Columnist Carl Kline: Without balance, life is difficult

It’s a good thing we have been given two legs; two hips, two knees, two ankles and two feet. If just one of them is not working well, our balance is thrown off and it can be hard to get around. And if the right hip is having some problems, the left knee may have to work overtime to be sure you keep your balance. At least, that’s the best guess of my doctor and I.

Just recognizing how important balance is when walking down the street or climbing the stairs, I marvel at the pictures I saw this past week. One was a high wire act where the walker didn’t have one of those balance poles and was walking a series of wires high over a highway, railway and river. It reminded me of Philippe Petit when he walked between the Twin Towers in 1974. At the age of 73, Petit is still doing his balancing act.

The other picture was a rock climber on the sheer face of a stone wall, hundreds of feet above the ground, finding cracks in the wall for handholds and hauling his body up little by little. How one maintains their balance when there is so little to hold on to is beyond me. And what inner calm and assurance it must require to perform an act like this. Any inner anxiety or fear must surely detract from a safe rock climb or wire walk.

There are so many areas of life where balance is important. It’s not just in the physical activity of the body but in the working of the mind and spirit as well. Consider worries that keep you awake at night or anxieties that keep you from being honest with others. Balance needs consistency between the inner life and the outer. If we think of how when we walk, one foot is resting while the other foot moves us forward, we have an example of how our inner and outer lives also need to work together. We don’t do so well in our work life if something in our family life is a mess.

We fumble the ball when we aren’t sure we’re heading for the right goal. We keep asking ourselves, “Is this what I want to do?” as our life seems to be stuck on hold.

Mahatma Gandhi was once asked by a reporter why he never took a vacation. He replied that he was always on vacation. His inner and outer lives were in harmony. He wasn’t climbing the rock wall to get to the top; he was climbing the rock wall to climb the rock wall. He wasn’t walking the tightrope to get to the other side. He was walking the tightrope to walk the tightrope. He wasn’t working 60 hours a week for six months so he could go on a three week vacation. What was in his heart and mind appeared in his life and work. The inner and outer lives were in harmony.

I venture to suggest that most of us in this society spend more time worrying about balancing our checkbook than we spend on balancing our lives. Economy is the boss. How will we pay the mortgage this month? It doesn’t seem like turkeys are cheaper this year? Is the credit card maxed for Christmas gifts? Will we have enough savings for retirement?

There is an important relationship between our inner and outer selves; between being and doing. The relationship is existential. They cannot be separated. When we are walking, one foot is at rest as the other moves.

My late-night reading is “Wintering” by Katherine May. She has convinced me this season of the year with the shortest days and the least daylight is meant to be a time of rest, retreat and renewal. It offers an opportunity to slow down and recreate as the snow softens the world around us and the fires inside warm and comfort us. It’s a good time to begin reflecting on the new life sprouting around the corner and our place in it. It’s a perfect time with the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas to reclaim a sense of balance between our inner and outer worlds. Perhaps like the petitioner in John Henry Newman’s “Lead Kindly Light,” we can be led one step at a time toward that balance the eternal promises.

By Blessed John Henry Newman (1834)

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead Thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home,

Lead Thou me on.

Keep Thou my feet;

I do not ask to see the distant scene;

one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that

Thou shouldst lead me on;

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

Lead Thou me on.

I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, pride ruled my will;

remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blessed me, sure it still

Will lead me on.

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone;

And with the morn those angel faces smile,

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.