character” some time down the road). So I have experienced being at a far greater peace with myself and who I am (and also who I am simply NOT and will never be. For instance I will never be a gregarious cook who gives dinner parties… I am a hermit who needs serious doses of solitude to function socially and cope with Big City Life!)  I have felt empowered. My load has lightened.

Though I live and breathe (and teach) shamanism today, I was brought up as a Roman Catholic in an all-pervasive atmosphere of sin/guilt and divine retribution.  Today I believe in neither Heaven nor Hell. I do believe in what is commonly called the spiritual law of karma: unresolved issues return for further exploration over a series of lifetimes. I do not see this as punishment. I see this as balancing: things floating up for healing. In other words: an amazing opportunity to get it right this time….

You have my full encouragement to experiment with the same Litmus Test!

About the author:

Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books on 26th August 2016.  She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.