Striving for Imbalance

Years ago, I saw a quote by George Leonard that went something like this: the student says to the master “how can I ever learn to stay in balance the way you do?” and the master said “I’m out of balance much more than you are. I just recover more quickly.”

If we want to be better, we need to get out of balance. We NEED disequilibrium.

It took a couple of falls in my house to realize how I have been talking out of both sides of my mouth about balance for years. Whether the subject is work – life balance, balanced thoughts, balancing my emotions under pressure or balancing individuality with living in community, I’ve been wrong on every front.

Here’s what happened that sent me flying into a new awareness about balance. I was walking into my kitchen with grocery bags and stepped on one of my dog’s bones. Immediately, the bone slid across the wood floor, and my left foot lost traction just as my right foot came off the floor.

It was at this moment that my regular practices of working on balance, strength and staying present saved me from falling backwards, where my head would surely have hit the granite countertop. Instead, I had enough presence of mind to throw myself forward to hit the kitchen island with both of my forearms, still holding the grocery bags. While it happened in mere seconds, in a way, time slowed down as I controlled my fall.

The next few minutes were a blur. I put the groceries down and walked to the nearest chair to gather myself. After my heart stopped thumping and my adrenaline drained, it hit me how close I had come to a devastating fall. I mentally cursed my dog and then myself for leaving the bone right there in the pathway. I committed to do better in picking up scattered dog toys.

Then I had the second fall.

This was about a week later. I was sitting in my living room and my phone, which was inconveniently in my office, started ringing. In one swooping move, I stood up and turned to the right, stepping on the rope toy that was half hidden under the chair. Once again, I’m flying, this time straight towards the glass door leading to my porch. I twisted myself further to the right and aimed for the wall, which took most of my weight. My left hand did land on the window, but without enough force for me to go through it. Once again, time slowed down as I controlled my fall.

Once again, I cursed the toys and realized that I would really have to do better on picking them up.

It was another couple of weeks before the bigger lesson hit me. Something out of my control knocked me off balance. What saved my life (or at least saved me from a lot of blood and a concussion) was in how I regained my balance. It was the recovery that mattered.

When we are moving, it’s a constant act of getting out of balance and then back into balance. Rather than being like the top of the hill to be conquered, balance is a constant reference point.

Watch a young baby learn to walk. I did this last night at a basketball game. First, mom helped him stand up and he teetered, tottered and swayed. When he swayed far enough forward and took a step. Two steps later, his bottom half could not keep up with his top half and he fell forward to his hands. Next try, his top half could not keep up with his bottom half and he was suddenly sitting on the ground. Next try, he was able to take a few more steps. Slowly he was learning to make the correction to string the actions together.

Walking is an act of losing and then regaining balance. We just do the losing and regaining in such small increments that we no longer realize that we are out of balance. Until we step on the dog’s toy!

In order to move things, we have to get out of balance and then regain that balance, preferably in a way that keeps us aligned and safe.

One of my artistic endeavors is throwing clay pottery on a wheel. Learning to center a lump of clay is a critical building block to creating a cup or a plate or a bowl or a tall vase. The initial lump of clay starts out of balance and then through the act of centering, we bring the clay into balance.

That centered lump is just that – a centered lump. In order to make something on the pottery wheel, you then have to take the clay out of balance. Lifting a wall of clay in an act of disequilibrium, stacking one layer on top of another. In and out, over and over, the clay goes out of balance and then back into balance. The art is in the give and take. Push too much and the wall collapses. Push too little and nothing happens. You should see some of my early mugs, where I just couldn’t get the bottom level of clay out of balance enough to move up the cylinder. The thick bottom makes those mugs too heavy to drink from, but they are great pencil holders.

If you want to be better, you have to get out of balance.

Where have you wanted to make a change and it just doesn’t seem to be happening? Where are you working to be better? What can you do to add some disequilibrium in order to create movement?