ROSALIND PEARMAIN explores the notion of losing balance and restoring it, and how we have to lose our old balance in order to find a new one.
A Pilates teacher once suggested that if you ever suffer an ankle injury it helps to practice standing on that foot alone (when it is sufficiently recovered)as often as you can. Why? Because the nerves are also injured in sprains and the neural connectivity between the foot and the brain is undermined. Standing on one leg restores the passage of information from the ankle to the brain so that your balance and movement become more resilient again.
I find this a good metaphor. Balance is a shifting and dynamic notion; not about achieving a static point but sustaining dynamic equilibrium, which is far more fluid in living systems. It tells me that what is important with balance is opening and restoring the flow of information. We could say that we become imbalanced whenever we block or close down to a wider understanding of our situation, our relation, and our context. We lose the ground upon which we stand and substitute for more abstract thoughts and memories. It is as if we literally lose our under-standing.
This happens for me when I fall back on old patterns and get stuck. It could happen when I repeat past judgments and ideas about a person or situation that has changed, and get into conflict. We can see this happen with our friends, families, bosses, and also in political situations all the time.
It seems that we have to apparently lose our balance, our old stance, in order to find a new one. We have to sometimes let go of what we hold on to in order to keep our sense of upright strength, in order to move forward and explore new territory. Is this what we do every time we take a step and walk forward?
Within psychology, there are many different ways to make sense of how we lose balance in our relationship with the world:
- For those with painful beginnings, we can understandably become fixed on trying to mend early wounds and sufferings with all those we meet. This means we are not really connecting with the present situation and its requirements at all.
- We can become totally preoccupied by our fears, anxieties, and sometimes wishes for others – this often happens when we become parents.
- In severe situations, the inner self is so fragile that all efforts are extended to protecting it from suffering ever again – such as we see in narcissistic responses. With this attempt to protect the self, huge efforts are made to ward off any information that is not the same as we feel and want to hold on to. It is experienced as threatening. We can all feel something of this with our vulnerable egos.
- There are some situations, like trying to reach an airport to catch a plane or be in time for a meeting, when transport breaks down, when our focus and sense of balance are reduced to a very fragile thread like crossing a high wire!
- Jung described the complex of powerful archetypes that we all share in our deep unconscious selves, that also weave together with our personal psychological history. In this way, we can become hyper-sensitized to specific themes, e.g. the abandoned child, the martyr, the good or bad mother, the oppressive authority, the revolutionary overthrower. They can dominate our responses to situations in such a way we do not allow other information to come in.
- We can also sometimes over-identify with roles that we play at work or in our family, and lose contact with the wider and deeper aspects of our being in the world.
How can we restore balance?
Taoism is a way of wisdom based on the notion of intrinsic balance within the dynamic flow and interplay of opposites. It requires us to recognize ceaseless movement in living systems, and to resist fixing ideas or attachments to one side of a situation. By not doing, everything is accomplished. By seeking only one side of things we make the other more solid and rigid.
In my very limited exposure to practices such as Tai Chi, I found you have to keep your knees bent. You have to be able to bend with pressure. It is a helpful metaphor to notice the moment of stiffening against and resisting information coming to us, and to mentally relax and move with it.
Sometimes there needs to be time and compassion and healing for our own wounds before we can let ourselves consider those of others.
Pausing and breathing in any situation, taking a step back, and focusing entirely on the present moment are very helpful. In a few minutes we can monitor all the sensory information coming in at this moment: the feel of surfaces meeting the body and feet, the temperature and scent of the air, the sounds we hear, the kind of light and sky that is unfolding, the sense of being alive. Enjoying that moment can then help us be open to exploring what we are feeling in a deeper way.
It can be interesting to consider how many others have been involved in our being in this moment so far today? Those involved in power distribution, manufacture of objects, the cultivation and provision of food, etc.
Doing something physical, being in nature, and talking to someone else also help us to regain a sense of perspective, a right relation with what is going on.
Finally, meditation is a practice that is especially helpful in restoring balance. It can help us find an inner ground that supports us through harsh winds and shocks. We feel more anchored and rooted to a very deep reality that transcends this small moment.
We need to feel safe to risk being open. “Under-standing” is a wonderful word. I am thinking of it like the roots connecting trees, nourishing and supporting growth among them.
Meditation is a practice that is especially helpful in restoring balance.
It can help us find an inner ground that supports us
through harsh winds and shocks.
We feel more anchored and rooted to a very deep reality
that transcends this small moment.
For Equilibrium, a Blessing:
Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.
As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.
Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.
As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.
As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.
As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.
May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.
– John O’Donohue
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Ros lives in Abingdon near Oxford, UK, and has worked with groups of all ages during her working life. She has always been interested in how we can change and transform. In recent years she has been teaching psychotherapy and qualitative research and is a Heartfulness trainer.