I was sitting in the ‘ol Camry waiting for the traffic signal to turn green, at Fourth Street and Norfolk Avenue yesterday when I spotted him. I hadn’t seen the young man for over a month. I don’t know his name but I think of him as the unicycle guy. Yes, he rides his unicycle around town, as a mode of transportation.
Unicycle guy is slender, slightly taller than average, and appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s with his light brown hair. He rides his one-wheeled vehicle with a grace and ease that appears inborn. Common sense tells me that he acquired that skill by persistance and regular practice.
Unicycle guy is someone I’d love to interview in order to answer some of the questions I have about him. Obviously, he has physical balance down to an artform. I’m sure his lifestyle is interesting in many ways.
I think back to when I was unicycle guy’s age. I had given up my skateboard long before then and my bicycle sat gathering dust in my parents’ garage many miles away. My balancing act was similar to that of many other Americans; and it wasn’t going so well. I was spending a disproportionate share of my time at work. Like many other people, I wished there could be one more day in the week.
Of course, that’s an absurd wish. Even if the calendar was reconfigured, we’d be just as rushed and fefuddled as ever. Appointments and obligations would fill that “extra” day just as much as the other seven days of the week. Perhaps we’d wish for yet another extra day of the week, but then, doesn’t a nine day week seem to be too long?
We know that getting our lives in order requires us to cultivate some sort of balancing act. Just as the unicycle guy had to devote time and effort to achieve the ability to ride around town on his little vehicle, we can hone our own ability to live a life of more balance.
As a disclaimer, I should mention that I’m not some sort of “life coach” or professional counselor. I can only write from the perspective of several decades of observation along with trial and error.
Time works a lot like money. When we have more money, we tend to spend more money. When we have more time, we tend to spend more time on work and other obligations. If we are impoverished, we are imbalanced with worry about meeting day to day expenses. If we have too much time, we get bored and can get sidetracked into mischief.
We know that to have a balanced life leads to a happier life. A practice in which time and energy are portioned out in an optimum way leads to a more fulfilling lifestyle. When we do not have to steal time and energy from one aspect to meet the demands of another aspect is one definition of balance. When we’re out of balance, we become frazzled, tense, and are prone to burning out.
In order too optimize or balance ones life, it’s necessary to set boundaries and make smart choices. We need to know when to say “yes” and when to say “no”. Through trial and error I finally learned to limit the number of my commitments. Those that I choose to retain are those that are sincerely meaningful. Those commitments and activities do not make me feel rushed and out of sorts because the meaningfulness and deep value of them automatically bring more joy and fulfillment while doing them. In other words, filtering out meaningless activities makes room for activities that really matter.
When I understood and began practicing this “filtering out” of activities, I discovered I didn’t need any of those trite self-help lists that claim to get lives in focus. All I had to do was prioritize quality and include mindfulness of my activity each and every day.
Do I get unbalanced sometimes? Sure I do, I’m not some sort of guru or expert. When the stress starts to press, I stop to take a few breaths and remember mindfulness. It helps to gently observe the imbalance as it happens rather than after it has accumulated and become habitual.
Certainly it takes some effort. Just coasting and drifting seem effortless, but that’s not really true. Coasting and drifting through life ultimately leads to mindless worry and mental energy expenditure.
Think of someone on a unicycle. Unicycle guy can never coast mindlessly he has to pedal constantly and make minute muscular corrections in order to continue riding down the street. Certainly it took time and practice for him to learn proper concentration balanced with the right amount of physical effort. He has probably suffered through plenty of unbalanced trials and lots of spills.
Through regular practice, unicycle guy has learned to pay relaxed attention to his mental and physical activity. He knows that too little or too much concentration can lead to an accidental fall. In the same way, if we fail to pay attention to the task at hand, be it driving a vehicle or living a life, we risk getting into trouble. If we have learned how to practice undistracted driving, we can also learn how to practice undistracted living.
An important part of a balanced life is to not spend too much time thinking about ourselves. One needs to spend part of one’s time paying attention to other people. This seems to run counter to pop psychology’s current, trendy meme of closing oneself off from others. Paying skillful attention to other people can help balance the nature of your relationships. After all, balanced relationships greatly enhance our lives. Embracing and accepting the reality of our interconnected world goes a long way into helping us maintain our balancing acts.
The Blue Jay of Happiness loves this old Swedish saying: “Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.”