When people find out that I publish a blog post on a regular basis, they often ask where I find ideas to write about. I share that the inspiration can come from lots of different areas. Sometimes it’s a book or article that I’ve read. Sometimes a discussion with a friend, colleague, client or stranger has been the spark. And then there are posts that I write as a way to wrestle with a topic that I am puzzling with…such as today’s post on balance.
What is Balance?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘balance’ in a number of ways…
- as a piece of equipment used for measurement
- physical equilibrium (keeping your balance on a sailboat)
- the equal space between two opposing elements (junk food vs. exercise)
- in the context of art, balance is an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements
- an amount in excess especially on the credit side of a bank account
- mental or emotional stability.
The ideas of physical equilibrium, space between opposing elements and mental/emotional stability are somewhat helpful, but they don’t quite fit what I’m looking for. They are describing an exact point, but life is made up by a series of ‘points’ or moments.
Balance as a Concept
At some point during the time that a client and I are working together, we will talk about how things may be different when they have finished therapy. What is their picture of life after ‘the change’? In order to discover your view ‘balance’, substitute ‘balanced’ for ‘finished therapy’ or “What is your picture of life after you have achieved a level of balance?” I suspect that each of you will answer differently.
When we recognize that what is an ideal balance for one person, is completely out of balance for someone else, it becomes clear that ‘balance’ as a concept is incredibly individual. Also, what a balanced life looks like at one stage of life no longer fits at a later stage. To complicate things, that sense of being balanced can change from one day to another depending on energy levels, weather, people contact, or an endless bunch of other factors.
Finding Balance…By Paying Attention to the Opposite
I wonder if being able to live a balanced life requires a certain level of self-awareness…knowing not only when we feel balanced, but also being aware of when we feel ‘off-balance’. Feeling ‘off balance’ is one of the most common reasons that people begin to see a therapist. They may not be sure what is going on, but they don’t feel ‘right’.
Similar to the old saying, of “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”, maybe we don’t recognize that we are living a balanced life, because everything is ticking along nicely. We are living our lives with few problems. We look for balance only when we become aware of it’s non-existence. Then we play the game of adding more of this and less of that in an attempt to bring back feelings of equilibrium. How many of us have thought that “I just need more sleep… or less work, or more fun, or less … and life will be better”.
Once we can imagine what a balanced life looks like for us…what we are aspiring to…how do we get there?
Tools for Living a Balanced Life
It appears that the search for a balanced life has been a human activity for a long time. Here are some of the tools that I have found:
- The 80/20 Rule: The idea behind this tool is that when looking for balance it’s unnecessary to micro-manage things in your life or constantly correct when things feel a bit off-kilter. People use this as a way to balance spending (80% of total income) and saving (20%), or managing food. If 80% of your diet is healthy, don’t worry about the rest.
- The Buddhist Idea of the Middle Way: The Buddha came to this idea after living a life of extremes. In his youth, he was a wealthy prince, and then chose to give it up to live as a ascetic. As a holy man, his practices were so extreme that he almost died. As part of his spiritual journey, he discovered the value of living between the two extremes, or the Middle Way.
- Everything in Moderation: This tool fits with the Middle Way as the search for balance doesn’t preclude anything–just don’t do too much of it!
- The One in/One out Rule: This tool helps to maintain balance once it has been reached. Basically, for every new thing you add into your life, something else must leave. This could apply to things, people (in some cases) or activities.
Can We Have It All?
One of the reasons that many people search for a balanced life is their desire to have/or do it all. But is this possible? Maybe, but not at the same time.
Perhaps one piece to the search for a balanced life is that we need to expand the time-frame. Rather than asking if we’re balanced in this week, month or year; maybe we can ask if we are living a balanced life at this stage. Or what if the Merriam-Webster definition is right and balance takes place in the moment, only to shift out of balance so easily? Hmmm….the search continues….
And now…an amazing display of balance–elegant, graceful and inspiring….Enjoy!