Life is all about balance. Even at the most fundamental level the universe seeks to maintain balance. The atom, the building block of all matter, strives towards a balance of positive and negative charges. If it cannot maintain balance, it bonds with other atoms to maintain that balance, forming molecules.
Indeed, balance is the underlying principle of most Eastern and Western philosophies. Confucius and Aristotle maintain that balance or the “golden mean” between excess and deficiency is the key to a happy and meaningful life. According to Aristotle “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency” while Confucius and Confucian scholars consider Zhongyong (golden mean) to be the highest level of virtue. Zhong (中) means to be moderate in words and deeds. Everything has its limits, and neither exceeding nor falling short of the limits is pleasing. Yong (庸) has two meanings. One is common or ordinary and the other is unchanging. Thus, Zhongyong refers to the standard of moderation that should be followed in one’s own daily conduct and when dealing with others.
Yin and Yang
Balance is the essence of the Taoist concepts of Yin and Yang, the two energies of the Universal law, ensuring that all things remain in harmony. When this life-force energy between Yin and Yang is balanced, it flows smoothly maintaining a promoting a good state of physical and emotional wellbeing. Too much Yang results in rushing active energy, and too much Yin results in passive stagnation.
Yin, known as the feminine energy, is the receptive, nurturing, and passive force while Yang, the masculine energy, is the assertive, direct, and action-oriented force. Feminine energy is the energy of “being,” not “doing”.
It should be noted that the difference between masculine and feminine energy is not about gender, there is a spectrum of masculine and feminine energy within all of us. Neither is more powerful than the other, and both are needed in equal amounts for harmony to exist. We just need to learn how to balance our Yin and Yang.
In our male dominated, achievement oriented culture, the idea of feminine energy often has a negative connotation. Feminine traits are often understood to being more emotional than rational, gentle rather than abrasive, going with the flow or being easily influenced by others, leaning into intuition rather than being logical. Understanding how to bring these energies into balance can begin to heal wounds of feminine and masculine toxicity and allow us to engage in our surroundings from a place of heightened self-awareness. I sense that our world is more than ready for a rebalance and embrace the facets of feminine energy in a more positive context.
In Western medical terms, the Yin-Yang balance can be understood as the balance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is composed of the sympathetic (Yang) or parasympathetic (Yin) nervous systems, which are always working towards balance to achieve ANS equilibrium. Our sympathetic nervous system (Yang) regulates our “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic nervous system (Yin) regulates our “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” functions. The sympathetic nervous system (Yang) is all about action, while the parasympathetic nervous system (Yin) promotes calming of the nervous and stimulates digestive and reproductive systems. To live in a state where the sympathetic nervous system is constantly engaged is not healthy, being in a constant state of “fight or flight” is stressful over time, releasing excess cortisol, which begins to break down systems in our bodies. Conversely, if we continue in a parasympathetic state for too long, being too relaxed, our muscles, including that of the heart, lose tone and weaken.
Balance is the key, we need both states in order to be healthy.
Psychological balance refers to the degree to which we are able to possess a consistent but flexible outlook on life, while also knowing how to spend the right amount of time taking care of ourselves versus others.
We live in a constantly changing world and we, ourselves, change as we age. Psychological balance is that natural tendency, yet difficult task, to adapt to change successfully and continue to function effectively; guided by consistency, which provides stability, and flexibility, which facilitates change.
Flexibility is key to adapting to new situations that may sometimes contradict our plans and even our own needs. However, flexibility needs to occur within the boundary of remaining true (consistency) to what we value and maintaining a sense of integrity. Researchers have found that those who expressed a high degree of psychological balance were those who possessed a core set of values that defined who they were, but who were also able to tailor the priorities of their value system to fit the needs of different situations. Those reporting high psychological balance also described high levels of life satisfaction, meaning, happiness, and overall well-being and low levels of stress (Besika et al, 2021).
Psychological balance is dynamic state that is also influenced by a self/others ratio. Those motivated to benefit personal interest at a more or less equal degree to benefitting others, expressed higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of stress than those who emphasised benefiting either themselves or others more.
Balancing Heart, Head and Gut
We have all heard the expressions ‘trust your gut’ or ‘listen to your heart’; these inner guides, of which we are not always aware, play a crucial role in our lives. Sometimes referred to as the ‘three brains’, these inner guides are the heart, the head and the gut.
When we face internal conflicts that arise from opposing needs demands, choices, ethics and moral decisions, we can literally feel the discomfort in our gut, heart and head. The heart is known as the emotional brain – the “I want” or “I don’t want”. It is spontaneous and views problems through passion, feelings and creativity. Our heart brain takes the lead on emotional processing, on values and on our connection with others. It is the source of passion and compassion.
The head is the rational brain, assessing problems in a logical manner. The head analyses and organising data to facilitate our decision making of “I should” or “I shouldn’t”. With the head we weigh up the pros and cons, assess strengths and weaknesses and measure risks versus returns on our investment. Our head brain is great for thinking, cognitive perception and making meaning of things.
The gut is the intuitive brain, sending us implicit and unclear messages about what is going on; that voice that tells us something is right or wrong without knowing why. Intuition is an unconscious, less tangible process that allows us to know without reasoning. Our gut brain is designed to focus on our sense of self, on self-preservation and mobilisation – it is the root of courage.
There is now a robust body of research supporting the roles of cognition, emotion and intuition in motivation, human decision making and other higher cognitive functions (Soosalu et al., 2019). We need all three to be balanced and in alignment in order to ensure we make good choices.
Find that balance in your life
Balance is not a destination, but a constant journey. You might feel out of balance from time to time, and that is perfectly fine. All too often it is expectations that make us lose balance. So don’t approach it with a perfectionist mentality, accept the good enough. Learn to balance what you are able to change about yourself with what you cannot change. Get to know and trust your inner self.
Find that balance between mind, body and emotions; between consistency and flexibility; between your Yin and Yang. Find the balance between your Yes and No.
*up next – maintaining a work/life balance
References and Bibliography:
Besika, A., Horn, A. B., & Martin, M. (2021). Psychological Balance Scale: Validation Studies of an Integrative Measure of Well-Being. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 727737. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.727737
Soosalu, G., Henwood, S., & Deo, A. (2019). Head, Heart, and Gut in Decision Making: Development of a Multiple Brain Preference Questionnaire. SAGE Open, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244019837439