I’m not a big fan of “balance”, at least not as the term is typically used. If you look at the many meanings of the word balance, from weights and measures to accounting, most of them mean to make equal. To add or subtract from two separate and different amounts until each side has come to a middle amount, or to find a something in between one extreme and the next. I think this is a flawed idea, when applied to ourselves and how we should feel and act, and here is why.
Two extremes are not equal in worth, even if they are equal in validity. For example, being selfish is not equal in worth as being generous. But (without getting into too much semantics) they are equal in validity–sometimes it is “better” to be selfish, while other times it is “better” to be generous. For true balance between generosity and selfishness you would need to counter every act of generosity with selfishness, and vice versa. Which makes no sense–if you live in an environment where you are abused emotionally and taken advantage of, selfishness (done well) can be healthy and healing. And there are circumstances in which generosity can be equally healthy and healing (I’m sure we can easily think of examples).
What matters is not something between generosity and selfishness (which would essentially be nothing, since they pretty much cancel each other out), but rather the interplay of generosity AND selfishness in constant flux, responding to the demands of our environment. What we need is equilibrium.
In chemistry, equilibrium describes a type of balance where a chemical reaction proceeds at that same rate as its reverse reaction. It works something like this:
First, when you have a system made up of a bunch of molecules, those molecules sometimes combine. That’s the idea of a chemical reaction. Second, a chemical reaction sometimes starts at one point and moves to another. Now imagine the reaction finished and you have a pile of new chemicals. Guess what? Some of those chemicals want to go through a reverse chemical reaction and become the original molecules again…
Put those two ideas together and you have equilibrium:
1. Two reactants combine to make a product.
2. Products like to break apart and turn back into the reactants.
There is a point where those two reactions happen and you can’t tell that any reactions are happening. That’s the point when the reaction looks like it is finished. In reality, some of the molecules are turning into products and some are turning back into reactants. You need to imagine that you’re as small as a molecule and you’re watching all of these parts bouncing around and changing back and forth. Just staring at a test tube, you won’t generally notice a change in their numbers. That’s what equilibrium really is. The overall reaction is happy. There is no pressure greater in one direction over another.
When we exist in a state of emotional equilibrium, we allow ourselves to feel the range of our emotions and feelings and recognize that they all have validity, but are not of equal worth for any given situation. There are times in our lives when sadness or anger is more healthy and appropriate than happiness. Where emotions like grief and heartbreak are cathartic, even though we don’t think so at the time. Where failure is necessary to build a character worthy of success…if you let it. Spiritually, there may be times when introspection is “better” than practice, or when practice is more important than thought. Physically, there are times when sitting on your duff and eating a bar of chocolate is more useful and nourishing than running a mile and noshing of a bag of carrots.
In my practice and belief, existing in equilibrium is essential. When we think of ourselves as cauldrons of consciousness, the sensation and experience that define us is in dynamic equilibrium. Equilibrium is the back and forth interplay between that sensation and experience which allows us to meet the Divine; it is the equilibrium between our soul-states that allow us to deepen our understanding of the world around us so that sensation and experience have meaning down to our very core. Equilibrium is about finding the sweet spot where all of these things are acceptable and valued in their own time and set(s) of conditions. Where something in balance topples over at the first sign of stress, a system in equilibrium shifts around until the stress is absorbed into the system and a new equilibrium is achieved (in chemistry, this is called Le Chatelier’s Principle).