The Illusion of Balance

People still say “I want to find a balance in my life” and internally, I respond with an almost cynical, “Good luck with that!” Life is motion, change and imbalance and within the fluctuation of activities and moods and physical states, you do need to find some equanimity. But that balance has to be as fluid as the fluctuation of life in motion or it will become opinionated, judgmental and idealistic. And then you will have standards and goals you need to meet in order to find your balance (for example, you have to meditate X number of minutes per day or swim X number of minutes). And that kind of rigidity and control (something like, “Now I have to do my such-and-such in order to maintain balance”) is not balance at all.

I think there is confusion, especially in the field of mindfulness and meditation. Many people say they meditate or want to learn in order to find “calmness and balance.” Again, good luck with that. As soon as you find that calmness, your circumstances will shift and you will lose it if your objective is to find balance. Instead, if you realize that life is change and motion, demanding shifts and upsets, and you want your balance within that change, then you are going to get somewhere. Buddhist meditation practices have been designed for you to be able to walk around in ordinary life and not be thrown off-balance: You are, metaphorically speaking, as light as air and your center is moving with the movement of life.

I think a major confusion exists about why many people meditate. Many people want to get better at feeling the way they do when they are sitting on their cushion in a comfortable meditation posture. In a sense, you could say that they want to get better at meditating — not at living. But learning to meditate is like learning to drive a car: When we learn to drive a car in a parking lot, we are not learning to drive cars in parking lots, but to drive them on the highway. And in the same way, when we meditate, we are not trying to get better at meditating, but to improve our capacity to live without anguish, or with less stress and anguish. We are meditating in order to find our center-less center – our center that is everywhere!

Similarly, when we say we are “making the journey” or “following the path” of spiritual practice, we may believe that there is “a journey” or “a path” to find or follow. Instead, it is more like always finding the opening or the space in which we can once again manifest our equanimity and relaxation, our generosity and wisdom. In our moment to moment life, with all of its stresses and demands, we move clearly and consciously in our perceptions and actions – always engaging in such a way that we can see whether or not we are creating more difficulty for ourselves and others. The “path” or the “journey” is the moment-to-moment opening into which we step in order to live fully and with contact.

And so, don’t be deceived about harmony and balance: It is not a special combination of X number of hours exercising and Y number of hours meditating and Z number of hours working and so on. Instead, harmony and balance must be achieved moment by moment by keeping yourself aligned with them in our roughest and most challenging engagements with life. Don’t step back from your life, step forward with your most spacious and conscious step.