Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Balance Is Not a Fish You Can Catch

Balance is something we hear much about, particularly this time of year. Take a quick look at themes around the blogosphere and you'll find 'balance' often as either the main subject of a New Year's Resolution article or as an idea sprinkled throughout one. While there is certainly much ado about it, balance is a concept that is difficult to find, if not impossible to acquire.

Balance is particularly elusive in our culture. We place a high value on activity, have positive associations about it and make personal judgments from it. We make 'activity' an extreme -- the arch nemesis of balance.

Opposing concepts like 'activity' & 'inactivity' should be simply defined as 'doing' vs 'not doing.' But definitions and meanings are often drastically different. Semantically speaking, we attach much more meaning to those two simple words; one is admirable & praiseworthy, the other is detestable & shameful.

Messages of hard work, dedication, persistence are instilled early into our young minds and reinforced daily as we mature. Meanwhile, the natural counterpart (one that restores balance), 'inactivity,' carries a heavy negative connotation in our society.

A quick thesaurus search reveals a multitude of negative undertones (in bold) that we equate with 'inactivity':  
Synonyms: dawdling, dilly-dallying, dormancy, droning, goof-off time, hibernation, idleness, indolence, inertia, inertness, inoperativeness, joblessness, laze, lazing, leisure, lethargy, loafing, loitering, otiosity, own sweet time, pottering, shiftlessness, sloth, slothfulness, slouch, slowness, sluggishness, stagnation, stupor, time on one's hands, time to burn, time to kill, time-wasting, torpidity, torpor, trifling, truancy, unemployment, vegetating.
While a similar search, shows the positive of correlations of 'activity':
Synonyms: action, activeness, animation, bustle, enterprise, exercise, exertion, hustle, labor, life, liveliness, motion, movement.
Antonyms: idleness, immobility, inactivity, indolence, inertia, laziness, sluggishness
To achieve balance for an overactive lifestyle, times of inactivity are essential and mandatory. But, it becomes difficult to do without internalizing negative messages which damage self-esteem and identity.

To counter the tendency is to manage the expectation; the beginning of which is recognizing the messages. Messages, while innocent in and of themselves, combine and mutate within the mind to become building blocks for complete systems of belief. For example, a message that equates inactivity with laziness, worthlessness and slothfulness, can be inappropriately applied and misconstrued to become the foundation for the belief, 'I am inactive, so I must be lazy, worthless or slothful.'

The second part of countering is adjusting an expectation to remove its intensity. It's a matter of semantics; rewording an expectation to be slightly more realistic. In looking for alternatives, the word 'pause' stood out to me as a reasonable replacement for 'inactivity.' A pause of any duration (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly) provides the opportunity to breathe again, to sleep again, to think again, and to reflect on the past and dream about the future again.

Personally over the last few months, a 'pause' provided me with much needed physical rest to recuperate from overexertion. More importantly, it afforded me the opportunity to foster a new perspective on career & life. With the time to reflect, analyze and evaluate, I was able to identify what was missing and what I was searching for... passion. In the day-to-day busyness of living and working, my desire to do something more fulfilling had fallen victim to the '-presses' (suppression, repression and oppression); kept in, held back and weighed down. More on that epiphany in a future post.

It took a few months to become able to catch the messages, then a process of analysis to understand where they came from (friends & family, community, society, culture, religion, etc.) and finally to learn how to adjust them. It will take many years to completely relearn, retrain and reprogram old habits of thinking, so managing those old ways through practice & repetition is the name of the game in the meantime. The hopeful and empowering part is that: 1) change is possible, and 2) I am capable of making those changes.

Through it all, I've discovered that balance is not a thing or a a one time event; balance is a process, a way of life. It's one that I've resolved to work toward learning and practicing, and one that I believe is possible to maintain by managing expectations. It may be the first New Year's Resolution that I have ever made that is sustainable.

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