Perhaps you often consider that you ought to create balance between certain parts of your life. Maybe you need to balance work time with play time. Maybe it’s balancing healthy eating with allowing yourself to “treats” every now and then (treats don’t exist in my book. Hehe). Maybe it’s balancing rationality with emotional expression.
Such things do indeed seek balance with one another. I’ve perceived that when I become more of something, I also become more of its opposite.
For example, a few months ago I started attempting to be more humorous after largely shying away from humor for about 2 years (perhaps you could tell from some of my web pages). It’s not that I never laughed—I just wasn’t the one to crack “your mom” jokes.
Anyway, my welcoming of humor marked relative insensitivity
in me. I developed a sense that people can say or do pretty much whatever they
want (as long as it isn’t outright-harmful to others), and I wasn’t much of an
authority to say otherwise.
At the same time, I was struggling quite a bit emotionally. I attempted to run a 100 mile ultramarathon at the end of January (as noted in Efficiency, Optimization, and Slight Insanity/ Running 100 Miles, and for at least a month afterward I was a fragile mess. It’s hard to put myself back in the mindset now: I could cry at the drop of a hat and I had a constant sense of impending doom. I felt desperate to fill my emotional needs, but I didn’t know how. I wrote a somewhat silly, somewhat serious article reflecting on this called Being a P*%@y (even in the title my comedic genius shines).
How could these two ways of being coincide? Perhaps humor was my shield against emotional pain (hint: it was). Maybe progressing further on one end of a spectrum simultaneously moves you farther along on the other side as well, as though the spectrum is really a mirror (clue: it may be). Perhaps these two apparent opposites are actually the same (spoiler: they are).
Well, okay—maybe from one perspective they are. I’ll continue the example.
Lately I’ve been feeling better than I did in the Winter, and now it looks like sensitivity and insensitivity are converging rather than growing in parallel to one another. When something nice happens to me I feel grateful for it and smile—perhaps more so than I did in the past. When something more on the negative side happens to me I feel grateful for life’s complexities and smile (well, maybe after some tears).
Thus, I am insensitive in that my reactions to different events are not all that different. But, these events that display life’s complexities (to put it nicely) have come to my attention (and may bother me somewhat) more and more often, so in the same stroke I am also more sensitive.
Life is Perfect As-Is (sorta)
I must wonder: would my enjoyment of fulfilling my desires make sense without my desires being defied at least occasionally? My visceral reaction to that question is a quick no.
A general conclusion I have come to is that life basically plays out as it needs to. This means that all aspects of life are interconnected somehow, and that in turn means that trying to invalidate or “put down” one aspect of life similarly degrades all others.
I’ll give you an example. Yesterday I was walking around a casino, and for a few minutes I thought about how awful it was: it looked to me like a holding place for people who have, for one reason or another, lost their usefulness to society (if they ever had any) and are on their last limb.
Naturally, thinking like that made me feel a bit sad. I then tried to think about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I felt lifeless. The Trail, a seeming-antithesis to such an overly-civilized place, felt like a dead end—in fact, everything did. There was no place I could go to escape the scourge that was my own mind.
I’ve told friends (or at least, myself) that there’s no need to hate an ex-boyfriend or kill an attraction to some other dude in order to go fully into the arms of a new boyfriend (wow, that sentence should be coated in glitter).
In fact, doing that will only make trying to love a new person that much harder. Can you really expect to walk out of your self-suppression and seething bitterness unscathed, ready to burst with joy and bliss in the presence of your new lover? You cannot experience love and fear at the same time: that is to try moving in two different directions. It is impossible.
Staring Into the Mirror (alternative subtitle: Sitting on the Other Side of the See-Saw)
Wait a minute: didn’t I say earlier that when you move forward on one side of the spectrum, you move forward on the other side as well? But aren’t there also aspects of life where a favorable balance means choosing only one side, such as nonviolence over violence? How can you become more nonviolent and more violent at the same time? It makes no sense!
To all three questions, the answer is yes. The mirror-effect just plays out a bit differently in different matters is all.
For the first question, I should clarify that mirror-effect as I demonstrated it in the sensitivity/insensitivity example is about Contrast. When you reach new heights of pleasure, you enable yourself to reach new depths of pain. Unlocking X unlocks X’ (X prime), which is really just X reflected across the middle of the spectrum (thanks, geometry).
Perhaps you could say that the next-level pleasure carves out a deeper space in you so that you can be filled with all of its pleasurey-goodness. After the pleasure leaves the space remains, and you now are opened to be filled with the same amount of pain.
For the second question, I do indeed see the worth in getting clear about what you value and committing to it, meaning that you don’t let your feet cross the bridge to the deep, ooey-gooey darkness of what opposes your values.
In particular, this makes sense in choosing whether to live based on fear or on love (which I’ve written about in Enemies of Consciousness, Belief Experimentation, and briefly in Holes in the Belief System). Choosing one will catapult you down one path of life—the other, a totally different path. Choosing neither will leave you stuck, spinning in circles at the trailhead (or walking back to it after starting down one trail—and doing so on repeat).
So if you choose to live based on (polarize in the direction of) love and believe that your existence is unconditionally safe, you will likely become a kind, caring, joyful, and peaceful person (at least, to relative extents). Because you know your identity spans well beyond your physical body you will not be desperately attached to and worried about that body.
However, to reach a point of being fairly immersed in love and thus free of fear, you have to contend with your fears. You have to stare your fears in the face and become unafraid of them. You must consider the countless ways in which you might be rendered meaningless, hopeless, worthless, and finally meet an unsatisfying end.
Likewise, if you choose to live based on fear, I imagine you have to contend with your inclinations toward love. You have to look love in the eyes and say, I’m sorry, but I can’t. You must consider the countless ways you could have blissfully connected with others, created satisfying meaning of your life, and let yourself soak in joy and peace, and reject all of them. You will have to look in the mirror at your physical being and realize that this is all there is, and you are nothing more than a puny, screaming stick figure.
Now there’s your balance. I trust it makes sense that most things in this universe do not exist well without their opposites.
The Sorta in “Life is Perfect (sorta)”: Some ways of going about this are probably better than others
As an easy cop-out, I could say that you don’t have to seek balance—it’s already here. If you take a look at your life for more than five seconds you will probably see it.
That’s not to say, however, that you are implementing it as you’d like to. Maybe you unwittingly chose the side you don’t want to embody and think the mirror-effects are the real deal (e.g. you chose fear, and all your musings on love make you think you chose love). Maybe you’re deliberately trying to strike a balance by choosing the middle, neutral-ground, but in so doing you perpetuate nothingness (AKA stagnation).
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for the last several years I’ve struggled with physical pain that has made it more difficult for me to run, though I have continued running almost nonstop nevertheless. Due to illness I stopped for about a week several months ago and, interestingly, the pain grew quite a bit worse.
Lately I have been doing far more walking than running: sometimes I tell myself that I need to strike just the right balance between moving/staying in shape and healing. But then I wonder, What if movement is not the antithesis to healing, but instead is the way to heal? What if there simply are correct and incorrect ways of going about it?
I’ve begun implementing this idea by sitting and sleeping on the floor, the hardness of which forces me to move almost constantly (rather than in a cushy chair or bed, which disguises my discomforts and, like a slippery thief in the night, makes them worse). At various points in the day I kick into mild sports montage-mode and engage in some brief stretches and/or body-weight exercises. Soon I would like to start swimming and biking more often as well.
But Kim, wait! What about healthy foods and treats?! What happens when you turn into a celery-eating treat-denying weirdo?
If you can’t handle the truth, don’t read ahead…
Spoiler: Everything becomes a treat. All food actually tastes good (as long as it’s not filed under the same name as the cancerous fish-scented crumbling rocks given to cats and dogs).
And I can tell you from past experience, when all of your food is of the treat-kind, nothing is a treat to eat. Oh, and none of it is actually food either, so you get nothing. Sorry man.
Alright, I think that’s enough self-indulgence and cheap humor for one evening. Well, and linking to myself. Hopefully this article carries some social value to balance that out. J L
Okay, my ideas on movement largely come from Episode 601 of the Joe Rogan Podcast, with Katy Bowman. You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ub5OLNnN-o
"Carving a space" for pleasure and pain comes from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, as quoted by Steve Pavlina in Overcoming Depression