Balancing Acts

One way or another, I’ve read, listened, talked, and written quite a lot about balance. I’m guessing you have, as well. In thinking about it today, several phrases and concepts come to mind.

First, there are balancing acts. Whether they occur in circuses,

TV talent shows, gymnastics, or cheer events, we are often

amazed by the strength and coordination that allows people

to balance objects – and themselves – with such skill and daring.

Of course, this phrase has evolved to symbolize the ability to handle a complex variety of challenges, simultaneously, with aplomb.

One example is that of the balanced budget. Although, at the macro level, governments rarely seem to have balanced budgets, we – at the micro level – need to balance our business and personal budgets if we want to survive, over time. Companies have whole departments to manage the money. And, individuals often vacillate between satisfaction and panic in their attempts to get the numbers to work out right. We know that it IS possible to do this and some of us have the knowledge and self-discipline to actually follow through with our plans.

Then, there’s a balanced diet. – another challenge that requires self-discipline for many. Especially since the definition of a balanced diet has taken on multiple forms over the years: pyramids and circles and charts, oh my! Some elements are common across the various paradigms but/and we can spend endless hours and engage in multiple experiments to find the one that best suits each of us – considering body types, personal preferences, and personalities.

And how about work/life balance? People who get immersed in their work tend to value this important reminder . . . there is life outside of work! Most people agree that it IS important to set boundaries and put the work down to engage in personally meaningful activities and relationships. However, this phrase has always bothered me since it seems to imply that everything inside work is NOT part of life and everything outside of a paid job is life. This dividing of our experiences neatly into two parts can seem tidy but perhaps it's limiting.

A more holistic approach is captured by mind/body balance which reminds us to include both mental and physical stimulation or health in our equations – both at work and at home. Using this phrase, we might stop what we’re thinking to take a walk, to clear our minds and come back refreshed – often with new ideas. Or, we stop what we’re doing to reflect and consider if our actions are aligned with our philosophical values. In the search for holism, many have expanded this to mind/body/soul balance or even mental/physical/spiritual/emotional balance. These might come closer to grabbing everything we’re trying to balance to make our lives feel integrated.

As we explore the notion of balance, let's remember Oscar Wilde who, over a century ago, said “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” If we follow this philosophy, just when we get the mind, body, spirit, and emotions aligned, we get bored and want something else! Then, we can balance the overall experience of a balanced life with some moments of excess or intensity or curiosity about the unknown, just to give us some contrast. Or, are these just other factors to balance? Perhaps we can have consistent rhythms that naturally include peak moments.

Ultimately, finding balance might be a literal, physical challenge for some of us. Can you stand on one foot? For how long? If you’re walking on uneven ground, do you need a cane or walking stick? In many cases, the ability to stay balanced on one or two feet begins with accepting that, at first, there will be wobbles. Then, with strength-building practice and experimentation, it’s possible to find just the right way to hold the torso, press weight into the foot (or feet), and let go of the support. Unless we are contending with a medical issue of vertigo, finding physical balance is often about practicing with the body as the inner ear adjusts. On the other hand, the inner ear sends us the signals that let us know to shift weight, tighten torso, or hold/release support.

Of course, this leads to the metaphor embodied in using the inner ear to find balance. This means truly trusting inner intuition, physical signals, and emotional cues. As we take time to pay attention, we are gently (or forcefully!) reminded when we are out of balance with money or food or work or routine. Then, as we practice new behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, those same signals let us know that we’re in balance once again. Essentially, we move toward balance, not from imposing an external regimen but rather from paying honest attention to our inner selves.

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