Discovering a healthy balance in how we feel and act seems to be an on-going challenge. As soon as we think we have found balance, something always changes which requires further adjustment. In fact, the desire to come into balance with ourselves and our world doesn’t seem to come with a strategy for doing so.
Kafka observed that faith is not faith that something has already happened. That would not be faith. Like hope, faith is a way of relating to an unknown future. Similarly, balance is not something that connects in any useful way with the past. Of what value can it be to assert that the past was in balance? Where we need balance is in the living stream of life, not among the artifacts and memories deposited on the shores of past time. A friend recently made an intriguing suggestion: by switching from “modus operandi” to “modus vivendi”, we can bring greater balance into life.
There was once a baby bear and a baby squirrel, both born on the same day in spring, who loved to play on the teeter-totter in a nearby state park. Every day the bear cub had to sit closer to the fulcrum in order for the squirrel not to just hang in the air like a useless helium balloon. Then one day a wise old owl flew down from the high branches of a Ponderosa Pine, alighted on the top bar of the swing set, and suggested that they try swinging instead of teetering and tottering. He pointed out that there was a natural balance in the swinging of a pendulum, since the upward drag, as any given weight swings upwards, is comparable to its momentum on the downswing. This opened another chapter in the two friends’ enjoyment of their time together—at least until a park ranger chased them away and they had to find new pastimes. But, by now and then modifying their activities in response to changing times, they lived happily for many years.
The issue of balance has come up for me recently as a physical issue—as opposed to balance as a metaphor or a spiritual ideal (in Mahayana Buddhism, Balance compliments Love, Joy and Compassion, as the four omnipresent doorways of Being).
I sometimes wonder why I keep doing what I do (and conversely why I have allowed other activities and interests to lapse). For instance, what exactly is the benefit of writing a weekly blog, which I treat as a commitment even when it doesn’t feel very inspired or creative? If writing is like putting out the garbage or cutting the lawn, is it time to pack away the pen and paper? If I am not breaking through to a new vision of possibility for myself and others, am I just marching lockstep under the banner of the past?
In another area of my daily life, I find it quite easy to ignore the much-touted benefits of regular exercise. Increasingly, I hear from others (notably my wife and my physical therapist) that I don’t seem to be balanced when I walk. Knowing that a fall could change my life forever, I feel a new motivation to regain some of the flexibility, stamina, and strength that I once enjoyed.
I operate out of an assumption that if I completely abandon writing, which is an activity that has provided the joy of creative expression in the past, I will be throwing away something that arises only infrequently in this human realm. So I keep picking up my pen and paper, through both bright and dark times.
On the other hand, when it comes to the well-known benefits of regular exercise and of remaining flexible, I have allowed the years to stack up (and my joints to stiffen up) in the shadow of inattention. And lately, my assumption–that walking the dogs around the block and occasional yoga is good enough–has felt increasingly shaky. Almost tripping over the inch-high lip of a sidewalk slab, I glimpsed a sobering truth: I am no longer high-stepping through life.
Yet, surely we all get older and the body inevitably loses its youthful resilience. Isn’t it an unnecessary invitation to anxiety to wage battle with this natural process of decline?
Where is the right balance between graceful acceptance of the encroachments of advancing age, on the one hand, and the benefits of exercise, diet, and enterprising optimism, on the other?
In drawing up a balance sheet between the benefits and drawbacks of doing or not doing certain things, it seems important to include the cost of ignorance and the benefit of remaining interested and engaged. It’s in that spirit that I feel excited by the possibility of resuming milder versions of the exercises that I used to do. I have no idea what my aging body will be able to reclaim, but this new willingness to stretch—both body and attitude—already feels like an adventure.
Meanwhile, if Love, Compassion, Joy, and Balance are inherent to the realm into which we have been born as conscious individuals–rather like earth, air, water, and fire are fundamental to the body of our planet Earth—then balancing the pros and cons of various alternatives doesn’t have to be something we agonize over. Since balance is the natural condition of everything, we just have to listen to the pulse of the eternal and the infinite in whatever arises. Perhaps balance enters human life as an act of triage, in which a desire to do no harm is our best guide.
Since we ourselves are windows into the eternal and the infinite, why do we so often deny the living vitality that allows us to wonder, to look around, and to harken to the whispering branches on which our dreams are waiting?