On (And Off-) Balance
This post is part of Self-Discovery Word-by-Word, a monthly
blog carnival started by Ashley at Nourishing the Soul. August’s host is Myrite
from Tasty Life, who’s asked us to dwell a bit on the word BALANCE.
Suffice it to say: Balance? — is not my strong point.
Likewise I am not particularly adept at juggling, in spite of repeated attempts to learn the skill. I’m generally convinced that I can keep more balls in the air than I can — and that I can stand longer (and on shakier ground) than is actually wise. Any dreams I had of balance-beam stardom, post-’96-Olympics, fizzled by ’97; I am remarkably impressed when — not because — I don’t faceplant.
I juggle too much to juggle well. I know this. But I do it anyway. I try to give 100% to everything, and in doing so, I exhaust myself quickly. When I’m really off-balance, I try to keep going in spite of that exhaustion; I play into the anxiety about not doing enough, fast enough, well enough — and pretend that anxiety is energy. I stay frenetically busy and let that pass for staying vibrant. This is my notion of balance: if I’m not yet face-down on the concrete, I am still ok.
I know, logically speaking, why this doesn’t work well. I know it’s statistically impossible to give my best to everything, and that I end up worn out when I do. I know that trying to exist without rest leaves me as unfulfilled as doing nothing, although I tend to err on the side of too many projects far more often than the side of too few. Still, I know this. At least I know it rationally. And so, lately, I’ve been thinking about what I prioritize and what it means to prioritize it.
When I think of balance, I remember many things: the mornings I spent on playground balance beams with my childhood best friend, the complete freedom of biking when you trust yourself to stay upright, my inherent distrust of ladders, escalators, stairwells, and all other Things What Descend. But I also think of art, and the way balance operates as an artistic principle. I think about how, generally speaking, as much as I dig symmetry, the art I like best incorporates asymmetrical balance. It does not give the same emphasis to all shapes, colors, and images. But it gives enough to each, and arranges what it gives, in a way that allows for a balanced whole.
This piece for instance:
And this one:
When I give so much to one task or role or idea, that I don’t have space left to accentuate another, I throw my balance off. I pretend that I’ll be able to achieve symmetry; that I’ll be able to give the same 100% to x, y, and z, no problem. But in reality, I end up giving everything I have to x, flaking on y, and scrambling to throw z together. And then I wonder why I feel off, why I’m not getting out of my life what I need from it. Why, for instance, I don’t feel a payoff from z, when I’ve been investing all my z-energy in x.
A few months ago, I attended an orientation for one of Teh Jobs, which included one of those “fun” icebreaker activities which are generally heinous. My coworkers and I were asked to each stand on one foot: I was surprised at how easily I managed this. I stayed focused; I stayed on one leg. Then they instructed each of us, still on one leg, to close an eye. Through my remaining eye, I watched my cohorts start to wobble. And then — although not as quickly or dramatically as I thought (competition is a powerful motivator), I began to wobble myself.
Two things struck me about this activity: for starters, I do not have quite the ridiculously bad balance I attribute to myself. And secondly: it’s a very specific thing — my vision (particularly my vision amplified by my glasses) — that allows me to stay up. It’s the information we take in about the horizon that allows us not to fall. I know this translates to metaphor because I see it doing so: when I keep an eye on things, when I process the information available to me and adjust accordingly, I stay up easily. When I close my eyes to a situation I do not wish to acknowledge — or a feeling, for that matter — I tend to overextend, misjudge, and topple over.
I have no idea if it’s possible to improve balance. But I know it’s possible to increase the attention we pay to situations we’re in and the way they’re affecting us. I know it’s possible to value and act on our needs in a way we haven’t always, consistently, done.
I may never learn to juggle. But I am, increasingly, able to catch what’s thrown.