You might as well fall flat on your face
as lean over too far backward.
~ Thurber, James
A few years ago, I wrote in my caregiving journal, The balance is shifting. I'm putting more of myself in the mix, yet in other ways I’m holding more of myself back, so I'm not sucked dry. Sometimes it feels like some people suck all my stuffing out of me. Gotta keep my stuffing.
One dictionary definition of balance, perhaps the most usual, is “mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, etc.” However, in my life, I find it to be more complex and interesting than that. Though balance can imply steadiness with a degree of predictability, it is Not mere stability. Balance implies a degree of control while in motion. In fact, a smidgen of imbalance is necessary if one wants to stay in motion. But when one is about to lose control, one’s condition becomes a “balancing act”. And when off-balance, one is about to fall on one’s face. But wait! Is that true? Things are not always as they seem. I have actually learned a few things from being off-balance.
In ‘98, I wrote, When Mom walks she must look up to keep good balance, and when I walk I keep looking down to stay in the moment. Funny. Perhaps I'd better look up so as not to get obsessed by the moment, but to see the bigger flow that I am a part of. A bigger flow in the moment. Keeping a focus on the bigger picture was a way of grounding myself during caregiving, to stay balanced while in motion. It enabled me to notice the learnings that surrounded me every day.
During caregiving, the times when I was off-balance were, though unnerving, the more instructive times. What do I learn from allowing myself to be off-balance? That I do NOT lose control—I learn to walk differently. I learn that I have far greater resources than I believe, (or than I tell myself). This all sounds so appealing that it’s a wonder that I still fear losing control. So maybe the goal is not to be IN balance, but rather to be ENOUGH in balance to keep from falling on my face. In fact, another definition is “in the balance, with the outcome in suspense”. Maybe not comfortable, but useful. Perhaps in caregiving we can look not so much for comfort as a survival strategy, but rather look for balance that makes for the good and vital living of this life.
There are many definitions of balance. In dance, balance means “to move in rhythm to and from: to balance one's partner.” So here we are again, thinking of balance in motion... as a way of dancing with Life?
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, stability is near the bottom under Safety Needs, while balance is listed under Aesthetic Needs, just two levels below Transcendence. So might balance be a state of beauty rather than a state of survival?
The dictionary tells us that balance can mean, “to have equal amounts of the necessary elements such that no one predominates.” Which brings us to the matter of having a balanced life, as distinct from emotional balance (though they can be connected).
During caregiving, when I was able to achieve that delicate balance of the right elements in the right proportion to each other in my life I would find moments of great peace... and then... life, being by nature in motion, would run past me and pull my carefully constructed life out of whack again. So I'd scurry to pick up the pieces. Much as I tried to keep my ducks lined up, they kept swimming away! Maybe the real problem was that I kept thinking those ducks should line up and stay that way. So maybe change isn't a problem—maybe it’s just life. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming" as Nemo says in "Finding Nemo." Not bad advice during caregiving.