Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Balance: What It's Not

Balanced by San Diego Shooter, Flickr
Over the past couple years, I've heard people talk about balance in a way that makes me think there is a misconception of this word. They seem to think that balanced people are bland and uncompromising compared to their less-balanced counterparts who are adventurous, passionate, and in the moment. The reasoning goes that if you want to love life and make an impact, you have to be off-kilter.

Let me set the record straight: Balance is not a state of being in which everything is calm, controlled, and in equal proportion.

In recent years, as Eastern influence has become increasingly popular here, the word has popped up everywhere and has been synonymous with mental, emotional, and physical control and evenness. Basically, when we think of balance, we picture meditative yogis in a bamboo hut chanting in lotus. Naturally, people who can't or wouldn't like to be quiet or calm all the time challenge this notion of balance--and they should challenge it because it's boring and unrealistic.

Instead, I offer another way of looking at balance that includes celebrating highs, enduring the lows, and allowing yourself to be pulled in one direction by something you care about deeply.

Let's take surfing. It takes balance to get up and stay up on the board. It does not require an equal distribution of weight but rather an ability to counterbalance. That means a surfer must have a keen sense of self in relation to the environment. Surfers must constantly shift their weight and position depending on the conditions. Of course, surfing wouldn't be much fun if the sea were calm all the time. The waves are the thrill.

People who meditate or seek greater balance aren't necessarily calm or dull. I'd say it's quite the opposite. These are people with full, complex lives who often experience stress, conflict, anxiety, and a lack of focus. They are keenly aware of the ups and downs in life, and they even allow themselves to experience great interest and passion; they just don't want to drown in any one part of their lives.

Seeking balance in life is not about some industrial-age dictum about devoting x hours to work, x hours to leisure, and x hours to sleep each day. It's not about always being evenly distributed.

I don't see myself as being evenly distributed at all! But I do seek balance in my life. Right now, for example, I'm working a lot. In fact, I'm in the middle of a 12-day work week today. But for one, this is a temporary surge in workload. In less than 5 weeks, I'll be working a lot less. Two, my jobs are all part-time, so I have time to rest and renew pretty regularly. I pack a lot into my life, but I'm careful to not overwhelm myself (usually).

Bottom line: life comes in unpredictable waves. Balance is about learning to ride these waves while keeping your head above water.

How do you stay balanced? What do you think about the way we perceive balance in our culture?

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