The Balancing Act
Thomas Merton said, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” Sounds simple enough, right? I imagine it has never been easy to live a balanced life, but nowadays it seems especially hard. I just came back from a short vacation at the shore where my husband and I sat like two aging athletes who just ran ten consecutive marathons on a treadmill in a dark, windowless basement. I slept the entire first day all the while insisting I must be terminally ill. We didn’t want to do a thing except sit and stare blankly at the ocean in between bouts of unconsciousness. Our battered bodies seemed to absorb the sun, fresh ocean air, and the gentle cool breeze like malnourished plants living in the same basement as the treadmill we were running on.
It took us several days to unwind and to settle our frantic minds and war-weary bodies, but once the shock wore off we began to actually enjoy life. Imagine that! We went to breakfast and exercised in the morning, read books oceanside in the afternoon, went for a picnic lunch by the bay, and we walked the beach or boardwalk at night. We even had time to visit family. The sky seemed brighter, the people happier, and we felt much healthier. Damn life is good.
When Monday rolled around we got back on that dreadful treadmill again. Everything seems darker, faster, and the people are downright nasty. I’m making phone calls, appointments, filling out endless paperwork, cooking, cleaning, and Mark is commuting back and forth to the insanity of his downsizing company. Where are the sun and the breeze? Where’d all the smiling people go? Why is my head killing me again?
This morning I decided to open my windows instead of living with the constant buzzing of the air conditioner and without the sound of the birds and the trees blowing gently in the wind. I decided to make a picnic dinner for my family on the patio complete with a red and white checkered tablecloth and lemon aid in a glass pitcher. I’m getting off of that treadmill and balancing my life if it kills me! I have a good visual hanging on my refrigerator. It’s a simple pie chart divided into eight slices (I should probably change it to sixteen slices), and it has space for me to fill in to indicate which slice(s) of the pie I am setting aside for family, friends, work, spirituality, exercise, relaxation, entertainment, etc. When I do complete this chart I am astounded to see how truly unbalanced my life is.
The thing about balance is that it doesn’t just happen. Think about a balance ball, balance beam, or tightrope. Anything that requires balance requires awareness, concentration, effort, and a bit of skill, all of which entail effort. If I want to live a balanced life (and I desperately do!), I must work at the art of balance. I cannot stumble blindly through life like I am prey being dragged by a hungry lion. I have to rise with a purpose and a plan for the day, and I have to work at balancing that work. Each day should include time for prayer, meals, rest, exercise, work, family, friends, and self. That’s no small task! It necessitates the awareness and inclusion of balance and order. Unlike the usual drudgery that depletes me, the work of balance and order will help me to thrive and will bring sunshine and gentle breezes into my daily routine.
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