Such a delicate topic, balance.
A long time ago, I was totally enamoured reading Dungeons and Dragons books. There was this series about twin brothers. One of them was a strong kind of moose-like kind of warrior, and the other was a sickly but powerful magician with hour-glass eyes. I loved that series, and felt especially drawn to Raistlin, the magician. That was his name.
In their world, the gods were always in a power struggle to tip the balance of the world to their advantage, and all the people had a basic orientation: the good, the bad and the neutral.
I was happy reading through this fictional world and enjoyed my literary sojourns into those books. Balance was just an important part of the story, but in real life, I never really paid much attention to it before Aikido came into my life. That was x number of years ago.
In Aikido, we are always conscious of our center of gravity and the seat of our balance so that we can do our techniques effectively. We practice together and in pair work we find out the point at which we can upset or affect the balance of our partners. After a while, being aware of our hara and center becomes second nature and “is just is”. It’s just there, in yourself, in your mind, in your technique. How can I explain this any better knowing it’s just there?”
The practice of aikido opened a whole new way of looking at balance, and I am rereading those books again, as well as revisiting older classical works. How refreshing it is to come back to old haunts and see them and feel them with fresh eyes, new perspectives!
- Ancient Wisdom
Ancient philosophers caution us to do things in moderation, to maintain a balance in our lives. Some of them advise us to balance the pleasures and the sacrifices, the spiritual and the worldly, to consider the one side of an issue alongside with the other. In old Chinese medical books, there are even cold food and hot food categories and acupuncture meridian points to activate to restore an unbalanced spleen, or an upset stomach and all that. Diets are advised to be balanced according to our energy and nutritional needs. To dancers, athletes, actors and everyday ordinary people: Balance is a universal prerequisite to living a full and well-lived existence.
It is one of the first things we acquire in order to walk, to appreciate visual art, to blend and adjust flavors in cooking. For example, if you are a fan of cooking shows, you will see that the host/cook balances the acidic and the salty, sweet flavorings in his dish. When we eat something, we don’t like it too salty, or too sweet. Like the baby bear in Goldilocks, we want everything just right, and “just right” is actually the balance we instinctively seek.
What happens when there is imbalance? We get sick. Too much salt and our liver and kidneys get out of whack. We go to the doctors to set our internal balance right. When we are sick, we try to get well again.
- The Arts
When we experience extreme joy or extreme sorrow, when we experience ecstasy and despair, we also seek to right the imbalance. We cannot stay ecstatic all the time, or depressed all the time. When we experience a great event, we seek creative outlets to pour out the excess of the emotions incurred by that event. Hence, some great works of literature or of art have been the fruit of the creator’s life of imbalance. If I remember right, Van Gogh painted his most memorable pieces when he was in a deep depression. Picasso had his periods, too. His life was tumultuous, and his periods reflected it. They had to find a way to let it all out. Unconsciously, we seek to right the balance. It is the same with composing photographs. One has to be keenly aware of the balance of the composition to be able to create a pleasing, or disturbing or moving image.
- Drives and the Self
When we act on a desire or a need, shouldn’t the action also be balanced by our conscience or ethics? When there is an imbalance, confusion ensues. Take for example those two girls who stabbed their friend in order to get close to a certain “slenderman”. Extreme desire without the balance of conscience or ethics results in harming another human being, which might also result in extinguishing a life.
I was not aware of the importance of balance in every aspect of life before I studied Aikido. I took it for granted, and took balance for movement as separate from balance for art, or from emotion. There was never a unifying element and connection and they, (dance, movement, art, photography, painting etc.) were just subjects. Until Aikido. Now, it feels like a prerequisite in self- awareness to me so that I can relate to the world better.
What is it about this martial art that opens me up to being more sensitive? More perceptive? More appreciative? Less reactive, more calm, more patient? Is it particular only to Aikido? Or does this happen to someone practicing in other disciplines as well? Yoga? Tai Chi? Has the art you have been practicing ultimately thrown open the doors to your inner self-awareness and your relationship with the world around you? I am curious and happily grateful for this stage of growth. Infinitely curious, boundlessly grateful, and thoroughly happy!
And yes, I have a life aside from Aikido and away from the blog. I don’t practice on the mats all the time, or think about it all the time. I have more fluency in maintaining a healthy balance in living a full and happy life.
I still think about Raistlin, the magician with hour-glass eyes, even if he went over to the dark side. Maintaining his neutrality got in the way of his ambition. But he sacrificed himself to right the balance in his world.
Delicate, I tell you, this element we call Balance.
(Please also see: “Rollercoaster Sensei“)