The Tightrope of Human Experience – Part 1

Below is the first part of an article I wrote that was published in the February 2008 issue of the ‘Aquarius,’ a holistic publication in Atlanta. Part 2 will follow in my next post…..

When I like a movie, I can watch it over and over again. I just watched, again, A Beautiful Mind, a great film, albeit a romanticized version of mathematical genius John Nash’s life.  This time, however, I began to wonder about his theory of equilibrium, which won him the Nobel Prize. Simply put, it suggests that it is only through cooperation can the best results be obtained.  We see this applied all the time in sports. All the players must work together using a single strategy. Everyone on the team wants to win the game so everyone on the team is doing what is best not only for himself but for the team.  Winning, therefore, is a group effort. Every time an actor or director wins an award they always give credit to the people with whom they worked. They all know that they couldn’t have done it by themselves.

And we don’t have to be concerned about any type of material gain to put this idea to work in our lives. While taking a yoga workshop with John Friend some years ago, he asked us to silently offer our practice that day to that person who was helpful with our being able to attend, i.e., the husband who was babysitting the kids, the boss who was paying you enough so you could pay for the classes you wished to take, etc.  I liked that. It made me feel special.  It made the workshop experience feel special. And the husband got to spend quality time with his kids and the boss got a happier employee. It was a reminder that we are not alone in our journey through life.  Maintaining or attaining equilibrium, by John Nash’s definition, is not a solitary task. It is accomplished by considering how your actions impact others.

The mantra of the past couple of generations has been, “How do I balance work and family?” This is an ongoing dilemma for people with no shortage of advice being doled out by the experts. There have been plenty of books published with easy-to-follow steps as well as segments on the evening news telling us what we need to do to achieve this ever-elusive notion of balance. But like most words these days, the word ‘balance’ has become so overused that it no longer carries much meaning. To me, balance implies aloneness. Think about it. If we are supposed to maintain balance in our lives it appears that it is up to us to do the balancing. No one can help you balance an apple on your head.  The tightrope walker is alone up there on the wire. Whether or not he makes it to the other side is up to him. But these days, if you listen to the ‘experts’ they admit that achieving balance is not something we can do by ourselves. We have finally been given permission to rely on the kindness of others. Achieving a balanced life is a group effort. So let’s replace the word balance with equilibrium.

There’s another reason to consider replacing the word ‘balance.’ To me, balance is static – equilibrium, on the other hand, is dynamic. Equilibrium implies balance, yes, but there is movement in the balance, suggesting there is a flow to life that is natural and uncomplicated. In biology and chemistry, the term equilibrium (and there are many types) implies that all the organisms and molecules are evolving, reacting – doing their thing whatever that might be – effortlessly. Isn’t that what we all want in our lives – to flow naturally and effortlessly through our days? Those organisms and molecules don’t do what they do by themselves. They need each other. And so do we.

When I was a senior in high school, I was chosen along with three other seniors to deliver a speech at one of our ceremonies. We were assigned our topics and I was given the topic of “service.”  I was a little disappointed. I wanted one of the other topics, though I have to say I don’t remember anymore what those other topics were. And I don’t remember much about my speech except that I was very nervous and spoke way too fast. I do know, however, that my idea of service has radically changed since I was that high school student. Back then I equated ‘service’ with  ‘volunteering for charity.’  I seem to remember speaking about how it is up to all of us to help those who were less fortunate. I regarded service as a separate, unconnected piece of life. Something we should make time for in our busy schedules. What I didn’t understand then was that our lives should be about nothing else. And lately, I’ve begun to realize that service is the key to achieving equilibrium.


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