Saturday, 21 June 2008

A Question of Balance

As you drive along the island highway at this time of year, it’s difficult not to be transfixed by the contrasting bursts of soothing violet and brash yellows from the lupins and gorse that grow rampantly along the roadside. Gorse happens to be classified as a noxious weed, brought to the island by some enterprising individual and, finding it to its liking, spreading across all untended ground to the exclusion of other, less aggressive (and therefore much more Canadian) plants. Judging by its ease of propagation, and proximity to gorse, the wild lupin is also probably an unwanted guest.

Having critiqued their heritage, the combination of these two plants, collocated and flowering at the same time, adds a unique, dramatic and yet comfortable counterpoint to the muted greens and greys of the Vancouver Island landscape.

As I drove along, I realized that I had seen this colour combination before. Not in the wild, but in the colours we chose to paint the walls in our house in Mexico. This echo was not deliberate, for, at the time, we were living in Calgary where such flower combinations do not naturally exist. We chose pale shades of violet to provide a sense of calm and coolness in the main rooms, and its nemesis, bright, succulent yellow for liveliness and a balance in the kitchen and smaller places. Our choice was unconventional for typical “Ex Pat” homes in Mexico, but suited our style and moods. Was our choice perhaps a premonition of moving to the island?

On a broader note, the sight and the impact of the balanced opposites caused me to think of the need for balance. Either flower, on its own, could be overpowering or monotonous, in the same way that uniform application of such colours in a house would lose impact. The balancing of the opposites, being almost hard for the eye to hold in focus at the same time, is what gives each part its impact, and results in a feeling of completeness.

The same, I think, holds for life. Obsessive focus on one aspect of life can only lead to a diminution of the impact of that facet. Balancing activities that make completely different demands on aspects of ourselves allows us, in theory, to savour the taste of each better, and to enjoy a more fulfilling life.

The desire for balance, and to exercise parts of my brain that were atrophying in the slough of retirement, was part of what drove me to dip my toes back into the waters of consulting. The desire and the potential rewards were real. Practically, however, the balancing act is hard to pull off. Just as the different spectrum of colour in the flower combination causes the eye to struggle to keep both in focus, so does the clamouring pull of work suck you in stealthily and away from the unassuming quiet of contemplation. And suddenly, you are back at being a Worker rather than a person, with little energy, imagination or wonder left for the rest of life. Balance goes out the window, and you are no better adjusted and adapted than before.

The lesson for me is perhaps that, while desirable, achieving balance takes work and commitment. The universe (and my life in particular) seems entropic and unstable, so the seemingly effortless and calming vision of stable balance paradoxically requires continuous conscious action and discipline to maintain.

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