- Finding the perfect level on a see-saw.
- Stacking blocks to make a tower even TALLER.
- Placing one foot, heel to toe, in front of the other on a narrow ledge.
- Carving down a slope on a pair of skis.
All provide opportunities to practice, and sometimes enjoy, balance. But when you imagine spending your entire day doing it, it sounds exhausting. Live your life trying to balance on a plank (or two), on a tower of blocks, on a narrow ledge, or on only one leg, and you won’t have much fun. Your focus will wane. Your legs will shake. Your head will ache.
Balance can be fun, even good for us so long as it is temporary. But when it’s our default setting, we set ourselves up to fail.
The challenge is that we think we NEED balance, not to mention we have plenty of reminders of our imbalance. Balance is exalted, but rarely modeled well. I think it’s because our view of balance is too often unhealthy and unhelpful. When we consider the balanced life, we’re prone to buy into the myth there must be a way to tend to everything, all the time, at a high level.
This conversation is especially heightened within the Enneagram world. When exploring the Enneagram’s Law of Three principle, whether it be instinctual variants, subtypes, or intelligence centers (to name a few), we can easily convey an unhealthy notion of balance to those we teach. To those early in their Enneagram learning, the prospect of balancing head, heart, and body intelligence can feel overwhelming (if not impossible). This is particularly true when helping others explore Hornevian Groups (aka “social styles” or “stances”), which delineate dominant, supporting and repressed centers of intelligence. When working with instincts, the very pace and acceleration of our instincts can seem too rapid to achieve anything close to balance.
This isn’t to say all forms of balance are bad. We need the chemicals in our brains to be balanced. We need our diet to be balanced. We need the organs in our inner ears to balance and keep us upright. But our capacities can rarely match the opportunities and responsibilities before us. When we can’t balance it all, a healthier approach is to ditch the myth of the “balanced” life, and replace it with a RHYTHMIC life.
Rhythms are natural, innate with our bodies and our environment. The seasons of the year provide unique and important rhythms for plant and animal life to flourish. The seasons of our lives provide unique and important rhythms for the self to flourish.
Rhythms allow for work and rest, socializing and solitude, helping a neighbor and caring for oneself.
We are often responsible for more than we can handle at any one time. We don’t have to balance it all at once. We’re better off developing healthy rhythms to attend to our responsibilities in their due time.
I’ve heard it said, “Don’t try to boil the ocean.” It’s a helpful image for chasing the “balanced” life. It too easily leads to stress, anxiety and fear.
The “balanced life” surveys the landscape of your life and asks: How can I tend to all of this right now?
The “rhythmic life” discerns the landscape of your life and asks: What is mine to do right now…and what is mine to do later? And even, what’s not mine to do at all?
In this way, healthy rhythms in our Enneagram work may not perfectly balance the perpetual triads of the Enneagram, but they will help align such triads for growth and transformation. To properly align our intelligence centers, or our instincts, seems more feasible to those doing their Work.
Balance isn’t all that bad. But when try to balance too much, we’re on a path to burnout. When we live a rhythmic life, the notion of balance returns to its proper, aligned, and authentic place.