April 9, 2018

Finding Balance: A Life Skill

By Robert Musser, Ph.D.

picture of a Zen sand gardenBalance:  the focus of jugglers, gymnasts, Tibetan Buddhist monks, Navajo healers.  The mandalas of the monks are intricately created symmetrical sand paintings hand-built, grain by grain, over several days as an act of devotion.  Navajo healers devoted to the restoration of health for an ill person similarly create an elaborate symmetrical sand painting, grain by grain. And at the end of each ritual the two traditions share another similarity.  What looks to many of us like priceless art is dis-integrated, the individual sand returned to the sea and to the desert respectively. To live well requires the ongoing practice of balance by each of us individuals in the great community of life.

And likely each of you as a student finds balance hard to come by sometimes, perhaps especially as the semester winds up toward its normal frenetic finish.  Yet balance is important; the psychologist Alex Lickerman, writing in the journal Psychology Today, notes his own struggles to balance his life in the light of:

  • family responsibilities (including his relationships with his cats),
  • professional responsibilities and development,
  • personal self-care,
  • leisure
  • basic tasks such as laundry, shopping, house-cleaning, and so on.

Yet Dr. Lickerman suggests we do need to develop balance so we don’t “fall over,” physically or psychologically.

The following suggestions drawn from my own experience and from the insight of others may be helpful:

  • Learn to focus and pay attention to the task at hand.  Dr. Lickerman recommends “disconnecting” (turning off phones, email, and other possible distractors) for some time each day.
  • Schedule ahead of time and as much as possible discipline yourself to stick to that schedule.  Scheduling helps us not to forget or omit important items, and it is useful for prioritizing—identifying and then completing the important.
  • Grant yourself some latitude.  Neither you nor I will be completely perfect in this life.  Be OK with excellence and improvement.
  • Develop a method or a ritual for reset.  Many diverse cultures have some designated way in which error is recognized and then corrected.  Develop your own procedure. Restoration is an important part of the balanced life.

Finally, bear in mind a few observations about balance:

  • It is a process and never a static state to be achieved.
  • It is easier achieved with another person involved.  Ideally you each balance the other.
  • Failure and success are both part of the balance of life.