Tag: equilibrium

Adopting the living organism as a metaphor for a balanced lifestyle leads us to seek a natural harmony or equilibrium, so that a balanced environment becomes a space in which we can safely and comfortably dwell.

Dwelling in Balance

The various metaphors we might choose to represent balance and imbalance offer different perspectives on how we might achieve that illusive balance in life. The balance of the tightrope walker captures the experience of navigating our way forward through through time on a tight schedule. However the equilibrium of the living organism offers a richer perspective in relation to balancing objects within a space, or our lives within a living environment. This allows us to look beyond the physical stability of a single object and consider the balance of all of the interrelated components within a living system in the same way that you might think of a living cell, or the human body.

This broader view of balance offers a more complex scenario where the organism attempts to maintain equilibrium or homeostasis in the face of constantly changing conditions. Balance in this context is an attempt to maintain the overall stability of a wide range of factors in the face of constant change for the purpose of supporting life. Balance takes place across the whole system of interrelated parts, and while different aspects can be viewed independently, they dont exist in isolation. Unlike a single pointed balance, the balance of a complex system has an inbuilt ability to adapt and adjust, which means a wider range of conditions can be accommodated.

Quote form Dwelling in Balance Blog PostThis model of balance drawn from the natural world includes the concept of boundaries or membranes. The organism has a defined boundary or wall, like the cell wall or the outline of the human body, but it is permeable, allowing flows inwards and outwards. It also has internal structures and flows within the main boundary, like the organs and blood vessels within the body. These living systems depend on a healthy flow in, around and out, to survive. Some inflowing substances are life giving, others are toxic. Depending on what you take in, a little bit might cure you, but a lot might kill you. In the meantime the system strives to maintain balance across numerous variables.

There is enormous diversity in the natural world, and a wide variety of ways in which the challenges of life – such as finding food, shelter, successful reproduction and child rearing – are satisfied. What each organism has in common is the need to satisfy these challenges in a way that retains the basic integrity of their particular way of functioning.

We can extend this metaphor to how we organise our lives within our own homes. We can think of the walls of the home as the membrane or boundary that protects us from the outside. Within the home different functions are performed, just as the different structures of the body have different roles. The house provides shelter and within that framework there are objects that support our needs for eating, sleeping, clothing ourselves, reproducing, raising children and so on. The health of this system depends on objects entering, leaving, and being internally organised in a way that one element does not overwhelm other aspects and compromise the smooth operation of the whole. An excess of objects that is traditionally described as “clutter” can be viewed as a signal of imbalance where the volume entering the space is out of proportion to the volume leaving. Or there may be a lack of definition of roles and boundaries within the different spaces of the home.

In our homes too, there is a wide diversity of solutions to the challenges of living. The issue is not how much you own, but whether the whole system is working in such a way that it supports your needs. This allows us to think of creating harmony by constructing a congruent environment that works as a whole, rather than limiting us to any particular lifestyle or ideology about what to own an how to organise it.

If the balance we are seeking has the qualities of a natural harmony or equilibrium, a balanced environment becomes a space in which we can safely and comfortably dwell. Rather than adopting the do-or-die model of balance of the elite athlete or performer, there is the possibility of creating a harmonious way of living which is spacious and accommodating. This model of balance has within it the capacity to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. There is a sense of peace, calm and generosity in having room to move and the capacity to gently shift direction or graciously accommodate change. Perhaps this image brings us closer to the essence of the balanced lifestyle that so many of us are seeking.

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