Ever feel out of Balance? In a culture with too many choices, too many demands, and too much to possibly do, it’s a very common experience. Balance is something many people say they want, I think mostly because feeling out of Balance is so uncomfortable. Roller coasters are okay, for some people, sometimes, but only when we choose to take those wild rides. So it makes sense that life would be much better if we were always standing on firm ground, right?
If life doesn’t move, it isn’t life, and when we want things to change, we need to take some risk. We should always be prepared to take a ride.
Google images for “Balance” or “Balanced life” and the most common pictures you’ll see are tipped scales, pie charts, and piles of rocks. To me, these images imply that Balance is a static state of equilibrium, which, by definition, is exactly what Balance means. But when you have lit the fire to make more of your life, Balance means something completely different. Balance is not a static state you ever achieve.
So, what is Balance?
There was one distinct moment when I learned what Balance is. As a wrestler in high school I built up a fair amount of confidence in my own abilities as a little dude who could take on guys much bigger and more muscly that I. This peaked at the point when, at 15 years of age and 120 pounds, I threw my father, who was scrappy himself and much bigger and more muscly, over my back and into a coffee table. I felt pretty powerful (and apologetic).
That’s why, when the instructor of my beginning t’ai chi class asked me to try to push him over, I had no doubt I could. Facing him, my hands on his arms, my knees bent a bit, I gave him a shove. To my surprise his arms seemed to melt away like they weren’t attached to him. His feet didn’t even move.
He smiled gently. “Come on, now. I can take it. I thought you were a wrestler.”
We were surrounded by other curious students. I was clearly the jock of the bunch, so in my role as athlete representative I got serious, lowered into my wrestling stance, placed my hands strategically on his chest and hip and lunged. Like diving off a dock into a lake my body went horizontal and the world around me came free from all resistance in a brief moment of silence.
Then I hit the floor, bewildered and giddy.
The instructor helped me up as my brain tried to make sense of what happened. It was like trying to push air. From all I could tell he had turned into a ghost. My hands were on the surface of his body, but I had never come close to moving his center. How could he possibly avoid what I thought was a skillful attack?
By the time I met Martin Inn he had been practicing T’ai Chi for 25 years. I studied with him 3 times a week for the next 10 years, and not once did I come close to pushing him off Balance. Twenty years later my T’ai Chi is faded and rusty. I wouldn’t think of challenging him; still, the ideal of Balance resonates more clearly than ever. Here it is:
Balance is reflected in your responsiveness to change.
To learn Balance:
- Learn how to listen.
- Yield to reality.
- Go for what’s most important, the center.
- Be responsive to the changes around you.
If Balance is based in your ability to respond to the changing world around you, then Balance must change as your situation changes. You will never achieve Balance, that static state of equilibrium, but, as an ideal, Balance is something to strive for. Learning how to stay focused and responsive in times of stress is a practice that will serve you forever.
If you never arrive at the ideal, why try?
It’s simple, trying and failing and learning and building your Balance skills have tremendous benefits. Taking action with focused intention, and the ability to respond lets you do a lot, like:
- Pick up and go!
- Slow down and enjoy.
- Eat that cake.
- Fall in love.
- Know when to move on.
- Take that hill.
- Dig in.
- Die in peace.
- Live rich.
Balance is one of my highest ideals. In my course Ten Lessons for Designing a Balanced Life, I teach fundamental Balance skills. I try to make Balance my way of life: rising to challenges, frequently failing, always trying to learn, always trying to respond with clarity to the changing world around me.
So, what images come to mind now?