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Dynamic Balance
By W. Frederick Wooden

November/December 2000

When most people think of balance, they tend to think of a scale and to assume that a balanced life would not tip. That sort of balance, though, is static. You can attain it only if you never change. And that's impossible. Strictly speaking, the only balanced person is a dead one.

Balance is a seductive word, promising some imagined peace or wholeness and suggesting that to be out of balance is a sign of bad health or personal incompetence. But if we start with the idea that living is dynamic, then we have to reconceive our notion of balance in such a way that it can be dynamic, too. My oldest son, 15, just learned to ride a bike. I tried to help him long ago, but he kept hoping to learn without falling and to find his balance without moving forward. I told him falling is inevitable and to find his balance, he would have to keep moving. Perhaps, then, the question isn't how to find balance but how to move. Walking, as I have learned from observing the same child and confirmed by reading, is actually controlled falling. We keep from hitting the floor by moving forward.

What is true of bicycles and baby feet probably applies more generally. I feel most balanced when I sense that I'm moving toward a goal. Whether trivial (finishing three miles on the treadmill) or huge (leading a congregation), it helps me focus and direct my life. The direction keeps me upright, which is to say balanced.

Lest I sound content and serene, I assure you I am not. Each day teeters, as I reel from anxieties about money, children, marriage, work, and self. But I don't fall, at least not often. That's because I have a direction, so that every time I stumble, I keep moving forward.

The Rev. W. Frederick Wooden is senior minister of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, NY.

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