Finding the wisdom of balance

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Last week, I looked at how to develop more physical balance. Today, I want to see if we can find that illusive bugger in our lives.

I call balance "illusive" because that is exactly what it seems like in the lives of so many of my contemporaries. As one friend remarked: "The only balance I have seen lately is that pseudo-candy bar I buy at the store."

Does balance get easier with age? It does seem like it should. Kids move away, pressures of career wane, we become "wiser" with regard to our emotional lives. But ours is a generation that doesn't relax all that easily. We aren't exactly lining up to enjoy all of the more composed virtues of Senior Citizenship.

But I also know many who do seem to aspire and even achieve some balance in their lives. I polled them for their wisdom about this topic. What I learned is that balance is not a result of becoming a better juggler. That is actually a sure recipe for imbalance. It does require the willingness to make adjustments.

Here are three important adjustments to consider:

1. Adjust priorities. "Priorities create balance," says Judy, 50. "No has become a very important word in this regard. The more experience I have, the more I appreciate the things I can eliminate with this tiny word."

Learning limit-setting is a skill many of these Balancers found important.

Jan, 52: "Too many people seem to get caught up in trying to be everything to everybody. You just can't do that and be balanced. It has been very important for me to give of myself to other people in a helpful, happy way but also to know when I am giving myself away."

2. Adjust expectations. According to Rob, 58, the best way we can find balance in our lives is to adjust our expectations. "Being imprisoned by rigid expectations prevents us from learning to live with the wonderful things life brings to us... and leads only to the unbalancing experience of disappointment."

Barry, 61, observes that a sense of balance in his life comes from accepting that he can't get everything he wants in life. "I have found that opening to the gratitude that I feel for what I do have available to me generates a sense of balance and appropriateness, even if my expectations are not met."

3. Adjust your mental balance. I find I use my mind as a guide to know how balanced I am. If it becomes too jittery, too much of a "monkey" mind, then I know I need to stop thinking so much and do something mindless, something physical, like dancing. If it is filled with too much pessimism, then I need to find ways to bring balance to my mind by accessing hopeful and positive scenarios. This can be as simple as choosing not to watch television news, reconnecting to my spiritual life or spending time with a child.

And a final slice of wisdom about attaining a balanced life comes from Margo, 55, who thinks it is life affirming to be faced with the "short end of the straw." Doing so does give one a certain perspective on what is important and what is not. Margo's "commitment triad" is the following: "Do what you want to do, go where you want to go, and no 'should-ing' on yourself."

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience helping individuals and couples with their emotional and relationship issues. He has a private practice in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at msea baugh@semissourian.com.

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