Improving our balance in the sport of life

The need for keeping our balance in a world that seems intent on knocking us off center is compelling. We can follow the lead of gymnasts: having a clear goal, avoiding distraction, and tons of practice.

Balance

Who doesn’t love watching people who can keep their balance in seemingly impossible situations? I think of gymnasts who do amazing feats on a balance bar, ice-skaters who leap and land with stunning grace, surfers who stay upright in the face of giant crashing waves.

So many forces in today’s world conspire to knock us off balance. The news seems designed to keep us in a constant state of upset. We reach frantically for some kind of mental/emotional equilibrium, get a precarious hold, then someone does or says the next unbelievably outrageous thing, and we’re off balance again.

It’s like being caught in the big waves at the beach when you don’t have the skill to ride them. They knock you down and carry you crashing to the shore, leaving you battered, bruised and abraded. You get up, gather yourself together, determine to go back in, and are knocked down again by that overwhelming relentless force.

I remember how terrified I was of those waves when our family used to camp by the ocean when I was small. I would spend hours close by our tent, making designs in the sand with shells and rocks — small objects over which I had some control. It wasn’t until adulthood that I learned how to manage in those waves — getting far enough out that I could go down under just as one was ready to crash, then come up to calm on the other side.

How could we find a similar strategy with those relentless waves of bad news? What would it mean to stay in the water, but not take the full brunt of those breakers, not get continually body-slammed into the sand (without taking the easier route of limiting our news intake to the calmer waters of sports, fashion or movies)? I actually wonder if the breakers are a distraction, and the real issues are to be found in deeper water.

I think of three elements in such a strategy: keeping a judicious distance from much of what is presented as “news” but is really just fear mongering; having places to take our outrage and heartbreak; and being very discriminating and proactive about how, when, from what sources, and in what dosages we take in the information we need in order to stay engaged. The world badly needs us upright, breathing, in touch with our love, and intact. Putting thought, time and energy into developing a practice and discipline around the news that works for us is a project well worth taking on. (Check out www.findingsteadyground.com for support.)

Then there is the question of how to handle the individuals who knock us off balance — those who are unsufferably clueless and say the most outrageous things; those who wield power at high cost to others; the ones whose storms and personal drama engulf everyone in their orbit; those who have that uncanny capacity to leave us questioning our worth. We all have developed a variety of responses: fighting back with equal force; joining our outrage with others so we feel less alone; or just keeping our distance, as I did from the surf as a child.

But I think there’s a different and much more powerful response here that’s similar to staying in the water and going under the waves in a high surf. A thought that a friend shared months ago continues to reverberate in my mind: If we can find a way to bring them deep inside us, into our hearts, they can’t knock us off balance. The physics is unassailable; you can’t be rocked from inside. The practice, however, is quite another thing. It seems like a super-human task to find our way to such a place.

Yet the need for keeping our balance in this world is compelling. And I think the gymnasts and skaters and surfers can point a way forward. None of them could stay balanced at the beginning. Their ability in the present is the result of a clear vision of a highly-prized goal, determination and tons of practice. They worked day in and day out to get to the point where they didn’t fall, where they didn’t get knocked off balance, where they could be and do what they held in their mind’s eye. We get to go for the same.

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Pamela Haines

Pamela Haines

With a blog, books on money and values, a collection of essays, and two volumes of poetry, Pamela Haines also supports youth climate activists and public banks.