A couple of days ago I read a posting by Elizabeth Gilbert about the word “balance,” which she says “haunts and punishes modern women more and more every day.”
Much of what she says here resonates with me. I would say this word haunts and punishes more than just women. It sets all of us on a course toward an impossible goal – a maintainable state of equilibrium. Change being the only constant, our stay at any one point will always be temporary. Even Balanced Rock in Colorado will succumb someday to the forces of nature – gravity, temperature shifts, human interaction with the rock, erosion.
We travel through endless changes, arriving at countless unique and impermanent points once each. Wanting to be somewhere else we perceive as more “balanced” highlights the gap between the reality of the point we are on and the desire of something other. The wider this gap, the more opportunity for despair that we will ever close it.
It is in our nature, of course, to aim for something better if we are not satisfied with where we are now. We are so often striving for some desired state. We wish for it. We take action toward it. But if and when we reach it the moment is fleeting. We grasp and grip it with photographs, videos, recountings. We feature it on our carefully-edited social media life stories, we bronze it in our minds. But no matter how solid a rock we make of it, we don’t stay there. Changes huge or tiny, or both, come on the scene and we find ourselves sliding, meandering, or tumbling elsewhere.
What constitutes a desired state is also tremendously individual, changing from person to person. Someone else’s point of “balance” may feel totally unbalanced to me. And even for one person it can change from day to day. If I spent half of yesterday trying to climb out of a trough of grief, what I consider “balance” for today looks radically different than the “balance” I’m seeking on the heels of a more productive day. Everything is relative.
I totally agree with Gilbert on the dangerous weaponry of the word “balance.” But reading her post, my focus turned away from balance and toward the words and phrases that populate her descriptions of real, not-in-balance life:
…messy…out of control…unpredictable…dropped pie…chaos…stumbling fools…sloppy…unstable…
Our experience of words over time builds layers of meaning and understanding that have depth and power. And when I read those particular words, it occurs to me that none are things that I aspire to. They all feel negative, unwanted, to be avoided. And yet she, and I, and so many, are trying to feel good about the life that these words aptly describe, as well as avoid the pain of making that life into something it isn’t. Gilbert says that life is “most painful when I try to set the entire mess…into order.” So it is for me as well. But why? What explains that impulse toward order, when chaos seems to take over at the slightest reduction of effort, the tiniest letting go of control? I've seen chaos overrun things so fast that I now fully understand how people lose control of their physical surroundings. I think it would take about a month, tops, of abdicating housekeeping duties for our home to be worthy of appearing on a hoarders reality show. There we would be, with the cat poop in the corners, and we don’t even have a cat.
To be honest, I don’t want to embrace a life that I would describe using those words, even if an observer would say it fits the description. Saying I’m messy or unstable feels like a judgment, and not a complimentary one. I don’t like my pie lying splat on the floor. But there it is, fruit and crust in a random jumble at my feet. So I’m working on a way to talk about it that warms me to its value. Perhaps a straight description, cleansed of judgmental adjectives like “sloppy” or “confused,” will work better. As in, instead of “messy,” how about, “On my kitchen counter is a jumble of random items belonging in five different locations other than the kitchen.” Instead of “unstable,” let’s try, “Yesterday morning I had so little energy I had to go back to bed for an hour, and when I got up I stood for a while in front of my wall hanging of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and cried. Then I wiped off my face and put on a coat and I went to Home Depot to get a new rake, picked up a child from school, and swept popcorn off the floor.” An objective description hands us what is without judgment, rather than combining “is” with “here’s what I think of your ‘is.’”
What will it take for us to shift our focus from supposed, idealized points of balance – the one on an inspirational web site, the one in a magazine article, the one a Facebook friend seems to maintain (and post about with photographic evidence) at all times – and recognize where we truly are? If we can move away from words that we associate with negative images, whatever those words are for each of us, we can remove the judgment of the moment and just be with the moment. Instead of saying, “My life is a chaotic mess of pie on the floor, sloppy and unstable, but it’s ok,” perhaps we can say, “My life is exactly what it is right now [add objective-as-possible description here] and it is ok.” Change the “but” to “and.” Let go of the self-edited, catalog-styled moments that we have been trained to aspire to, and recognize what is for what it is.
Recognition is possible at all points, whereas at any given time, what we consider to be balance is only possible at one. This is not to say that recognition is easy, far from it. But it is always possible, always available. And recognition brings the possibility of acceptance, and of closing the gap between expectation and reality, and of peace.