Balance is something I talk a lot about in my work, probably because so many people that I counsel or coach feel out of balance in one or more spheres of their life. Consequently, balance is also a concept I think about a lot, and the other day, I had a huge revelation about the fact that when many of us are looking for balance in our lives, what we’re really looking for is stability. And stability is just another word for constancy, steadiness, fixity and… permanence.
The trouble is that stability and life are about as mutually exclusive as two concepts can be.
I remember Patrick Dean telling me a story some years ago about two philosophers. The first was a well-known, well-established man of thought who talked about three stages in life – growth, stability and then decay. Then his student (a young upstart, no doubt!) argued that there were really only two states – growth and decay – because there were no guarantees in life, and we could never be certain that anything would stay the same. We only have to look at the cycles of seasons, weather, life itself – be it human, animal or cellular – to know that we are always and ever in a constant state of flux.
So, how does this relate to balance? My light-bulb moment was a realisation that the reality – in fact, the paradoxical absurdity of “balance” – is that to be in balance requires constant motion.
I’ve taken to likening it to standing in the middle of a seesaw and keeping both ends up in the air. It requires vigilance and constant adjustment… even when we achieve what looks like “perfect balance”, we’re still adjusting our muscles with microscopic movement! Of course, the secondary challenge of life is that sometimes, someone or something comes and plonks themself on one of the seesaw’s ends, and you can end up a-over-t, flying through the air, wondering what on Earth happened. Sometimes, though, the imbalance comes simply because we’ve stopped paying attention.
You know that feeling – when you KNOW something is true? And then you stop paying attention and you REALLY know it’s true? I’ve had the pleasure/displeasure of getting to practice my own re-balancing act over the past few months. Without going into depths of detail, suffice it to say that I’ve seen more doctors, specialists, had more blood tests and antibiotics than I ever care to have again in a three-month period. And it all came from not paying attention to what my body was telling me.
Having enjoyed a hard landing (my a-over-t flying was quite a spectacle, I can tell you!), I’m taking a dose of my own medicine. I remember, years ago, someone telling me that when you say “yes” to something, it’s important to ask yourself what you’re saying “no” to in making that commitment. It turns out that I’d been saying “yes” to work, and “no” to sufficient quality sleep, down-time, relaxing (preferably crafty) activities and, consequently, my health.
I am grateful to say that I’ve learned my lesson, though. After years of joking about the fool who invented a five-day working week (have you ever noticed there’s more truth in humour than humour in truth?), I’ve rebalanced my diary to four clinic days, to give me time to breathe, and to keep up with the paperwork that had been littering my evenings and weekends. I’ve booked a camping trip with my sister and some time away with my husband in a few weeks. I’ve given myself permission to sit and read with a warm cup of tea. And my, oh my, have I slept.
According to that certain philosophical upstart: in this balancing act of life, we get two choices.
I’m still not quite there yet, whatever “there” may be; but as ever, I’m a work in progress… which is another word for “growth”, as opposed to “decay”.