Surfing: A Lesson on How To Live In Balance
I’ve always been fascinated with surfing. Primarily because I’ve tried it with little success and I’m awe-struck how people can get on a board and join a delicate dance with those waves. Also maybe because in surfing I see subconsciously a perspective on how to live in balance.
When we look at the activity of surfing, it so clearly presents many different seemingly opposite alternatives that come into harmony with one another. First, there is the land and sea – gently wrestling back and forth with one another for supremacy.
There is both movement and stasis – a surfer waits patiently for the wave to come and then in a rush of adrenaline, joins the moving water as it approaches the shoreline.
There is balance in the buoyancy. The board provides a medium that allows the surfer to maintain a position on top of the waves while gravity and the water are determined to pull him or her down below the surface.
The beauty of the beaches and water. The power and calm found in the waves. The nature of surfing can give us some powerful lessons on how to live in balance.
Why Living In Balance is Critical
Living in balance is critical especially today. We live in a light-speed, technological culture that is determined to form us into its own image. The promise that technology would save us from our work seems hollow. And if we dare to examine that promise, we see that lie in this reality: we are working now more than ever before – striving for some carrot dangled out before us, not even knowing if it’s what we really want anyway.
In this endless quest of achievement, we fend off the subtle voices that mumble to us about priorities, family, spirituality, and authentic relationships. We have been convinced that some app or new technology can manage it all for us. We call on robots to do our bidding, inviting corporations giddy with thoughts of increased profit into our homes to listen to our conversations and figure out what we want and when we want it so they can sell it to us at just the right point when our psychological defenses against such predatory tactics are at their lowest.
We hear the “success narrative” of high performers who achieve everything they wanted, yet the ruin and devastation in some of those stories get hidden in the shadow that the glory of their achievement casts. One only has to look to Hollywood to see how “out of balance” things are in our culture and what destruction that has brought upon countless lives.
So what can we do as a culture? I’m pessimistic here. The values of progress, efficiency, and speed are systemically woven into the fabric of our culture. It won’t change. I think it will only continue down the same path.
However, there is hope. Individually we have the opportunity to balance out the scales – to respond to culture when things get crazy. As individuals, we set the agenda for our own lives, and though everything seems to be going in one direction, we have the power to put on the breaks and change course. So how do we live in balance?
How To Live In Balance
1 Know What’s Important
There is no such thing as balance without alternatives. Balance means determining some equality between things which battle one another for supremacy. It means finding a harmony in the different melodies calling for attention.
We all have aspects of our lives that at one time or another demand more of our time and attention: our career, our relationships, our family, our passions/hobbies, our finances, and our health. We all have these parts of life, and at times, different ones demand more attention. Sometimes, our career places demands upon our time and other areas must suffer. Sometimes our passions drive our choices, and the other regions take a back seat.
Living in balance means knowing what’s important to you in your life, and maintaining as best you can, an equilibrium of attention between each of those priorities.
I watched the documentary, The Minimalists, and one gentleman shared his story of arriving at the top of his profession where he was presented with a partnership in a financial institution which would grant him a fortune in income and set him up for life.
He turned it down.
He recognized the price he would have to pay for that position and realized that wasn’t what he really wanted in life. I applaud that decision, yet there are untold millions who long for the same opportunity, calling him a fool for what he did. Balance first of all requires you to know what’s important to you.
So, the first step is ordering your life and putting down on paper what’s essential now, and where your priorities lay. Take account of the different areas of your life (career, passions, family, relationships, health, etc.) and number them according to importance. Give both the ideal and the actual. This is important.
We must understand not just what is, but also what should be. If you merely acknowledge what your current situation is priority-wise without reflecting on the ideal, you never realize you are out of balance, and you have nothing to bring into equilibrium. So put both down:
Life area Actual Ideal
2 Understand The Moment
When thinking about living in balance, we must recognize the reality of life. At certain times in the fact of our lives, some things demand more of our attention. It’s important to understand these moments and give them the care they need, but we must also see the bigger picture. Many times, our jobs call for our attention. And we give it. And give it. And continue to give it. Over and over again. People become workaholics, justifying their imbalance with thoughts about more money and a “someday” when it will all end, and they can really kick back and enjoy life.
I’m reminded of a story of a person who worked their whole life for retirement. Saying to themselves that same, well-trodden cliché: “When I retire, it will all be worth it!” Well, the gentleman died the day before he was scheduled to retire.
The Christian scriptures tell a similar tale of a man who wanted to tear all his buildings down and build up new ones to hold his vast fortune.
The verse says something like, “You fool! You didn’t know that your life would be demanded from you this very night. Now, who will get all that you have stored up?”
These are tragic examples of losing sight of the forest. However, this doesn’t mean we abandon the future to just live in the moment. But we must recognize both the moment and the lifetime. We must see both the trees when they call for our attention without losing sight of the entire forest.
3 Make The Sacrifice
Living in balance means making some sacrifices. It means taking a hard look at some things and making some difficult decisions. For some, it means leaving a lot of money on the table, like the gentleman in the documentary. For others, it means giving up some things they really like in favor of relationships that may be more important. The point is, there’s no balance without sacrifice.
Think of a scale – when one side gets heavier, it demands some action to maintain the balance. Maybe it means placing something on the other side to keep the equilibrium. Or perhaps it means taking something off the side that is weighing more heavily. The sacrifice can be in either – loading something on or taking something off, but either way, something must be done to live in balance.
How do you know which one to do? Go back to point 1 – what’s the ideal? What’s your goal? What do you really want? If you don’t know that, you may succumb to the situation referenced by the poet Robert Frost: “By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”
The culture is changing. People are no longer willing to submit their lives to bureaucratic corporations who cut them loose when profits don’t match expectations. The 4 hour work week tapped into a chord that has become more prevalent in today’s culture: people don’t want to defer life until retirement by giving their lives to a corporation. People are much more attuned to the need for living in balance, but making the sacrifices to do so remains difficult.
Today, more than ever, we long for balance, but we must address some more profound questions to know what’s important: What is essential? What adds value? What do we really want?
We also must recognize the reality of life – that there are moments when our attention has to be directed to particular areas, but we can’t forget the forest we just prioritized.
And finally, we must make the hard choices. If we are going to live in balance, some things must be sacrificed. Some gurus will promise you that you can have it all. I promise you; you can’t. You must make time for what’s really important, and that means making some difficult choices. Plan your life, or your life will be planned for you.
This takes us back to surfing. Think of balance as effectively riding the waves of your life. When a massive wave comes, you handle it deftly and smoothly ride it through. When the storms come, you wait them out until you can get back in the water. A good surfer rides in balance, maneuvering that board in harmony with the waves and the ocean underneath. All that power and chaos is managed skillfully by the individual on top of the board, gently guiding it in balance with the waves beneath.
Does surfing come easily? No. It takes an understanding of priorities. It takes a recognition of each moment you are on the wave. It takes sacrifice. But when it’s done right, it’s a beautiful thing. So is a balanced life.
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