Several years ago, I began to question what the real meaning of wisdom was. I knew it had to be more than an IQ score, or the ability to remember facts and figures. It had to be more than simply being able to make good decisions.
Gradually, I came to realize that wisdom is about recognizing balance. You see, in this life, there is a very fine line between what benefits us and what depletes us. What adds and what takes away. What builds up and what destroys. What brings us closer to our goals and aspirations, and what leads us further away. And just to complicate matters, the fine line is constantly shifting as we evolve and move through each experience.
I’ve come to see that true wisdom is recognizing balance (and just as importantly, recognizing the lack thereof).
And then I came to one of the glorious paradoxes of life. In order to enjoy, or even recognize “balance”, we must experience imbalance. Regularly! We are constantly slipping out of balance and when we become aware that it doesn’t feel so good, we make an effort to move back into balance or alignment.
Here’s just two examples from my own life:
1.) During my adulthood, I have been both a food-lover, who didn’t care at all about calories or ingredients. I loved and enjoyed food and indulged wherever and whenever I felt like it. Cheesecake was my favorite food.
I’ve also been a health nut who read ingredient labels obsessively and avoided a long list of foods, including MSG, sugar, wheat, meat, yeast, aspartame, artificial colors or flavors. The thing is, both extremes suited me for a while, but eventually I became aware that they were holding me back – the indulgent me began to suffer all kinds of health symptoms and lack of energy, and the obsessive me began to feel stressed and restricted from the effort of maintaining such a diet in a culture where food is celebrated and shared as a sign of love and hospitality.
I’m now somewhere in between, and still experimenting to find that harmonious balance that enhances my body and my life, rather than depletes them.
2.) During my late teens, I was spontaneous and carefree and loved to party. During this stage, I made plenty of irresponsible decisions (some of which I had to pay heavily for). I didn’t think too much about the future because I was busy having fun today. Several years and life-lessons later, I swung to the opposite extreme. I worked three jobs, saved my money and set goals to own my own home and start a business. Eventually, both extremes caught up with me and my physical health suffered because of it.
I’m still experimenting and learning that perfect balance between aspiring for tomorrow and enjoying today.
The thing is, we cant enjoy or even recognize a sense of “rightness” until we’ve experienced what a sense of “wrongness” feels like. Every “negative” emotion or experience allows us to recognize and appreciate it’s opposite.
If we avoid making mistakes or try to drown out all “negative” emotions, we are really depriving ourselves of the richness and depth of life. How can we possibly appreciate emotions of love or joy, if we’ve never fully experienced their opposite, or their lack, in our lives?
All of our imbalances, our “mistakes”, our “failures”, they all add to our understanding of what is right for us. They act as benchmarks as we seek to find balance, that wonderful sense of rightness and alignment that can only be realized by first experiencing how unpleasant if felt to be all out of whack. We learn by going too far to one extreme and discovering it didn’t feel so good, and perhaps swinging back to the opposite extreme and discovering (sooner or later) that doesn’t really work for us either. Through this learning process, we begin to discover where the happy medium lies.
As we move through life, that happy medium changes with every circumstance and experience, and it changes as we evolve and grow. What felt good and right and balanced for me five years ago, may seem all wrong for me today. This is why finding balance is a lifelong effort. No sooner have we discovered it, the goalposts move and suddenly we are once again seeking that sense of balance.
This is not disheartening. This is one of the utterly glorious things about life. If it weren’t so, life would be stale and boring and flat. Instead, we get to experience the exhilaration of the highs and the desperation of the lows, and both give meaning to the other.
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