The quest for the mythical balance
Here in America, we celebrate the extreme achievement.
The billionaire who works ninety-hour weeks, building an empire in his garage.
The skydiver who jumps out of a plane without a parachute. (Are you kidding me?!)
The all-world athlete with a Puritanical devotion to the game. (For the record, I’m a big fan of J.J. Watt.)
Even when we’re amongst friends, stories are only worth sharing when we can describe them as “epic” or slap an Instagram filter on them.
We marvel at the accomplishments of our brightest stars, but we tend not to consider the costs. Whether we aspire to great heights or have more modest goals, it feels like we live our lives in a state of chronic overdrive, teetering on the brink of physical, spiritual, emotional or financial disaster.
For all of the modern miracles that are unveiled to us — the printing press, the antibiotic, air travel, the internet and Amazon.com — I am forever surprised to discover just how much ancient wisdom still prevails; particularly, the notion of balance. Buddhism has taught The Middle Way for thousands of years. Aristotle described it as The Golden Mean. It even shows up in the Catholic virtue of temperance.
But maybe Oscar Wilde said it best: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
So moderation (in moderation) is good, but what is balance, really? Definitions differ, but here’s what it means to me.
First of all, it’s natural — and even healthy — for our lives to be out of balance for brief periods of time.
For example, strength training involves pushing the body to its limit (out of balance), inducing microscopic tears to muscle cells which triggers regeneration and gains in strength. Any parent knows that raising a baby involves weeks or months of sleep deprivation, to some extent. Even the best careers require unpleasant compromises from time to time.
Life happens, and it will call us to step out of the middle; there’s no getting around that. It becomes a problem worth solving when we are too far out of balance for too long.
Imagine walking a mile from A to B, but rather than walk a straight line, you zigged and zagged back and forth. Assuming you weren’t arrested for public intoxication, you would arrive at your destination tired and disoriented, having expended far more energy than was necessary to achieve your goal.
Yet, how many of us live our lives in exactly this fashion? Does any of this sound familiar to you?
- Lack of sleep causes me to burn out; sleeping too much wastes precious hours of my day.
- Eating too little starves my body; eating too much weighs it down with obesity and disease.
- Insufficient time with people leads to isolation; spending too much causes me to become overwhelmed.
- Working out infrequently makes me weak and tired; exercising too much exercise depletes me.
- Playing too little makes me irritable and unfocused; playing too much subtracts from the meaningful work that I accomplish.
- Eating too much bacon … kidding. There is actually no such thing as too much bacon.
You get the picture; it can be expressed in any number of ways. At the extremes, there is loss, pain and inefficiency. In the middle, there is health, renewal and peak performance. Everything has its yin and yang, its two extremes; food, sex, money, relationships, everything else.
Only in the middle are we free to live our best lives, making the best use of our time and our talents.
Today, my friend, I encourage you to take five minutes to reflect: in what areas of your life are you living in the middle way, and where are you out of balance?
What would restoring a sense of balance in those areas do for you and your happiness?
What steps can you take to begin that process now?