The Art of Balance

I used to perceive balance as a kind of perfected state of being, that something had achieved balance. A scale, for instance, with five grams on a side, is balanced. It had seemed to me, at the time, that this is what balance meant. To have achieved balance. A person balanced upon one leg did not move, or so I thought.

This idea of balance is basically a myth. I call it the Myth of Static Balance.
It is basically the idea that for balance to be achieved, one must be perched perfectly between two opposing points or forces, and therefore one is rendered immobile. This immobility was somehow balance.

I now know, of course, that this is merely a matter of perception. Static balance is really only achieved when one is ignorant of the forces acting upon an object.

The thing is, once one realizes these forces exist, one realizes that there is no such thing as static balance. Because these forces do exist, there is a constant need for the object in question to sort out what exactly “balance” is. This seeking of stability is not a static state, quite obviously, it is a dynamic one.

Tree pose, when the executor has good balance, is seen as a serene static stance from an outside viewpoint. The onlooker is generally unaware of the work that is actually going on to make the subject actually remain in balance. The toes, foot, leg, knee, hip, back, and abdominals are all working, playing a push and pull (well, really a pull and pull) game that has an end result of stability.

The performer of the pose, however, is aware of every little twitch and nuance and subtle shift in balance and compensates for it. This tends to have the outward appearance, at least for some, of a still, static figure. The onlooker believes no movement is happening, and therefore perceives that lack of apparent movement as balance.

The wildly flailing seeker of “balance on one leg” is not necessarily any less balanced than the yogi is. The onlooker tends to perceive it as such simply because the yogi has presented an ideal, a model of near-perfection. The yogi and the flailer are both maintaining balance — neither has fallen over — but the yogi seems more balanced.

Perhaps it is simply due to the mistaken idea of what balance is; that it is a end state, a perfection, and static. But if static balance is only a myth and only dynamic balance exists, is there a difference between the flailer and the yogi?

The true difference between the flailer and the yogi is not their state of balance, but their recognition of their current situation and their ability to compensate for changes to the equilibrium. The flailer is either unable to recognize the subtle point at which once force overcomes the opposing force, or he is unable to compensate for it right away. The flailer has a change in equilibrium, begins to fall, and then dramatically shifts to oppose that force. This results in the general appearance of thrashing from one side to the other, in an attempt to maintain balance.

The serene yogi, on the other hand, has the ability to both recognize the point of change in his equilibrium as well as be able to quickly and subtly compensate for it. This leads to the yogi’s body constantly slightly pulling from one side to the other that often goes unnoticed by the observer.
The loose pants probably help as well. ;-)

What, exactly, does this tell us?

Basically, that balance is not, although it may appear to be, a static state of being. Just like the Idea of Perfection, the Myth of Static Balance is just something we need to see through in order to actually achieve what we seek to accomplish. If we want to maintain balance in our lives, we need to understand that we will always be pulled upon by various forces, of varying strengths and directions.

Maintaining balance is not really a matter of maintaining a straight line down the middle, giving equal percentages of ourselves to maintaining each force all of the time. Maintaining balance is really about shifting our focus where it needs to be at any given time, resulting in a long term view of Balance Achieved. Sometimes the yogi flails, and sometimes the flailer finds serenity, but they are always, overall, balanced.

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