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The Virtue of Balance


Proverbs 11:1 A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.

This week I want to speak on balance. Balance may be the single-most important virtue we can pursue, outside of love, because it is apparent in every conceivable element of life.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing on the see-saw, probably like every young person. As I got older, I discovered that a friend and I could balance on the see-saw by standing on it, if we positioned ourselves just right. We would find that center of weight/counterweight with our bodies. The lighter person had to move out more, the heavier person in toward the center. In fact, we found we could move around on the board and always find the balance, and when we did, it was our delight. At some level, the result of balance is always joy.

Some areas of balance hit us hard personally. One for me is with finances and material possessions. One side, usually my little ego Patrick, I hear, “You need more things, you deserve to have more – better things, nicer things, and bigger things. The other side of the Patrick balance is saying, “Happiness is not found in things, money, or possessions. Be grateful for what you have; find your happiness through serving other.” In my life there has been a struggle for balance.

Peter Mere Latham, an English Physician and educator from the late 1700’s addresses this point: “Fortunate indeed, is the man who takes exactly the right measure of himself and holds a just balance between what he can acquire and what he can use.”

Every part of physical Creation, our thoughts, values, emotions, and attitudes are all interconnected and subject to a state of balance. We are constantly in a balancing act: from the stars and rotating planets and how they interact, to our earth and the relationship between species, including humans and their environment; from our social interconnections to our bodies and the balancing of hormones, and dietetic elements.

There is a balance of powers, we balance our tires. We balance the budget, our checkbooks, our hormones, and our diets. We must balance on a skateboard, while dancing, while getting out of a chair. From the moment we are born we begin a balancing act. As an infant it is simply to balance our heads as we are held. Shortly after, we are attempting to pull ourselves up onto furniture and balance ourselves to take our first step.

Later we balance on a bicycle. “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein

It is easier to remain upright while walking than when standing still. It is easier to spin a plate on the end of a stick than to balance a stationary plate. Other forces come to our aid. So, we learn one of the secrets of balance: motion. Action, of some sort, is necessary for maintaining balance. Even in the act of praying we must find balance as our action is reduced to stillness.

There are always adjustments of one kind or another necessary in order to find balance. There is a give and take, a push and pull, an incoming and an outgoing. Some call it yin-yang. Like two teenagers standing on a seesaw, large movements at first, but as we approach balance, smaller and smaller adjustments are necessary to find and maintain a constant balance. It is not a static process.

Have you ever observed your hands and how they move while you are driving? They are almost constantly in motion to find that balance of staying within your lane. They don’t just find a place and remain there. There is a dance of minuscule movements that maintain your balance within the lane. Most of the time, unless you bring your awareness to it, you are not even conscious of those movements, like breathing. It is the intuitive pull towards remaining in the center that requires these subtle subconscious adjustments.

And it is easy to spot an imbalance – the result is stress, ‘dis-ease’, or chaos. There is a marked loss of efficiency, fluidity, serenity, poise, or peace. We observe it as wobbling, swerving, floundering, stumbling, and in the worst case – destruction.

Plato said: “If we disregard due proportion by giving anything what is too much for it; too much canvas to a boat, too much nutriment to a body, too much authority to a soul, the consequence is always shipwreck.”

If we swerve out of the way of an obstacle in driving lane, briefly, we feel out of balance. For a moment, our movements are much greater than those small almost imperceptible corrections. They became greatly magnified.

“Life is about balance; too much excess is chaos,” so says Julien Offray de La Mettrie, the French physician and philosopher.

We can lose our balance when we are forced to make large and excessive motions… when we trip or are pushed. When we experience a large expense, the car breaks down, or the roof needs replacement, and suddenly our bank account is out of balance. Our spouse passes and we are suddenly imbalanced. We develop a disease, we must move, we lose our job; our children move out, we lose a pet or our car keys…. An almost unlimited list of others can move us to a state of imbalance.

When it came to moral virtues, Aristotle taught balance through his principle of The Golden Mean. Simply put, there must be a balance between two extremes: between cowardice and rashness is the virtue of courage; between sloth and greed is ambition. Find the two extremes, and you can then focus on the median virtue: wastefulness on one hand, stinginess on the other, and the balanced virtue is generosity. He also noted that such qualities were situational. For instance, in one situation to run into enemy fire may be considered courageous, but under different circumstances it could be considered rash.

Just as our hands constantly correct the movement of the car as we drive striving to find the center of the lane, so too does our soul constantly strive to keep us centered in Spirit. We are continuously making minute adjustments to our actions, reactions, attitudes, and thoughts to keep us within the center of God, centered in Source.

From the holy Sikh writings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib we read: “In intuitive balance, love is balanced and detached. In the state of intuitive balance, peace and tranquility are produced. Without intuitive balance, life is useless.”

This intuitive balance includes the acceptance and love of our own human experience. We are here on earth to learn, experience, and grow. We have bodies for a reason, to learn and live through them. If our focus is ever always on the Spirit and we pay no mind to anything earthly at all, as Parmahansa Yogananda says, we can become, “so heavenly bound that we are of no earthly good.”

When we make an improper decision or behave inappropriately, we feel the stress of the resulting chaos. We feel the spiritual imbalance as shame, guilt, anger, or pain in some form. This is not a bad thing: just a symptom that we need to find our balance once again.

That is the meaning of our Bible verse: a false balance, or an imbalance, is an abomination to God – meaning that it goes against the perfection of our God within us. When we are balanced, we are reflecting God’s perfection in and through us. When we are imbalanced, we have lost sight of God’s perfection and are expressing through our ego, our lower selves.

When we lose that oneness with Spirit, it is reflected in our judgment, discernment, and wisdom, and expresses in our lives as imbalance. Once we find our balance again, joy flows easily. We feel a connection with all around us as well as our Source. As Thomas Merton said, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

We cannot adhere fervently to a rigid and unyielding attitude of intolerance, impatience, or hatred, and expect to feel the peace and joy of balance. It would be like seeing a straight road and then locking our hands, not allowing any correction at all. After all, the road is straight, so why do I have to move my hands?

The answer of course is that there are imperfections in the road surface – more felt than seen, and these require constant attention and corrective measures.

This is the same in life. Our attitudes, thoughts, and actions must constantly be fluid and in a state of correction. Circumstances change: situations demand a new approach; people vary. One behavior or set of verbiage may not be appropriate in every situation. One attitude that works with one person may be antagonistic to another. We must constantly be interacting at a conscious level with everything around us until, like our hands on the steering wheel of a car, we have learned to respond without thinking – from the deepest levels of Spirit.

Finding and maintaining balance in our lives is intuitive. The state of balance is a state of motion, requiring our constant attention. We know inwardly, through our feelings and intuition, what is required. Balance results in less effort and stress. There is a peace that flows from balance. There is perfection and oneness.

It is my prayer that we understand Ecclesiastes 3: 1: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. There is a balance to be found in all things, in all seasons, in all situations; there is giving and receiving. It takes practice, effort, and intention to find the exact response to imbalance and claim the balance within.

Let us move inward and seek it….


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