Perhaps no other word has been the aim of countless people over time. We seek equilibrium, and we know deep within when our lives are off-kilter. It does seem as if knowing we need to recalibrate spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically, would involve taking the necessary steps. This isn’t the case often, is it? We know, but that doesn’t mean we act. We sense the imbalance, yet we are stuck, unable to move ahead. In other cases, we avoid the matter altogether to get through our day.
Why is balance so vital to our sense of well-being? How can balance be achieved and managed? Are there some simple steps we can apply to our daily lives to make balance sustainable? This article addresses all three questions. There are multiple ways to answer these questions. Still, the need to make spiritual practice practical is just as necessary as it is to make balance a reality in our lives, rather than an aspiration.
Balance can be expressed as an ability to find inner harmony despite the apparent changes and flux we live in. Balance can also be understood to mean flowing with these very same uncertain conditions – those of change and uncertainty. One practice isn’t necessarily better than the other. There are various approaches. The crucial element to consider is the benefit the chosen method has on your life and your ability to achieve balance.
Some words often associated with balance include offsetting, stability, and proportion. Balance is vital to human beings because it provides a sound method of coping and managing everyday challenges, as well as the life-altering ones. The management skill associated with offsetting a situation in life that is causing imbalance is to introduce three safeguards. The first safeguard I employ is learning to say “no.” There are occasions in life when we cannot go further or continue to enable a situation, a person, or a relationship – personal or professional. Saying “no” usually makes people feel guilty, ashamed, unsupportive. To offset those feelings, the honest question – “Have I truthfully done everything within my power to help, resolve, or address this issue?” If the answer is “yes, I have,” then saying, “no” is not only appropriate, it is the right thing to do in tour life. This brings peace of mind and brings balance into existence.
Another important safeguard is to ask for help. Pride is an incredible impediment to balance. Pride makes us question our competence when we exercise common sense. Pride coerces us into believing that all successful individuals on this planet did it alone. So, on the one hand, to be adequate, we cannot ask for help, and on the other, asking for help demonstrates our inadequacy. Pride isolates us from others and alienates us from others and ourselves. Under these conditions, balance is impossible. The stress and anxiety consume us and leaves us unstable and unable to cope – hence, off-balance.
The nature of this inner dissonance is caused by the ego. The ego is entirely able to be swayed by the desires we entertain and by the neurotic preoccupation with being right and perfect. The “I” when interjected into any situation causes judgment. These judgments are the result of preconceived expectations and fantasies we have about what should and why it needs to be as the ego conceived it to be. Rather than simply recognizing a situation that we need help in as an opportunity to grow and resolve anything that needs to be, we preoccupied with how we are inadequate. Contentment is crucial in our lives. If we practice being content – we exercise gratitude daily. It is an entirely different narrative to the one of being able to manage everything all by oneself and not needing anyone to help us along the way. Content affords us the freedom to enjoy the company and the assistance of others. This encourages inner balance and healthier relationships as we grow in humility (the counterweight to pride) and empathy (the counterweight to alienation).
My third safeguard is to avoid expectations. Expectations cloud one’s ability to address the day, any situation, or relationship most healthily and productively. Expectations enjoy power, and power causes imbalances. Any time I entertain an expectation, I am, in essence, attempting to force my rendition of what should be on the reality I am facing. So, as I try to bring my expectations in line with reality, I will experience anxiety, frustration, hesitation, uncertainty, fear, hurt, anger, and doubt. Some of these are quite similar to the five hindrances, as found in Buddhist teachings. Some may find similarities with these being the opposite of the fruits of the spirit as taught in the Christian tradition. Yet, others may simply see these to be incompatible with the life of inner peace and self-fulfillment.
Stability is a cherished virtue among monastic traditions across the world’s religions. It is a practice that promotes balance and consistency. Consistency provides for deepening spiritual practices and for the disciplines which will ultimately become habits of the heart. No process where changes to our present patterns of thought and action are ever easy to unlearn. Consistency in practice, in being patient with oneself, and acknowledging life-affirming thoughts and behaviors are difficult to sustain, but sustainable they are.
Stability represents resilience, as well. Another way of looking at resilience is the ability to respond effectively or cope with a stressful situation. One can resume one’s sense of balance despite being pushed off for a brief period. Resilience, of course, is learned. It requires practice ad patience. This means one is unwavering in investing the time in oneself and seeing it as worthwhile and deserving. Unless one is aware of the inner worth each person possesses, then it is difficult to see the depositing of time and energy in oneself as valuable time as well spent.
Balance is possible when stability exists in one’s life. When out-of-balance, resilience brings us back into equilibrium, and we can move on. Resilience isn’t a shot in the dark, or luck, or just happened. It is a psychological tool available to you and me. We simply need to incorporate the three safeguards – consistently. When we do, despite occasions where we may feel almost ready to quit, it is the practice that nourished the resilience within us. This will lead to the stability we need to bring balance back into our lives.
Proportion is a quantitative assessment of anything present in our lives. Proportions exist in quantitative relationships in our lives. For instance, the proportion of life satisfaction in our lives in proportion to the challenges and failures we may have endured. Balance exists when we can find relatively equal proportions of opposites in or lives, but also proportional successes, too. Can there exist proportions of aversive experiences or circumstances? Yes, this is also possible. It would be disingenuous to argue against this reality, which some readers may be presently facing. How then is a balance achieved in all three cases? In the first case, the matter is in making an authentic acknowledgment that not everything in one’s life has been a failure or doom and gloom. It is easy to underestimate how resilient one can be and able to overcome all sorts of challenges. This is often the case as we tend to focus on the negative aspects of our lives if our outlook is predominantly pessimistic.
It is perhaps easier for optimists to recognize achievements despite setbacks. This isn’t a competition of which one is better – optimism or pessimism. Chances are we are it of both. It is usually best to ask oneself, “what do I tend to be at first witnessing a stressful situation enter my life?” Some people may start pessimistic, and once they feel more comfortable ad resilient, they become more optimistic. Can this affect balance? Yes, it certainly can. Where does that initial pessimism perhaps come from? Expectations tend to prejudice us. So, working on the three safeguards can help each of us with starting from a no-expectation, optimistic place, and work toward getting help, remaining consistent in our practice, and saying no, if there isn’t anything we can do after we’ve done all we can.
When our lives seem to be in a place where the proportions of good things happen to be overwhelming, an imbalance is still possible. If the successes and the good things we enjoy are experienced with sincere gratitude but rather seen only as rungs toward achieving happiness or further successes, then there is contentment, and there is no inner peace. Anxiety prevails, and lack of thanksgiving makes the experiences superficial as we are already looking at the next best thing.
If we can experience contentment – genuine thanksgiving for the blessing to experience disproportionate successes over adversity, balance is possible as one is quite aware of the fleeting nature of all that one has. If COVID 19 has done anything, it has brought to those willing to see the writing on the wall, that all life is fragile and precious. Human lives can change in the blink of an eye – as well as all life on this planet. When one lives in this state of grace and appreciation for the opportunity to enjoy family, friends, health, secure employment, education, running hot and cold water, and the security of a meal, balance is quite easy to find as it is part of being fully present in the here-and-now with thanksgiving.
If the circumstances are the opposite, adversity disproportionate to the more enjoyable aspects of life, balance is also possible. But there is a genuine reframing that must take place. It begins with the threats posed by thoughts of blame, shame, hurt, and anger. These promote instability and lack of peace. When these two factors are present in mind, balance is practically impossible due to the instability, inconsistency, and insecurity that cloud the mind. The work to sustain balance will be harder. It is much easier to give up on the safeguards and the consistent practice of resilience. Asking for help is essential. Help can be in the form of financial planning, retraining, writing a resume, getting therapy, starting an exercise plan, getting help for an addiction, improving study habits, changing your circle of friends, getting help for anger, seeking forgiveness, making a phone call you should have several months or years ago, going back to school, there are so many things that can be done. Sometimes, they require political and social action. However, the balance begins when problems seem to be manageable, and the hope of overcoming the present situation is also palpable. This has been my particular case.
Remember, a problem is defined as anything that does not have an evident solution. For me, I may not see the solution, but you know what to do in the same situation, so it isn’t a problem in your case. When we cannot see the evident solution, we believe it is insurmountable or a game-changer in our aspiration to sustain balance in our lives. A change in our narrative and the perspectives, we entertain will go a long way. If the problem is present, that means there is also a solution. Let it begin with us – within each of us, to embrace the resolve to practice the safeguards, and to be consistent in them. As we see ourselves transform, so will be where look to find the evidence of resolution – and it usually is found within.