Our language can deceive us. Take the English word balance, which can be a noun or a verb. You can own the kind of balance pictured above because it is an object. You can’t “possess” the kind of balance pictured below, as it is a moment by moment flow.
You can be in balance, but you can’t own it. And this distinction is often lost, partly due to our current culture that believes what we have bought and stored in our home is ours. We are a society of consumers and owners. We don’t do quite as well with being states. And while objects inevitably decay, a state of being can be returned to time and time again.
Being in balance, any skilled surfer will confirm, demands being in the present moment. It requires assessing the current conditions and making adjustments, large and small in response to them.
You can’t do this when your attention is focused on that hurtful thing that was said to you in fourth grade or when it is trolling forward imagining the offenses possible at the next family gathering.
It is difficult to find this kind of balance when you are overwhelmed by your to-do list, your work situation or family circumstances.
The place to find it is in a space of both effort and stillness.
Take a moment to stand up (if that is available to you) and center yourself, imagining both your feet grounding deep into the earth. Then gradually shift your weight into your left foot until you can easily lift your right foot barely off the ground. Your arms are at your side, initially. Now notice your left foot and ankle. They are in constant adjustment to keep you in balance. If you haven’t done this exercise in awhile, you will notice that every little thing throws you off: your thoughts, moving your eyes, unexpected sound. But the more you practice it, the more skilled and resilient you become. Eventually, you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed and move all the other parts of your body and even entertain distressing thoughts without falling over.
To create this same kind of equilibrium in life requires you to create gaps and to pay attention. You don’t learn balance careening down the advanced skier slope, you learn it on a very slight incline. Likewise, if you are so busy with activities that you have no time for reflection, you don’t have anyway to assess if what you are doing is in line with your values.
There was a time in my life when I was working 65 hours per week and raising three teenagers. This is kind of the equivalent of standing on one leg, holding a chair by one of its legs with one hand and a wiggling toddler with the other. There were few moments of balance. The only gaps in my life at that time were when I was waiting in line at the grocery store or when someone put me on hold on the phone. Also, a couple times when I locked myself out of my car and I had to wait for someone to bring me the spare key. I realized how unhealthy my busyness had become and I leveraged these moments to figure out a way to give myself twenty minutes of quiet time at 5 am. That morphed into designing a work schedule that benefited my employer and co-workers and reduced my hours to 45 per week. A million more adjustments, large and small, and I am in balance most days now. I still get thrown off. But I don’t shame myself about it. I get still and centered and try again.
How about you? Where can you find a couple of gaps to begin to practice being present and test your balance.