An Imbalanced Happiness

June 14, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Anyone who has dabbled even a little with cooking knows a thing or two about the art of balancing a dish, a bit of sourness to fix something that is a little too sweet, or a dash of salt to heighten a dish that isn’t. Even someone who has never set their foot inside a kitchen will find this sense of balance hardwired in their daily choices when they casually order sweet cookies to go with bitter coffee or squeeze lime over spicy chaat to create that perfect balance in taste – Umami (“pleasant savory taste” in Japanese). This common knowledge we have with cooking misses the target when it comes to living a balanced life as no one in their right mind will add bitterness into their happy day to create balance. But must we?

BalanceMain Penthrall

Image Courtesy: Colin Harris  ADE

“Don’t laugh too much or you may cry very soon!”

If you have grown up in India, you would have had at least one elder in the family remind you of this age old dictum. While the new-agey, self-help saturated minds of ours may reject this too soon, there is some wisdom in it that has kept it alive and passed it on from generation to generation. The wisdom of balance, the same wisdom that knows to throw in a potato into a dish gone too salty, to fix it.

Balance works in funny ways and though the word has almost lost its meaning in the recent years owing to its association with other diluted words like “work” and “life”, it is imperative to understand the mechanics of balance to keep the gears of life well oiled. What does a balanced life look like? If your mind conjures up images of a happy family playing in a park or relaxing in the beach then you have been fooled by the advertisements. This is what a happy vacation looks like, not a balanced life. We always pray for happiness and joy, but where is the balance in that? Balance is achieved through equilibrium, through a harmonious distribution of its seemingly opposing components. When you wish for just a happy life, you are in a way wishing for a life out of balance.

The signature of a good life can be found in its struggles. While much of life is lead in an attempt to avoid struggle, we all know the fruits of some necessary struggle in life. Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk believes that our idea of paradise is flawed because there is no suffering in it. In an interview with Krista Tippett he said:

“You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. That’s why my definition of the kingdom of God is not a place where suffering is not, where there is no suffering …

Ms. Tippett: The kingdom of God?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Yeah, because I could not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I could not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because, in such a place, they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. And the kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and therefore, suffering should exist.” 


The theological idea being questioned here may bring forth a valid argument that such a paradise is reached after suffering has forged understanding and compassion into a person. This scholarly difference in perspective still underlines the same perception, that suffering and compassion go hand in hand. One is not possible without the other.

This is a man who was expelled from his own country for his refusal to take sides even as he worked for peace, for believing that the American soldiers who killed his people were as much the victims of war as the Vietnamese civilians who lost their lives. That is Umami, his enormously generous ability to hold the conflicting forces of two warring nations within one harmonious thought.

By refusing to take sides, we are forced to walk in the middle and find the path of equanimity. This amphibiousness brings with it a strength to deal with conflicts and develop a respect for them. Unknowingly, we do it in small ways everyday. This co-dependence of opposing forces creating a balance is found all around us.

“I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. And I try to live in this place between the two to try to build a life there…” – Maria Papova (The genius behind brainpickings.org)

A similar balance exists between fear and faith too. Blind faith without fear could be the hotbed of foolhardy arrogance. It can show up as complacence when passive and as blatant recklessness when active. On the other hand morbid delusions and paranoia could spout from an overdose of fear. Without the necessary balance of faith, it could be stifling to be inside a fearful mind that would always be on the lookout for an eccentric outburst as a release. A fair mix of fear and faith creates a mid path which is far more stable than any of the extremes.

We talk about balance most often with relation to work. In the recent years we have created the first generation that is consciously working towards the creation of a balanced work-life. Take some time to reflect on these words taken from the journal of Henry David Thoreau:

“The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.”

As you progress through the rest of this day let these words hum their soft tune in your head “Those who work much do not work hard”.

 

SeeSaw Balance

Image Courtesy:
Colin Whittaker

The wave of new age literature has left us very sensitive and responsible to our thoughts, claiming it is our thinking that shapes our reality. It would follow that any discomfort in your life must have stemmed out of an act of conscious creation, a flaw in our mental circuitry that begs to be rectified. Holding this thought in contrast with the idea of balance offers some respite. Not all the bitterness is bad, some of it is very essential, in fact a necessary ingredient in life. If we are really serious about creating a balanced life we need to reinvent what fear and struggle mean to us. We need to peel away the derogatory labels that we have put on them and develop a mental palette that can appreciate their differences and an inner strength that knows when they need to be held on to and when they need to be let go of.

An exclusively happy life is a myth, an attempt to grow a lotus on marble. Just like we intuitively know how to balance a dish that doesn’t taste right, we also know how to balance our lives. What we don’t know is how a perfectly happy life is created. We don’t know it because the idea is flawed in itself and so it doesn’t resonate with anything inside of us. A balanced life will have the tears that follow laughter and the mud that surrounds the lotus. We will need to breathe out to be able to breathe in again. That is how nature works, that is how our bodies work, why then should we make our minds think any different? Look around, the most stable state that nature always restores itself to is Balance. Sometimes, the only thing we need to do is to step out of the way and let the opposing forces wrestle themselves into an equilibrium. They need to, to smoothen their jagged edges and polish their rough surfaces. Perfection sometimes looks like a million minor imperfections, blended together to produce that one exquisite taste, Umami.

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