“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
– Anne Frank
Nature holds a fascinating concept of balance at it’s very core. But what truly is balance? Is it the formation of a perfect middle road in the absence of left and right or does it demand a stark contrast in order to exist? Some questions lingering on my mind over the past few days as the ebb and flow of life enchant me once more.
Walking through an untamed forest or setting sail across a pristine lake never fails to instill in me a sense of serenity that only wild nature can evoke. A profound feeling that I am surrounded by a sense of harmony. A perfect dance between light and dark, deep and shallow, rugged and smooth, movement and stillness. A deep amazement that all puzzle pieces of nature interact perfectly with the others and influence each other in infinite ways no man-made creation can imitate.
This concept of balance and harmony used to be a popular topic in philosophy, ritual, tradition and even religion. However, ever since the age of industrialization brought urbanization across most western civilizations, these discussions and reverence of balance seem to have been relegated to the background. A shame.
I believe that, in many ways, this lies at the very core of many modern issues; Depression, confusion, anxiety and a general sense of unhappiness afflict so many people in modern, urbanized environments. In most areas – we have either shifted too far into an extreme (such as an overemphasis on rationalism as opposed to dreaming and creativity), or conversely abolished all sense of contrast in a descent into mediocrity (such as the recent blending together of masculinity and femininity).
So let us break this crime to humanity with an exploration of the concept of balance. But then what is balance?
It starts – and requires – first of all, contrast.
Without depth, there is no definition for shallow – and vice versa. Movement needs stillness, full needs empty, existing needs nonexistence. Light needs darkness. It is the contrast that creates the beauty. Without contrast, life would be a grey, formless, monotone and featureless blob.
All art and stories we love have this sense of a light in the darkness; It is the very essence of painting, dancing, music and romance. The silence before defines the storm as the towering mountain ranges crown the deep valley. The figure of an pristine and protective angel is made so much more compelling by the addition of a flaming, destructive sword of justice.
The hero of any great epic always has a renunciation, a fall from grace. Every great romantic movie either starts or ends with a breakup or loss. There is simply no way to instill any sense of emotion in us without contrast.
When we are in our most primal states – we all contain contrast. Notice that it is when you energize your body by vigorous exercise your mind is at its most silent, and when you rest your body for the night the creativity of your dreaming mind is most active. True passion contains both the desire to softly embrace and destroy. True focus requires both challenge and ease.
It is no coincidence that we adore and flock to works of art that contain contrast. Contrast is highly attractive to us and holds a powerful grip on our mind.
It is used highly in negotiation, marketing and seduction; In marketing, for example, an insurance company will frame your mind in danger before selling you their contrasting principle of security. A skilled negotiator will pull the classic trick of starting with a high offer to anchor your emotion before introducing contrast by bringing their starting offer down to a more reasonable level. (Research has shown this basic type of negotiation to increase positive reactions by up to 33%!).
Also, notice how great relationships always share this concept of great contrast. Picture before you a couple you find attractive as a whole, and it will likely consist of a highly feminine women coupled with a highly masculine man.
In fact, great couples share the dynamic of contrast in the respective ‘temperatures’ they bring into the relationship. All great relationships seem to have a balance between a cold, soothing, slowing, secure presence and a hot, passionate, free and rushing presence. If both persons bring a cold presence, the relationship will wither and die. If they both bring a hot presence into the relationship it will inevitably explode (in a most spectacularly entertaining fashion to outsiders, usually). There can be great love between these couples, but the relationships never seem to last.
We continuously and unconsciously seek out a balancing energy. Which is why we say someone ‘completes me’. Even within minute interactions – seduction demands a pushing and a pulling energy in order for the dance to be entrancing. It is the same reason why so many feel irresistibly compelled to stay in toxic relationships!
In this sense, it should become clear that true attractiveness is captured in the presence of both left and right, hot and cold, up and down. The glass is neither half full or half empty, it is perfectly filled at all times.
This presents a beautifully compelling paradox, in which the joining of the two contrasts construct a single whole entity, effectively eliminating all contrast. At this point, what is truly the difference between success and failure? Between yes and no? It is not part of the same journey?
To expand on this concept, it is thus wrong and foolish to say we only love the positive aspect of anything.
“I like it when people love me and treat me like treasure.”
“I like it when it is warm and the sun shines.”
“I like it when my body performs like an athlete and looks like a supermodel.”
“I like it when everything in my life goes as planned.”
Without implicitly also loving the counterpart;
“I like it when people abandon me and treat me badly.”
“I like it when it is cold and raining.”
“I like it when my body aches and I want to puke during practice.”
“I like it when everything in my life chaotically falls apart.”
They are one and the same, and rejecting this universal truth is fighting reality itself – an unending battle you will never win. I sincerely and wholeheartedly feel that in order to feel at peace, this reality must be accepted. Anxiety is born from the battle against this completion.
Without yin, no yang. They are a single entity. For those interested in spirituality, the embrace of this complete reality forms the very core on which the Taoist religion/philosophy is built upon. There, it is called the Tao – or the middle way.
A common misconception of this middle way is the temptation to walk between the two contrasts as to avoid the negative. Imagine never feeling sad as well as never feeling happy. Instant depression anyone? The middle way is to accept reality in its entirety; Feeling the joy in sadness, and the sadness in joy. Because one automatically and inevitably implies the other – and true joy can only be found from the acceptance of pure grief.
A return to balance
This exploration also yields the uncomfortable but undeniable truth that everything we will ever achieve, gather and experience, we will lose. All positive and negative changes in your life will balance out. This truth should bring both sadness and joy in your heart.
It shows how it is folly to become attached to anything. You will lose it. Hoping for longevity is stupidity. The only correct response to anything on your path (negative or positive!) is to fully open up vulnerably and let it in your spirit. Savor in it’s beauty and truly become enmeshed in the experience. Give it all your energy, then let go.
In fact, the very loss of that we hold dear is necessary in order to open our heart to new experiences of greatness that would never have had the space to materialize without the occurrence of the loss.
Think about the greatest love in your life right now. Would you have ever met and be attracted to one-another if not all the preceding experiences that occurred in your life before you met – good and bad – shaped you as they have?
Maybe you had a terrible childhood where your parents did not love you. Does this not make the experience of true love all the more sweeter? Maybe you had a great, loving childhood – has this not shaped you in such a way to shower those less fortunate with boundless love?
Notice how there is no need to actively force this balance. As long as you do not beat your boat, ceaselessly, against the current – reality will bring balance to your life automatically. There is no action required other than listening to your natural impulses that are driven from your emotions, and thankfully accepting and observing the gifts of the present moment.
Accepting this gives great calm, serenity and an odd sense of stability. It’s an acceptance that life is inherently out of your control. All that is left for you to do is to enjoy the ride. Let go, embrace reality and realize that everything will balance out over time.
When you are doing great, be humble and know that you will experience loss in time, and life will break your spirit again. Enjoy it thoroughly and fully while you can!
When you are down, allow yourself to fall wounded to the ground and grief the current reality, but also accept in your heart that life will become great again in time.
The sun will shine out the clearer
For those that are reading this in a dark place in your life, allow me to finish these writings with a quote I love from J.R.R. Tolkien, writer of the Lord of The Rings:
“It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, there were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding onto, Sam?”
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo.. and it’s worth fighting for.”