Mark Sisson’s blog entry from yesterday hit close to home for me. From my experiences as of late, I’ve deduced that there’s an elusive balance that I’m apparently not establishing in my life. The therapy sessions I’ve had have indicated this, my relationship with my wife has indicated this, and my relationships with friends and family have indicated this. But through all the struggles, I still have a nagging feeling in my gut that what was being said to me about “balance” was perhaps cliche and off target.
Moment of clarity: the contention I have really stems from what I’ve been told by the therapist and his partner, not by my wife and friends; the latter two have merely pointed out to me that maybe there is a potential balance issue.
To quote Sisson’s blog:
Balance in this way is about controlling, rationing, and conserving one’s time and attention. As rational as it seems, it also feels a little exacting. The concept – and the plate game – would’ve entirely eluded Grok. I think there’s a fine line between monitoring the relative parity of one’s life and parsing it out. We can miss much of the big picture – and miss or reject real opportunities for healthy change – when we’re frantically moving from one plate to next. Call it balance if you will. I’ll call it a game that can’t reasonably go on forever. The plates, eventually, always come crashing down if you add one plate too many.
Maybe there’s a different take to be found here. Let me modestly suggest this: the equilibrium shouldn’t be in the plates. Forget the plates, in fact. Forget the spinning. Let go of the perpetual vigilance. Loosen your emotional grip. Just observe the whole metaphor – and mindset – shatter on the floor. (Truth be told, there’s something therapeutic about it.) Maybe the crux of genuine equanimity isn’t to be found in maneuvering. Rather, perhaps we should let the parts go and home in on the real center.
The proverbial balancing of plates is a rather convenient metaphor, isn’t it? Humans seem to like transforming metaphysical things into physical objects so that they can presumably better envision the reality of things. But, like Sisson, I can’t help but feel this proverb is wrong. It’s an illusion. The plates don’t really represent the issues and topics and things and actions in our lives. At least not accurately. And while there are possibly many reasons why this metaphor isn’t true, the one that sticks out to me is this idea that the type of structure employed to hold those plates up on sticks (sometimes plates on top of sticks on top of plates on top of sticks, ad infinitum) emphasizes the supposed need that individuals should erect some sort of apparatus to enable them to go on carrying their china on bamboo chutes. Or, maybe it’s the polar opposite and it actually dummies down the weight of the real things we’re trying to balance by embodying them in mere ceramic.
Either way, I can’t help but feeling that this is entirely wrong. As Sisson says, sometimes it’s therapeutic to watch all those plates hit the floor and shatter. While I don’t necessarily think you should explode all your daily routines that help you cope with a congested lifestyle, I do think that maybe a reassessment of priorities and values is potentially beneficial.
For me personally, I view many individual choices in life (for all people) in economic terms; namely subjective value theory. I won’t get into the Dismal Science right now, but suffice it to say that I believe we each tend to choose things that we’re naturally interested in for varying subjective reasons. That is to say that Amanda could choose to take a walk because it’s good exercise, while Adam could choose to take a walk because he enjoys observing the birds, yet Arnold might absolutely despise walking because he finds that his time is better spent doing something else.
All that to say — we each form our lifestyles by the things that we derive enjoyment from. That’s not saying that the things we derive enjoyment from are necessarily healthy. My own struggles are testament to that. Enjoying a donut every morning for breakfast might taste oh-so good; but after a year or three of enjoyment, you may end up needing wider pants and a routine insulin injection. The original balance of routine (the plate spinning) has now morphed into a new balance of routine (the plate spinning while pricking your finger for your daily blood test).
And this consequential conclusion is what is at the heart of the plate spinning metaphor: most times, the structure we erect to “balance” our lives is simply unhealthy. The choices we’ve made to obtain some kind of short-term pleasure has doomed us in the end and has given us some other routine that we probably enjoy even less or is harder to balance. Dummying the issues down to just ceramic discs spinning on sticks fails to see the real weight of reality. Sure, we could replace a couple of those plates with, say, an apple, a car tire, and a computer monitor; but it still doesn’t convey the physical, emotional, and spiritual harm that poor choices can make on our lives.
Balance is about individual choices and how they impact us on all planes of existence. Simply trying to maintain composure with what you have going is not living, it’s surviving. If a marriage is failing because of a lack of communication, maybe the solution isn’t “we should talk more”, maybe it’s “we should reassess what our priorities are in life”. If a passion of yours isn’t being fully realized or lived-out, maybe your conclusion shouldn’t be “I need to give this more attention”, but instead should be”maybe there are unhealthy things elsewhere in my life that are prohibiting me from obtaining it”. These are the types of things that are overlooked and/or unaccounted for in the plate metaphor.
What are the choices that you’re making in your life, and how are they impacting your well-being and the well-being of those around you? Is there room for a shift in priorities? Do you need to cut some of your “luxuries” by eliminating certain things you’re currently trying to balance? Is it time to scrap the whole contraption and be more organic about things?