Tag: acrobatics

Photo by brando.n on Flickr

A Comfortable Balance

Many of us seek an elusive balance in our lives, but what does this really mean? When applied to objects seeking equilibrium in space, the notion of balance is often associated with a single point of contact. The scales of justice, the ultimate metaphor for even judgement, is based on one of the least stable and most sensitive images of balance available to us. Scales are intentionally unstable to allow for exact weights to be measured, but its a fairly simple affair. A piece of gold is what it is, and doesn’t wiggle while its weighed. Justice and other complex human endeavours aren’t inclined to be as straightforward.

Acrobats, unicyclists, and ballet dancers make an art form of single-pointed balance to create acts of wonder and beauty. Drawing on strength, skill and momentum, they distill balance to its most critical element, this single point, this single moment. Living beings bring dynamism to the concept of balance as they activity participate in the process. The inherent difficulty, precariousness and instability of these endeavours adds excitement to the performance. But the edgy tension of the acrobat may not be the kind of balance we are seeking in our everyday lives.

Balance does not have to be precariously single pointed. The cyclist shifts their shape and weight over the two wheels of the moving bike. The butterfly poised on a flower, or the rock climber perched on a cliff face steady themselves using all of their limbs. This more stable form of balance is based on the distribution of weight and form over multiple points of contact which offers greater security, while still allowing for movement. Multiple-contact balance allows space to think and deliberate the next move, and offers more resiliance in the face of challenges.

Great feats of balance draw our attention, but perhaps the most valuable balancing acts go unnoticed. Sitting upright in a chair, moving from sitting to standing, and walking forward are everyday acts of balance that go unappreciated until we slip, trip, or suffer vertigo. Even lying in bed requires a level of spacial awareness to avoid hitting the floor. The beauty of effortless balance is that it allows us to shift our attention beyond the act of balance itself and get on with everyday affairs. It brings the restful quality of equilibrium, the state of rest when all forces are equal.

Perhaps the biggest lesson in balance, is imbalance, and ultimately a fall. When faced with a challenge to equilibrium, the aim is usually to continue, at least until an elegant exit can be achieved. But if the challenge is too great, collapse may ensue. The tightrope walker falls. The dancer twists an ankle. The cyclist slides across the asphalt. Catastrophes of this kind are less likely with multiple points of contact or a safety net, but even seemingly safe situations can come undone in extreme circumstances. These instances where control is lost shock us with their chaotic unpredictability.

Many images of success and fulfillment are based on a precarious do-or-die model of balance; and implied within them the possibility of a catastrophic fall. It may be that life pushes you to the edge, and it may be that you enjoy the challenge of extreme situations, but given the choice, its not necessary to always choose to live on the precipice. There is a time and place for feeling stable and secure with room to move in the face of the unexpected. By the same token, its not always wise to clutch at safety with every available limb.  Sometimes you need to take a leap and trust in the landing. And while we may prefer the carefully controlled exit, collapse sometimes happens, because at that moment, given the conditions, balance simply can’t be achieved.

Where human beings are concerned, awareness itself is a key ingredient to achieving balance; the sense of the body in space, the sense of self in the moment, the capacity to notice and change. Regardless of our physical abilities, if we have this capacity to be aware of the details, to learn from experience, and adapt to circumstances, we can choose the dynamic blend of stability and motion that best suits the situation. Then we can participate creating a flexible and lively balance that encompasses the total situation. Even if the worst happens and things fall apart, if we have sense of inner equilibrium there is the option to bring our awareness to the situation as it unfolds and seek a new balance from within the chaos.


Butterfly image from brando.n on Flickr