Balancing the Chaos
Should we live balanced lives?
We are taught that a balanced life is a more fulfilling life. Just type in Google Search “balance in life quotes” and you will find 1.57 billion results! Apparently, the secret to life is finding balance in everything you do. A Balanced Life is a Happy Life.
Then Life happens. And we do not feel balanced, at all.
There seems to be a flaw in the logic. Is balance, by definition, not the absence of movement? So I would like to counter with: “Life is Movement. Movement is Imbalance. Imbalance is Chaos. Life is Chaos. Accepting imbalance is the first step to true happiness.”
Let me explain.
Life is movement. Movement is imbalance. Imbalance is chaos. Life is chaos.
Without movement, you are dead or a mineral. That may explain why so many of the inspirational posters on balance involve a lot of stones and pebbles.
If you are not dead, life is motion. To walk, you use controlled imbalance in gravity as a means of locomotion. In simple terms, walking is simply falling forward in a controlled way. You go from a motionless state into a movement.
So it goes for life.
Any movement eventually runs its course and dies out. In physics, all systems lose energy over time and eventually stop. There is no such thing as a “perpetual movement”. Hence, movement and imbalance can only be temporary. On the other hand, it seems logical that the same goes for balance. Balance is just as temporary.
There is a structural link between balance and imbalance. There is nothing you can do about it. It just is. Life is permanently in motion. You move from balance to imbalance and back. Indefinitely. Life consists out of balancing the chaos. Accepting the chaos and accepting imbalance is the first step to true happiness. Individual balance is not a state in itself. Individual balance is a system balancing conflicting states. It is Balance and Imbalance. Real individual balance is Harmony and Disharmony. Chaos and Order.
Individual balance is not a state in itself. Individual balance is a system balancing conflicting states. It is Balance and Imbalance. Individual balance is Harmony and Disharmony. Chaos and Order.
What religion tells us
From a young age, we are taught to seek balance, as a life goal. If religions are guidelines for idealised humans, many, if not most, of the contemporary religions and life philosophies have a view on this. For some, balance is like the light at the end of the tunnel. The holy chalice. The cure.
For others, balance is a reward. A state of being.
Defining balance is one thing. Sustaining it is another.
The state of balance is a taught/preached life goal
Peace, harmony and balance come with their own set of images. Images differ depending on our culture. A desert, a meadow, a stone garden or a mountain lake maybe? Many of these images are religious or near-religious. This should not come as a surprise, young grasshopper…
Most modern religions and philosophies are centred on defining balance, as an individual state of being. It is that important. Some are even exclusively dedicated to finding it. Interestingly enough, this has not always been the case, nowhere.
Earlier, older religions have been all but eliminated, their continued existence incompatible with social balance.
Reading the surviving texts, these former religions were not that interested in reforming individuals and societies. Taken at the first degree, most of these former religions seemed to be happy to deal with explaining natural events. For example, explaining solstices. Humans were just a part of an ecosystem. For sure, there was sacrilege, you could disrespect the gods and the society would punish you for it. In Rome, this could mean being thrown from high rocks or being buried alive. But, still, the ultimate idea was not to create perfect humans as in most of the current monotheistic religions.
Gone are the frenzied religions of the past. Gone are Pan, Bacchus or Quetzalcoatl
Everywhere, on all continents, earlier philosophies have been reshaped into something more proper, more acceptable. Social engineering at its best. Invariably, this includes a definition of what personal and social balance is.
When religions could not entirely be banned, they were reformed into more politically correct worships. Gone are the frenzied religions of the past. Gone are Pan, Bacchus or Quetzalcoatl.
Even four-armed Kali went through reform. Look around popular culture, movies, comics or games. All originator-gods have been tamed into wise old men, from Wotan to Cernunnos. The entire corpus of sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman is based on reminding us of who these guys were. That is before we projected on them our social monotheist values. Without these unifying social engineering, it can be argued that we would not be in this stage of mega-civilisations. We would still be in the chaos of warring city-states.
If religions and religious representations are sublimation of individual aspirations, then we have a pretty clear picture of what we are taught to aim for. We are instructed to be balanced.
Modern religions have a contemplative elite dedicated on “finding balance”
All modern religions have a strong contemplative arm, beyond being working social ideologies. Take any religions, and you will have its monks. Zen Buddhism, Chan Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc…
In all religions, this contemplating arm is actually considered the elite. This contemplating religious elite dedicates their life to the search of balance. We all have images of monks. Call them Benedictines, Sufis, Shaolin Si-Pho, Sadhus or Nihang’s. All monks propose advanced ways to reach that ideal mind-state. It does not matter if they are living in cells, isolated from the world or, on the contrary, living at the very heart of it. Finding “balance” is pretty much at the centre of their personal quests. Even when armed militants.
Yin Yang is based on the concept that everything is in everything
Some religions and philosophies have made the concept of balance more pragmatic. Their world view is based on the simultaneous existence of opposing elements. Light versus dark. Good versus evil. Happiness versus sadness… Etc. This is Taoism.
Taoism ‘s most known representation is deservedly the Yin Yang circle. However, defining the basic black & white elements as simply complementary – instead of opposing – leads, for me, to a very static vision of the world. If the elements are complementary, the conflict and the tension is just a perception. The tension is not “real”. Black and White surely can come to some kind of arrangement? For many, the secret of balance is hence in mixing the Yin and Yang. Thus, we are back to a definition of ultimate balance as stillness.
I believe, we need to move away from contemplative, pacified, static versions of balance. We need to move into something we experience in your everyday life. So, what if, on the very contrary, opposing elements kept their core opposition? The opposing elements both exist, at the same time. The Yin and Yang co-exist, but in different proportions. One time dominating. Another time subdued. Never absent. That recreates exactly the tension we feel. That is the dynamic and fluid alternates between opposing states.
Look at the classical flat 2-D black and white Yin Yang circle of the picture above. Now add depth and movement. I.e., add volume and a timeline. You get the picture. Alternatively, you keep the original idea of the Taoist ideals, and accept the discomfort that balance will always be temporary.
Zen Buddhism relies solely on revelation as an end goal
Zen Buddhism has the most elaborate search of them all. The true fascination of Zen Buddhism is that it relies solely on revelation. Life, poems, daikyus, clouds, lakes, landscapes or even weather can suddenly inspire you to “get it”. Any of your experiences may guide you to Satori, the state of illumination. This is a rather unique idea among the other higher philosophies.
In Zen Buddhism, the ultimate revelation is in itself the end goal. The revelation strikes, and then, well, … the “world opens up” and… we are done. The point of Zen Buddhism seems more to accept the void of human ambition than a practical guide to help you live with it, frankly.
Imbalance is generally seen as a negative
In most philosophies and religions, balance is presented as a positive rather vague and generic state for the individual. And, of course, imbalance is generally seen as a negative that definitely needs to be corrected.
On the one hand, we have a kind of psychological constructed calm. At the other end of it, there is revelation or satori. That is the spectrum. In both cases though, the aim is to be “at peace with one self”. But, it never truly answers the question… Why? Either way, we cannot all crave for a monkish life. We cannot all be expected to dedicate our lives to a religious quest.
What is the alternative? We need something apart from a 2 by 3 meter stone cell without heating and a bowl of soup. Enter modern self-help publications! Check out any airport bookshelves, across from the “10 favourite sandwiches of successful CEOs”, and you will find any number of sure fire methods to Insta-happiness!
However you look at it, the modern world is pretty much screaming at us to get balanced!
What we tell ourselves
As humans, some of our personal experiences points at what balance feels and looks like. We are given glimpses of what balance could be. The idea of it lives in our memories too. And let’s be honest, it does sound good.
Picture yourself on a white sand beach. The sun is setting on the sea. Your feet are on a white sandy beach. You think “I wish it could last forever”… Spoiler alert! This “perfect” moment is quite the construct!
One – It is but a moment.
Two – Are you really contemplating spending all of eternity in that flash-frozen moment. Or is it just a figure of speech?
Three – This feeling does not exist by itself. This feeling exists only in relation to a context. In this case, the context is being on a beach. And, by opposition, this feeling exists because there is a moment before and a moment after. For example, that moment at the office before you left on holiday.
Therefore, a moment of harmony can only exist in context of disharmony.
Balance sounds like a great idea,… as a moment frozen in time. Balance as a perpetual state, not so much.
Is the search for balance an end goal?
As an individual, living a perfect balanced and harmonious life seems like an enviable state.
However, if that moment of harmony (balance) can only exist in context of disharmony (imbalance), you do wonder.. is finding balance a legitimate search? Is it even possible to find balance, at all?
It is difficult to argue that yearning for balance is not a human instinct. Most people like to sleep. But is it a goal or an aspiration?
Balance and imbalance co-exist as natural occurrences
At the core, balance and imbalance are both parts of the same movement. Balance and imbalance exist as natural occurrences. Imbalance is but only one phase of movement. So, can we really wish for the movement to stop entirely to reach balance? Is the absence of motion, of drive, of denial of envy, really a state where the individual strives? Is balance more than the justification for an animal wish to rest?
Ask yourself this question: What does it practically mean for me to be “in balance”?
Let’s try to find out. You find your ultimate balance and are totally at peace with yourself. You do not strive anymore for anything. All cravings are gone. No more personal drive or envy anymore. You find a higher truth. You reach contentment and balance through a lack of passion.
How can that work? Afterall, passion is a build-in human emotion. And drive is a powerful human motion vector. We always thrive for something – from food and water up to higher ideals, and anything in between.
Let’s assume that balance is a goal in and by itself. To remove passion and drive, a precondition is partial or total isolation from your surroundings. That explains the monks retreat, the one gardens and assorted caves. But, if that is the only way forward as an individual, no society would last very long. In order to function, the state of balance must be compatible with our environment. The state of balance should not isolate us from our very surroundings.
Balance as an overriding goal in itself seems quite unnatural. On its own, balance is quite impossible.
Imbalance and balance co-exist as natural occurrences.
Balance is part of a chain of events, not an end goal
Finding “balance in life” does not hold up as goal in and by itself. Balance is part of a chain of events. It is an aspiration. Balance is a transient state. Sure, it can be a vector or motivator. Not an end goal.
Balance as antithesis of passion seems rather short. It works in Star Wars, with very wise Jedi versus enraged Sith. It does not work on my daily commute.
Now what? How does balance position itself on a chain of events? If balance is not the end state, what comes after? How does it play in our lives?
We take the conflict between harmony and disharmony as a base
The conflict between harmony and disharmony is a fundamental drive for humankind. We even possibly use it for the birth of civilisation as such. Rome is invaded by furious hordes, who then settle in. Same for the Great Wall of China. It seems so natural, that many cultural myths attribute the very birth of humankind through a fight between chaos and order. Take Chronos and the Titans as a blueprint. The creator god(s) win over “Old Night” – the original chaos – and establish a kind of order within which humans appear. That is also true in the Christian Bible.
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The harmony-disharmony conflict is so ingrained in every culture, that no one nowhere batted an eye at the “philosophical” side of Star Wars. It found a global appeal with themes that sounded familiar to everyone. That is, until someone thought it was clever to explain The Force with midichlorians… The pantomime opposition of the first Star Wars movie had a natural attraction to us, the public, than any pseudo-science of spiritual amoebas floating around. Harmony and disharmony, emotion and reason, were much more in a fluid state. Balancing between the Extreme Good and Extreme Evil. All human characters were on a scale in between these.
Imbalance combined with balance takes us forward
Need, aspiration and passion are built-in in life. So is reason. Imbalance is built-in in life. Denying it is therefore counter-productive as a guideline to live your life. Imbalance reflects our actual experience. Imbalance is a very powerful motion vector too. We always thrive for something. We thrive for anything from food and water up to higher ideals. And anything in-between. Imbalance combined with balance takes us forward.
Basically, like when we walk, imbalance thrives for balance. Balance in itself cannot be a final state. Unless we accept to stop moving at all.
Balance or Balances?
Accepting imbalance is counter-intuitive, as a guideline to live your life.
It seems as well very counter-intuitive to live a life in a continuous state of flux. Imagine to be driven solely by the next craving, the next passion and an eternity of turmoil. Balance-imbalance-balance-imbalance-balance…indefinitely. This would leave us in a continuous state of dissatisfaction.
Luckily life is not like that.
We live in a series of layered existences
We do not live in one dimension. Neither do we live in one reality. We live in a series of layered existences. These existences are spiritual, physical, ideological, social, religious,.. to name a few. Each of these existences are ruled by series of dimensions. These dimensions in turn create simultaneous series of balances and imbalances. Each series of balances and imbalances have their own cycle, timing, and relative importance. Like an orrery.
Let’s illustrate this theory with an example.
Bob is happily married with Jane. He is a salesman for company XYZ . Bob did not reach his sales targets and will not get a bonus. The year after, Bob works hard. He gets a bonus plus a promotion. However, his wife leaves him and he is facing divorce. In the first year, Bob’s personal life is balanced and his work life is imbalanced. In the second year, it is the other way around. For Bob, work and marriage are the two layered existences in his life. Each existence comes with its own dimensions. Bob’s work dimensions are his bonus and promotion, or lack of it. The dimensions in his private life are having or not having a partner.
In this example, Bob’s is facing a series of balances and imbalances. Each of these have indeed their own cycle, timing, and relative importance. Balance and imbalance co-exist in different dimensions. Bob lives in a series of layered existences.
We all live at the centre of many different harmonics which exist in many different rhythms.
Balance as an overriding goal in itself seems quite unnatural. In itself, balance is quite impossible. Balance and imbalance co-exist as natural occurrences.
Life is like an orrery
Compare life with a gravity system, or a galaxy. An orrery, as on the photo above. Planets revolve around the sun. Moons revolve around planets. Satellites evolve around moons and planets. Each of these are systems.
The reality is that each of these systems will individually eventually lose energy – physical or other. Even passion runs out of steam. But when one of the orbits decays, another one picks up momentum.
As individuals, our advantage is our ability to transfer the momentum between these gravity systems. In a word, we can transfer energy and momentum from one of these balanced/imbalanced systems to power the next one. Thus we get our motion back again.
Losing momentum or aspiration – or even passion – and bringing the entire system to a halt is not in itself reaching harmony or balance. Bringing the entire system to a halt, means that the entire orrery will come crashing down.
Let’s go back to the example of our salesman Bob. In this comparison, Bob is the galaxy. His work is one planet. His bonus and promotions are two moons, and Bob’s title and parking space are satellites. Bob’s marriage is another planet. Bob will have to transfer his energy and momentum from one to the other. If Bob would deliberately stop working at the same time as focussing on saving his marriage, his entire life threatens to come to a halt.
Balance is not a state or an end-state. It is a perpetual movement of cycles within cycles.
The Balanced Natural System – Accepting a cycle of perpetual imbalance and balance
Imbalance and balance will alternate within the same time frame, and for different life streams. Accepting these concurrent cycles is the “balanced natural system”.
This sounds all very nice. But how will it practically work? You cannot be forever switching between swings. It sounds just exhausting!
Nothing like a good old fashion table to visualise what these alternative states are. Each pair defines a critical dimension for humans. You will have your own hierarchy and priorities. Some of the pairings may even be irrelevant to you.
The pairings of critical dimensions for humans in the table below are not mutually exclusive. They co-exist in our lives.
The thing is, we are taught that all of these pairings are mutually exclusive. They are not. All these pairings co-exist.
Yes, we do have some sayings that are similarly inspired. Like “to get peace prepare for war”. However, we tend to try and separate these individual states. For War, wasn’t WWI the Last One? And we went on with the League of Nations. As Mao Tze Dong said, “War is not Fatal”.
On an individual level, we need to take a step back to look and see these pairings as a continuity, not an exclusivity. With the exception of death, all these states of being are always existing together. They are creating in themselves tensions. Tensions are movement. You can use one to re-start another.
Are you feeling content in your surroundings? These feelings will grow stale. But your emotions won’t be.
Your surroundings will take on new meanings because of the new sparks you inject in them.
For me personally, I believe that harmony in my life is critical. However, I have to accept that there will be disharmony too, as my partner’ schedule may be different. So, my anxiety about the future will naturally kick in, in one form or another. I have to accept this.
How do I deal with this? For me, when disharmony happens, I start to look at all other levels happening at that moment. I look at all the different cycles I am part of. I take courage, rest or inspiration from a cycle in which I reached a momentary contentment, to bridge the moment of chaos in the problematic system.
If social pressures upended my focus to write this article, and throws off my train of thought, I shift my focus. The concurrent pleasure to get the occasion to discuss my research offsets, complements and will ultimately improve my findings, however disruptive it first feels.
Individual balance is not a state in itself. Individual balance is a system balancing conflicting states. It is Balance and Imbalance. Individual balance is Harmony and Disharmony. Chaos and Order.
Life is movement. Movement is imbalance. Imbalance is chaos.
Life is Chaos.
For the individual, the system of movement, will perpetuate itself.
The system will not balance one individual element.
It is not a matter of a single motion petering out. There exist multiple parallel systems of balances and imbalances.
It is the total system that will create the actual equilibrium in our lives.
Alternating peace and conflict, harmony and dissonance, is the fundamental texture of life.
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