Another thing we tend to mean when we talk about balance is a sense of not being pulled one way or another by the forces around us, of keeping our footing and not struggling to stay upright, metaphorically speaking. Like a gymnast on a balance beam, we seek to exist in a state where we are quickly and easily able to adjust ourselves, to consistently land solid when we leap, and to make it all look easy.
Interestingly, what it really takes to be a gymnast is strength. Staying atop a balance beam with grace doesn’t mean being impervious to the forces of gravity or momentum. It doesn’t mean gaining an ability to put your hands and feet in the right place every single time, perfectly, without fail.
First of all, if we pick apart the metaphor, even Olympic gymnasts fall off balance beams. Perfection isn’t possible in the long term. When we watch people around us seem to walk through life without getting knocked off their balance beam, it’s easy to assume that they do so because they’ve gotten good at knowing the right maneuvers, that it’s the way they move and land which ensures their success.
But what keeps them up — metaphorically and literally — is actually their ability to make adjustments against the forces which threaten to push them off the beam. They feel the same pushes and pulls we do, but they’ve trained their muscles so that they are strong enough to compensate, and the adjustment happens without having to think it through.
If, when we think of a balanced life, we imagine that balance is what allows us to not be knocked down by things going on around us, we’ve got it backwards. It’s learning to resist being knocked down which allows us to balance. Achieving balance in life, if this is what we’re talking about, actually requires us to learn to push back, to be resilient and make adjustments, to keenly understand what we can do and how our instincts help and hinder us. And that requires a lot of falling down.
No gymnast ever learned to walk the beam without falling off of it. A lot.
It’s fine to have help, to have safety nets and hand holds while we learn the skills, something to keep us from hitting the floor but still letting us experience the moment when we slip and begin to fall. But we will never gain the strength required to maintain balance if we don’t put our metaphorical muscles through the struggle of keeping us upright.