We talk a lot these days about finding balance.
We want to slow down. We want more time for our families and ourselves. We strive for a balanced diet, a balanced budget, a balanced approach and the mysterious and elusive work-life balance. We want to do less and be more.
With all this talk about balance and how to find it, I wonder if maybe we're doing it wrong. Maybe all this balance stuff is a total crock.
What does balance even mean? What are we looking for when we say we are trying to find balance?Balance:
- noun: a state of equilibrium or equipoise; mental steadiness, emotional stability; habit of calm behavior.
- verb: to bring to or hold in equilibrium; to arrange or adjust parts.
- From the Latin bi-lancia (two metal pans, used as a scale)
It's a noun and a verb, for Pete's sake! No wonder we struggle to find it!
Our ideas about balance, even the very word itself, imply a dichotomy -- two opposites on either side of the scale. And for many of them, it's a battle between "want to" and "have to." I want to spend a lot of money, but I have to save. I want to eat ice cream and cake, yet I have to eat veggies and whole grains and protein. But does the scale have to be in perfect equilibrium? I'm pretty sure a balanced diet is not 50 percent junk food.
It gets even more complicated when it comes to work-life balance. Which one is the desire and which one is the obligation? If we're lucky, they're both fulfilling. They're both want tos. But then, sometimes they're both have tos. How do we balance that scale? It's not as simple as candy vs. quinoa.
Luckily, we do often admit that our balance may not be perfect. It's constantly shifting. Sometimes, we know we must embrace "good enough."
Another word often associated with balance is poise. Like balance, it means steadiness and stability, but it can also refer to "suspense or wavering, as between rest and motion or two phases of motion."
Poise means steadiness and composure, but it also refers to the liminal moment, the wavering, between our movements. It is stability and transition. It is graceful motion.
Instead of seeking balance as a destination or a thing, we should be seeing it as a dance.
Judith Warner has described dancer's pose in yoga as one of dynamic tension between power and grace. Sometimes I rock dancer's pose, and other times, I'm all over the place: My supporting leg shakes, I veer left, I veer right, my calf aches, my hands brush my mat, I come down, I move into the pose again. And again, which is the whole point of yoga and life, really.
Yoga and meditation remind us that as still as we can become, there is always the movement of the breath and the energy of the body. We're always dancing.
This approach to balance is echoed in Shawn Fink's "10 Motherhood Truths From Around the World," in which she writes that though we seek a balanced life, we will rarely achieve it:
The truth is we are never going to have enough time for ourselves ... In fact, there is only a constant effort, re-assessment and adjusting to find the right way to keep the balls of raising children, working, living, dreaming and housekeeping in the air without dropping a single thing. Balance is a journey, not a destination.
There's another meaning of balance that can help us here. In French, balance (pronounced in fancy French with three syllables) is a dance move. It is performed by standing on both feet and gradually shifting one's weight from leg to leg.
That is the balance we seek, the constant shifting and negotiating and adjusting. Sometimes we need to throw ourselves into our job to meet a deadline or grade a big stack of essays. Sometimes we need to pursue our work or an interest with an intense and focused passion. Sometimes we need to let the work go and spend a day playing with the kids. Sometimes we need to let family obligations go and get ourselves to the gym. Sometimes we just need a nap.
Life is not a dichotomy; it's not a zero sum game. Self, children, work, spouse, house, community... we can never reduce those elements to the balanced equations of chemistry.
So we dance. We rest. We leap. We speed up. We slow down.
But the last thing we need is the scale, the constant weighing and measuring, the voice from the annoying cell phone commercial, "Are you balanced now? Are you balanced NOW?"
Or the voice from the backseat of our moving lives, "Are we there yet?"
Because the answer is always NO. But it's also always YES.
Try to balance that one.