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What Makes A Balanced Life?

Did you ever try to balance on an old-fashioned seesaw with a partner or two, trying to get to the perfect spot where no one’s feet touch the ground? Did you ever walk across a room with a book balanced on your head? Or cross a stream, balancing on stepping stones? . . . Or get your life into balance?

Ah, it’s that last one that’s the ultimate challenge. Is it possible to balance a life? If so, how is it done? How do we know when we’ve found our balance? How do we keep it? And what does it have to do with faith? Does balance even apply to our spiritual life?

The more I’ve thought about balance, the more I’ve realized just how critical it is to every area of our lives, including the spiritual. But before looking at spiritual balance – and at the risk of sounding simplistic – I’m going to remind us of what we already know about balance.

Balance is, of course, a physical necessity for our bodies. I’ve experienced vertigo a few times, and it’s weird – as well as nauseating – to be sitting completely still when the room appears to be spinning. My balance is gone, and there’s no way I can stand and walk. It’s frightening to be that out of balance.

When I was in college, one of my favorite PE courses was gymnastics. I especially enjoyed the uneven parallel bars. That’s where I learned that each person’s body has a center of gravity, a midpoint of mass that the body can use to maintain its equilibrium in whatever position we might take, whether we’re immobile or in motion. We discover our center of balance early in life when we learn to walk. We find it again when we learn to ride a bike. And if we have a gym class and are required to angle our bodies in new and different ways, we find our center of gravity yet again.

The thing is, the gym instructor could tell us generally where to find our center of gravity, but only I could actually locate my own. It took a bit of slipping and tilting and a lot of practice to find that place of balance, but once I found it, I could tell fairly quickly when I was going off-center in a routine.

Biking, dancing, rafting, skiing, hiking, rock climbing, yoga – movement takes balance.  Simply walking takes balance. With a bit of practice, our bodies balance without a thought. Recently I learned a practice that’s meant to help prevent falls in older people. To train the body to rebalance when it goes off-center, you practice standing on one leg, letting the body correct any wobble that results. But that’s not all. Then you extend your arms, lift them, wave them. Then extend the raised leg forward, back, and to the side. You make your body practice bringing itself back into balance.

So here’s what we know about physical balance.

  • Pay attention.
  • Flex.
  • Slow down if you need to.
  • Hold onto something if you need to.
  • No one can tell you when you’re balanced. You learn to feel it.

Another kind of balance is found in the kitchen. Cooks work hard to get just the right balance of flavors in a dish. I don’t create dishes, but I can follow a recipe. Sunday night at our house is soup night. I found an amazing recipe for kale-sweet potato soup. It perfectly balances the flavor of kale and sweet potato with leeks, onions, cilantro, lemon juice, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. But in another recipe – for butternut squash soup – I had to tweak the balance of spices. The recipe looked wonderful, but it was so pepper-hot, it was hard to enjoy. The balance was not right for me. With food, we know when something’s out of balance by tasting it.

The classic cookbook Joy of Cooking advises, “[D]on’t use too many kinds [of herbs] at once or too much of any one kind.” Nick Korbee, in The Egg Shop, says, “We don’t want to mask the individual flavors in any way, but rather find balance where each herb has its chance to explode on the palate.” We know that some foods – like chili, pasta sauce, and most soups – taste better a day or two after they were made, because the flavors infuse each other without losing their distinctive taste. And, back to the body, we know that a well-balanced diet is good for our health.

So here’s what we know about balance in cooking.

  • Choose the parts that for what they can contribute to the whole.
  • Appreciate and incorporate variety.
  • Season to taste.
  • Take the time to let the flavors simmer, rest, and meld without losing their distinctiveness.
  • Balance in a diet is essential for good health.

Another type of balance is found in art. Once a week I attend an art and design class in which we are free to follow whatever inspires us at the moment. Some of us draw, some of us sculpt, and some of us paint. I usually paint or sketch. After each class session, we display what we’ve created and then tour our group gallery. I’ve learned that whether a work of art is abstract or realistic, it’s the balance and variety that make it pleasing and attractive.

I don’t mean balance in the sense of perfect symmetry. In fact, perfect symmetry is often uninteresting, while asymmetry that keeps a certain balance attracts us. What I mean is the balance and variety of texture (rough and smooth in the same composition), color (light and dark, bold and pale in the same painting), and line (thin next to thick, angled beside curved in a drawing). In her book Freehand, Helen Birch points out that in a drawing, “the use of negative space – the white areas help to balance the whole.” Or an illustration may succeed “because of the balance between intricacy and simplicity.”

Back to the body again: Even figure drawing relies on seeing the balance of a body. In figure drawing class, I learned to look for a model’s point of balance, the area that takes the weight of the body and the invisible line that extends through that point to ground it.

So here’s what we know about balance in art.

  • Variety is vital.
  • Balance can be asymmetrical.
  • Creating a pleasing balance takes practice.
  • Unfilled, open areas – negative spaces – are essential.

And then there’s the balance in my checkbook. Or in my online bank statement. I’m no expert here, but I do know that I can’t take out more than what I’ve put in. Once a month I make sure I’m keeping up with the cash flow.

So here’s what we know about balancing our finances.

  • Keep up with deposits and withdrawals. If we don’t have the money, it’s best if we don’t make the purchase.

Okay, so what’s the point? The point is that life has already taught us how to balance when our world tilts and when the ground seems to shift underneath us. I’ll bring it all together in next week’s post on how to keep – or regain – our balance in a tilting world.

 

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com and morguefile.com

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