I put a lot of emphasis on “balance” in my work with people. In my view, developing skills directed at balance also helps people achieve many other things they commonly want in life.
Balance isn’t usually the first thing people say they want. They say they want things like security, control, happiness, excitement, success, or love. Most of us don’t like to acknowledge that none of those things are possible to have all the time. And all of those things are dependent on some circumstances that are beyond our control.
Take security, for example. You could envision security as standing safely on solid ground, confident that the rock can support you. As any Californian knows, this security is in some ways an illusion. An earthquake can shake the ground out from under you, a tsunami or flood can wash you away, and a tornado can send you spinning into the air. There is always something out of your control that can destroy your best efforts to achieve material security.
Likewise happiness. I have met people who truly believe that they should never be sad. This is simply unrealistic. The only way to never feel sad is to either not care about anything or anyone or to be so numb that you are equally incapable of feeling sadness or joy.
I see balance as a different kind of goal. When I think of balance, I think of a tightrope walker. (If you are afraid of heights, picture the rope being close to the ground.) If you watch a tightrope walker, she is never completely still. She is constantly shifting her weight to stay balanced, even if the shifts are very small.
More than with many life goals, it is obvious that balance is not something we achieve once and then it’s done. It requires constant attention and effort. It requires the tightrope walker to be constantly in the present moment.
Many people view their goals as an end state. It is common for people in our society to work extremely hard for no other reason than to be able to relax when they are done. We try very hard to reach the point where we can stop trying. Often what really happens is that we rest for a short time and then start all over again at the same frenzied pace.
If, on the other hand, balance is the goal, then we try to live in a way and at a pace that we can maintain all the time. We aren’t trying to get to somewhere else; we are simply being where we already are.
Some people think having to constantly be paying attention and shifting to stay in balance sounds exhausting. But the better the tightrope walker, the less effort she expends in balancing. The attention and presence are always required, but they become more and more natural as they are practiced.
There is a peacefulness in being in the present, with nothing else needed. This is balance.