I’m a rather eccentric journal keeper. I jot down daily notes into a cheap notebook, recording observations, experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Each year, I choose a few things in particular to count and track, and I keep up with these in lists at the back of the journal. Sometimes the numbers are humorous and playful, and other times they are revealing and scary. For instance, during the twelve months of last year, I ran or walked 1,132 miles for exercise, down from 1,514 the previous year. I read 14 fewer books than in the year before, and I gained 13 pounds over the course of twelve months. Nights spent in hotels went up by more than twenty. The number of U.S. bird species I identified and recorded fell from 382 in the previous year to 253 last year!
If you took these numbers and projected them forward for years to come at the same rate, then I will stop seeing any birds at all in two more years; I will read no books in 2012 and thereafter; I will stop walking and running altogether within four years, by the end of the next decade I’ll live in a hotel full time, and I’ll retire weighing 478 pounds! One of the reasons I pay attention to the numbers is to notice the trends and redress the imbalances. We all wish we could live a totally balanced life—the perfect mix of family, personal, work, play, spiritual sustenance, reading, productivity, and health. If we could just get it right, then everything would work out well, and we’d live happily and fruitfully without much effort. But rather than having a totally balanced life, the best we can do is commit ourselves to the hard work of balancing, of constantly noticing and adjusting to keep from leaning too far one way or the other and falling into disaster.
The phrase “the balancing act” is a metaphor derived from the actual circus performances of days gone by. Remember the tightrope walker? She steps out onto a wire line stretched tightly high above the ground between two tall posts while carrying a long horizontal pole. Inch by inch the tightrope artist gracefully moves across the wire. But whether she dances, walks, or stands still, there’s always a constant perceptible motion of teetering slightly this way and that. These movements represent the inevitable pull of gravity to one side and then the other, and of her constantly offsetting these forces with tiny corrections and adjustments. The long horizontal balancing pole totters slightly, rising a little on one side while falling a little on the other, and it does so from the first step until last. In short, the tightrope walker with her excellent sense of balance is never completely balanced; she is always balancing.
How are you doing with your balancing act? What will you be like if all the patterns now so evident in your daily life continue uninterrupted into the future? Will you and I see fewer birds this year than last? Or will we notice more?
Excerpted from The Balancing Act, ©2009 Abingdon Press