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Written by: Kathie Houchens
Date: June 9, 2015

Finding Balance

Words fascinate me!  In the “Online Etymology Dictionary” I find the origin of the word balance is early thirteenth century old French – a noun meaning “apparatus for weighing.”  It took another three hundred years to become a verb meaning to “be equal with.”  By the 1630s to “bring or keep in equilibrium” was the definition. The notion that a person might “keep oneself in equilibrium” came in 1833.  In 2015 I aim for that.

Daily I struggle to balance work with play, chocolate with cruciferous vegetables, and noise with silence.  I don’t have anything hanging in the balance at the moment, but uncertainties can quickly throw me off balance, and I am moving into territory where just scheduling trips to the specialists becomes a balancing act.  Monday the allergist, Tuesday the optometry clinic, the dermatologist just called to remind of Wednesday and the dentist wants to schedule me soon.

To stay healthy I need a balanced diet and regular exercise. My GP recommends “daily activity that makes you sweat.”  Variety might make it fun, I reason. So Monday I’m off to yoga, Tuesday to water aerobics, Zumba options are Wednesday and Friday, ballet is on Thursdays. Throw in a couple of hours at the gym where machines and weights will strengthen and stretch parts that didn’t get their full workout elsewhere.  Housework and gardening don’t count, according to my Doc, but they have to be weighed in the balance of my time allotment.

I’m out of breath! If my brain were connected more closely to my heart I would have met my cardio requirements just figuring out when to fit it all in.

What about the balance between what I do for me and how I reach out to others?  Community involvements, whether spiritual, artistic, or social in emphasis, are necessary components that round out my life.  Having eased out of full time employment, I should have plenty of time for all this, right?  I was warned.  Retired friends told me I would find myself busier than ever, wondering how I had once had time for a job.

I look at my calendar, a notebook of days and dates with nature paintings that inspire me to get out the art supplies and indulge in creative time. Daily allotted space for noting appointments is an inch high by four inches wide. There are limits to what a day may hold, both in the schedule writing and in the doing. When things get off balance it can look and feel crammed.

Artistic friends and activities help keep me in balance.  Placing stems “just so” in an Ikebana design, or joining a plein air painting group for a day of water color brings me satisfaction, relaxation and renewal.  In life, as in art, a broad definition of balance serves well.  While symmetry conveys a sense of formality, order, rationality, and permanence, asymmetry has more variety, visual interest, and liveliness.  A painting or a flower arrangement may employ both symmetry and asymmetry.  Often an informal asymmetrical balance offers a pleasing harmony. When things seem a bit off balance, a step back, a look from a different angle, changes perspective.

We get the tires on our car balanced from time to time.  It helps them wear more evenly.  A little personal time to re-adjust the weight of running along life’s rough and smooth paths might be considered routine maintenance.

Yoga is a practice I find balances me, outwardly and inwardly.  The poses encourage my body to stay flexible and relaxed.  Breathing is important.  Under stress I often forget to breathe.  Staying attuned to the rhythm of my breath allows my mind, body and spirit to fall into sync. That is restorative!

Several times each year I go on a retreat.  A break from the daily pace is a gift I give myself. A full week of “silent retreat” includes nods and smiles, but no need to break into conversation.  In community with others, we each honor the space to simply BE.  I listen more deeply, hear sounds I might normally miss, notice small things like color variations in the water. I write or draw, or just walk along the lake shore. Returning home I am re-balanced.

Is staying in perfect balance, to walk a Wallenda-like tightrope, the ideal? Undisturbed equilibrium may be a worthy goal.  But I wake up from my dream of performing on the balance beam to face a bad hair day, and moths in my closet. I discover that I am out of coffee, and the skunks are nesting under the back of the house again. Do I laugh or cry? Don’t forget to breathe!  I vote for laughter, psychological “helium” that can lift the heaviest of imbalances.  Add gratitude for a kicker.  Maybe my search for a balanced life is not about WHAT is on my calendar, but HOW I embrace it all.