(Definition 5b is the most useful one for this inquiry:)
equipoise (“a state of equilibrium”) between contrasting, opposing, or interacting elements
May as well define LIFE, too, while we’re at it:
(We’ll use definition 2a:)
the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual
What image emerges when you picture life in balance? A see-saw? A pie chart? A juggler? Snapshots from your job, home, and other commitments?
Does leading a balanced life mean that you fulfill obligations to others before your own desires? Does it mean portioning out your energy so as to avoid physical and psychological exhaustion? Does it mean indulging yourself at times as a counterweight to unpleasant responsibilities so that you don’t snap?
Is a balanced life one of scheduled routine? Or do breaks from routine provide balance?
I don’t meditate. I aspire to meditate–daily–but the best time to meditate is early morning. I reckon I could get up even earlier and meditate before swimming some mornings, but it would mean getting up before the kids EVERY DAY. Hmmm. I crave routine in many things, and have yet to come close to establishing a meditation routine.
My stress tachometer runs at high RPM most of the time, which is stimulating, but also maddening when anticipated stressors (e.g. a busy day and night in the restaurant coupled with meetings that may pull me out of the kitchen when I’m needed) are compounded with unanticipated stressors (a line cook calls out sick).
Accomplishments–even mundane ones like knocking out items on a prep list–provide temporary satisfaction throughout the day, and a sense of forward progress. When that tach is not revving as high, the indolence that can occur is not relaxing at all, but even more stressful, because I wasn’t able to capitalize on a now-unrecoverable block of time.
I have not written in this forum in weeks for several reasons. The primary one is that we moved across town, which is easier that moving across the country like we did in November, but still not a walk in the park. Other problems that do not present facile or immediate solutions have occupied my mind, leaving it unable to unspool in thoughts like these.
I write this, on a legal pad, while flying from San Francisco back to Chapel Hill. I have the time and the opportunity to do so. I lost my laptop at SFO, left it in the bottom of two stacked security bins. The problems I mentioned above are not solved, but I am visually compartmentalizing them.
And writing–at least this type of writing–is a meditative practice (for me). The stress tachometer drops to a purring idle and the outside world simply isn’t there. I am fully present (and the “I” may split into mind and body here, the mind composing the thoughts and the body scratching pen on paper), but I do not register my surroundings.
Few days leave me as unsatisfied as those on which, in my opinion, I have accomplished nothing. When on vacation, I prefer (and need, frankly) to have some strenuous physical activity or cook a big meal or take the kids on an outing, or some such.
The sensations of writing that I described above do not differ in their escapist qualities from going to see a movie, or watching a game on TV, or getting high, or maybe even taking a nap. The difference for me, however, is the sense of accomplishment, of having produced something, rather than consumed or experienced something.
I don’t know if taking the time to write–when not doing it for a living–is much more than mental calisthenics. I will say that these inquiries are, in large part, efforts to figure out my own hardwiring, my own script. To look backstage and examine the rigging, the costumes and characters, and the stage directions that comprise the show when the curtain goes up every day.
So now, after having written all of this out and reread it, I visualize a balanced life as a leafy and robust oak tree, with branches spreading in all directions, and none so heavy that it topples the tree. And as such, the time spent writing, or (I hope) meditating, or even driving home from work in a quiet car, is the warm substrate that nourishes the balanced life above.