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Since the beginning of time, people have been seeking balance—within themselves and within the universe—but sometimes, the very act of trying to become more balanced throws us out of alignment.
The search for balance is ubiquitous and unrelenting.
It can be observed across any number of disciplines: from the master chef striving for the perfect combination of salt, fat, acid, and heat, to the artist weighing positive and negative space, to philosophers and spiritual seekers discussing the relationship of Yin and Yang or body and soul.
The concept is hardwired into our physical environment as well. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I found these parallels so compelling that I had the chemical symbol for dynamic equilibrium tattooed on the inside of my right ring finger. But it took me years to understand that I was looking at balance completely backward.
Much of our modern language regarding achieving balance revolves around removing what is unhealthy, unnecessary, or “bad vibe” from our lives. You can find lots of advice on that topic. Cut Out Sugar, Get Rid of Your Toxic Friends, Work Less, Stop Biting Your Nails.
While these directives may initially sound helpful, I have found that they usually end up leading to more disorder and imbalance. As Mark Manson describes in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, trying to improve yourself or feel more positive is inherently a “negative” act because you are fixating on what is wrong in the first place.
Here is my theory: it is difficult to find balance by trying to remove something “negative.” In fact, focusing on eradicating the negative might cause you to swing harshly to the other end of the spectrum. Or maybe, it will send you into a spiral of self-criticism and judgement.
Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy to simply undo the patterns ingrained in us since childhood, or remove neural pathways in the brain that have been reinforced for years. These patterns exist for a reason—in some way, they have helped us survive or get our needs met—so trying to yank them out of our systems can be extremely disruptive and harmful.
That’s why my new approach to balance is to cultivate compassion for any “negative” habits or patterns I have developed and to figure out what I can add to the situation instead of focusing on what to remove.
There is a beautiful segment of the Mr. Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” that talks about a duet between one of the puppets who is feeling sad and unlovable and one of the human characters on the show. Instead of telling the puppet, Daniel Tiger, that his feelings aren’t valid, the human character, Lady Aberlin, adds an encouraging voice to the song—resulting in a duet that expresses both sadness and hope.
I’ve been attempting to apply this simple but powerful approach to balance whenever I feel anxious, depressed, or self-critical.
I let those uncomfortable emotions be, and see what I can add to my system to make it a duet. Maybe it’s a reminder of my strength and resilience. Maybe it’s a happy memory or an activity I really enjoy.
This is different from spiritual bypassing or just “trying to see the silver lining” because I’m not shutting out or discrediting the negative thoughts. Instead, I try to hold the complexity of my experience as lovingly as possible and welcome each thought and feeling.
My hope is that slowly but surely, I will be able to carve new patterns and pathways for my system that feel more balanced and aligned.