Balance is that elusive, quasi-mystical concept that so many of us strive for, yet so few of us seem to achieve. Self-help books sell us a vision of our lives perfectly portioned into healthy work-life ratios, and we consult the recipes as a template for our own lives, checking the mirror frequently for a sign of the self-assured smile sported by the confident author.
The truth, however, is that balance is not a fixed state, because life is never a static business. Circumstances fluctuate, things change, and we are constantly playing catch-up to counterbalance life’s chaos when chance steps in to shake things up. Such change is healthy, and the constant play of balance and counterbalance is as natural to our personal and social rhythms as the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides.
Yet there are times when a marked imbalance has taken hold. When life has gone noticeably awry, when the world is tending more towards the dystopian than the uphill climb towards progress, a situation of imbalance has prevailed.
Imbalance can take many forms. In our personal lives, imbalance can affect our health and physical wellbeing. It can harm our relationships, creating disharmony at home, at school, or at work. Imbalance can lead to depression, anger, stress, anxiety, or even simple boredom and dissatisfaction.
On a broader level, social imbalance creates vast inequality amongst the world’s people. Some people live in excess while others suffer starvation and death from preventable diseases. People who do not conform to traditional societal values struggle for basic equal rights, while those who have them too often take their rights for granted. Even those who are within the majority may be oppressed by corrupt and unjust systems, but feel powerless to change things, breeding resentment.
When imbalance exists, only action will correct it. To put this concept into context, this essay comes with a visual aid. For this meditation, consider the image of balanced scales. On one side of the scales, a large rock is dropped onto the platter, tipping the scales out of balance.
Now ask yourself, if you simply sit and stare at the scales, waiting for them to recalibrate, will those scales come back into balance of their own accord? No. Only if one applies a counterweight to the other side will the scales level out again.
As we explore this concept in more depth, applying it to our own lives and to society as a whole, keep this visual in mind to serve as a metaphor for what needs to be done to bring life back into harmony when things have gone out of whack.
When Chaos Touches Our Personal Lives
These days, life seems to move at lightning-speed. With technology moving things along so quickly, it can be easier to lose a sense of control over the different aspects of life than it should be. As soon as we have one ball back in play, another gets dropped. Perhaps work demands so much of our attention that self-care has become neglected, or we excel at school only to neglect sleep and quality time with family. The stress may compel us to draw on unhealthy behaviors to cope with the imbalance, such as overeating or dependence on drugs and alcohol. However, these dependencies only create more problems for us, throwing us further out of balance.
An imbalance in one area of life often spills over to touch other areas of our lives, so that the cleanup process is never easy. Because imbalance is so often composed of layers of disharmony building on one another, restoring order to the chaos can quickly become an overwhelming task.
When faced with a mountain of problems and no simple solutions, we can easily find ourselves paralyzed by confusion and even fear. The individual issues all start to blur together so that we no longer see them clearly—all we see is one giant mess. We lose our ability to keep everything in perspective, and to remember that it is in our power to unravel the threads of chaos with patience and diligence. Once we lose that perspective, we can give in to despair and hopelessness, choosing instead to do nothing.
However, remaining passive will only make our problems worse. If we continue to remain passive and allow the unhealthy cycles to continue, the spiral will continue downward, pulling us further and further into imbalance. Even if we must abstain from a particular destructive action to restore balance, such as quitting smoking or unhealthy eating habits, it still takes an active effort on our parts to commit to our decision and to put the mechanisms into place to hold us accountable to our choices.
When we start taking a proactive approach to restoring harmony in our lives, only then can we truly break free of the cycles that landed us in our situations of imbalance in the first place. We will explore some ways to start this process later—but first, let’s look at how imbalance can touch humanity as a whole when society has fallen out of balance.
Social Problems: When Imbalance Multiplies
If our personal lives are hard enough to change, how can we possibly hope to fix the world’s many, many problems? As complex and interconnected as our own imbalances are, society’s imbalances are exponentially more difficult to untangle as billions of people from countless cultures, belief systems, and walks of life contribute to the problems. “What can a single person possibly do to help?” you may be wondering.
Too often the issues go right over our heads as politicians, business executives, and economists talk amongst one another with their specialized language, never bothering to really communicate with the people about the issues that are affecting us every day. Many of us feel compassionately when we see those who are suffering as a result of these social imbalances that are created, but we don’t know what to do and our efforts seem to go nowhere. Others feel so powerless that we tune out and feign indifference to mute out the pain. And still others of us grow angry as these imbalances touch our own lives, making it hard for us to meet our basic needs with stable housing, food, and access to medical care.
But again, inaction will not restore balance. When people are being hurt, whether by their governments or by division between them and their neighbors, staying silent will not help solve the situation.
It may be tempting to try to put out a fire by withholding fuel, but that only works when that fire is contained. When fighting a forest fire, on the other hand, a fire will not extinguish itself as long as there are more trees and underbrush to burn. Only water will douse the flames so that the Earth can regenerate and restore balance to the forest.
With the rise of globalization, we are all more connected to one another than we ever have been. What this means is that no single fire is contained anymore. If a fire is burning in one country or region, it burns us all. Ignoring the problems will only allow the flames to grow faster and to spread farther, so that even when we cannot feel the heat in our part of the world, the fire will come eventually. Considering the urgency of global climate change, this metaphor takes on a deeper dimension as climate-induced resource scarcity leads to increased regional violence and migrant and refugee crises, which even the most isolationist nations identify as top national security threats.
On a philosophical level, we can make the empathic/collective consciousness case for “we are all connected” all day—but there is hard evidence to support the claim that what affects one part of humanity ultimately trickles over to affect us all. Continuing in denial about the global situation only allows the problems to grow worse, and makes the task of addressing the issues all the harder—not to mention, it allows the danger to advance on those who enjoy the luxury of blissful ignorance.
For those who do know, and do nothing, we contribute to the imbalance by refusing to form the counterweight. As Desmond Tutu has said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” For those who believe that by abstaining from participation in political and social conversations, they are helping to defuse some of the anger and hatred that arise in these environments, this quote may not be a welcome revelation. However, history has shown time and again that when there is an imbalance in a society, the side with the stronger anger and hatred too often comes out on top unless it is met by an equally strong resistance.
Not Just Any Action—Right Action
Both in our personal lives and in society, we tend toward maintaining the status quo. The status quo is familiar, and that makes it comfortable. Even as things begin to grow uncomfortable, such as the chaos that takes over our lives as unhealthy habits disrupt our balance, maintaining the familiar can be more comfortable than making a change, because that brings us face to face with the unknown.
Change is hard; this is the understatement of the year. Change brings us in close contact with our shadow selves, into confrontation with those aspects of our personality that are less than perfect. Whether we choose to confront our own shadow or the shadow of society, we must brave the unknown to look at these unpleasant truths and find solutions to our problems.
Not all inaction is bad. In fact, if exercised wisely, inaction can be used constructively. Action simply for the sake of acting can do just as much or even more damage than remaining passive if those actions are rash and uncalculated. However, there is a big difference between being passive and simply abstaining from action.
Passivity means that you allow life to pass you by without responding to it at all. If your health or an aspect of your life is in crisis, you allow the cycle to continue without taking accountability for your condition and doing something to change your habits. If the world around you is rife with injustice, passivity means you remain complacent, perhaps complaining if you notice the injustice, but never really doing anything to contribute to bettering the situation.
Inaction, on the other hand, can mean that you refrain from taking action as you undergo an active period of observing and learning. By taking the time to reflect, the insights you gain from this period of intentional inaction will allow you to set a more decisive and effective course of action for yourself as it is time to be more assertive. So there is a distinction between passivity and inaction, in that one can still be proactive inwardly while remaining patient on the outside.
However, all inaction must be converted into right action. Inertia is a difficult force to overcome, but by setting things in motion internally, it becomes easier to translate them into your external life. After all, you can only set your wheels to turning inside for so long before the energy starts spilling out of you, and you have no choice but to make the change.
The wisdom gained from a period of active observation and reflection can help you to determine which small steps to take to begin setting things in order. If your life seems like a mess, take a deep breath and do a little every day to restore balance. Though you may want to set everything right overnight, expect that it will take time. By adjusting your mindset to allow this growth period, you’ll give yourself the patience you need to turn this into a process, whereas expectations for a big change can lead to disappointment, and discourage you to keep doing the work necessary to bring your life into harmony.
On a social level, right action looks like a number of things. To be the water that puts out the flames of hatred and intolerance, this means being active in spreading love and tolerance. Defusing a bomb requires a highly trained professional to put herself in a situation of great peril and maintain a level of calm and focus on the task at hand. While this is a scary task, she does this to save the lives of countless others.
Defusing hatred and intolerance is usually not that dangerous. For many of us, this means speaking up when we see prejudice and anger. When we see people intimidating or harassing those who are vulnerable, we must stand with the oppressed and let the oppressors know that their behavior will not be allowed. When we see people in a heated debate, we can spread messages of hope and love without invalidating the content of their discussion. Remember, insisting that people get along while brushing aside the issues of debate is akin to inaction; finding common ground and building bridges between opposing sides is the action that will restore balance.
Just as one’s personal life can be set right through small steps taken every day, so, too, can we begin to make the world a more just place with a conscious daily effort. Every one of us has the power to change the hearts of the people around us, and the importance of this work should never be underestimated.
Remember your power, and choose to channel it into right action. We need you now.
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She graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing minor. She currently resides on Planet Earth, and therefore has a vested interest in the goings-on and goings-to-be around the place.
She's also really friendly, so feel free to drop a line: Jacquelyn@radicallyenlightened.com.
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- When the Scales of Life are Tipped, Inaction Will Not Restore the Balance - January 28, 2017