This is a post that has nothing to do with me, Hong Kong or any specific event that's occurred recently. Instead, it's my most recent postulate upon some of life's eternal questions. I wrote this after a Skype chat with a friend, as I found the need to remind myself and my friend to step back and think of the big picture a bit more than either of us has been recently. All is just fine in my life these days, but who's to say that we should only ponder the Big Questions in times of trial? So here it is. The importance of balance.
When caught up in one’s day-to-day routine, it’s easy to lose track of the fundamental reasons why one does what one does with the majority of the waking hours. For example, after three years of schooling, all that undergrad biology school student Samantha may think about is her hours inputting data in the lab, her memorization of terms and her exam scores. With our tendency to think in the short term, it’s easy for Samantha to forget that she’s building up her knowledge to one day save lives in a real hospital. And even if not every fact is applicable to life in the ICU, it all is necessary to get the diploma that leads to another diploma, which leads to a medical job. Or even a college grad like say, Tony, who serves as a tour guide in an art museum near his home. He may stress about his taxes, his weight problems, and the repetitive nature of his job, but in reality, there isn’t a day that goes by where one of the people on his tours develops an entirely new appreciation of art thanks to Tony’s insight on the exhibits. Even those without meaningful full-time occupations can give the world great gifts through love and wisdom in countless different ways.
To reflect on my vaguely Buddhist thinking, I like to think that life is one long journey to achieve perfect balance. Think of it as designing the perfect, hybrid car. Things may be running smoothly, but there are always tweaks to be made, be it the engine, overall comfort or effective airbags. These tweaks that need to be made are not burdensome but healthy challenges, stimulating the mind for the long term and providing rewarding results in the short term. By the time I’m destined to die, I’d like to hope that I will have achieved the perfect balance for the car to drive off into the sunset. A calm, efficient ride, reaching high speeds, but not so fast as to miss the scenery. On top of that, the car will be completely sustainable. Taking in the exact amount of energy that it gives back, through improving the universe and other people’s lives.
This balance can also be seen as inhale and exhale. The inhale is learning and taking from the world and its resources. The exhale is teaching and giving. This is most obviously displayed in the universal norm working for wages, but should be present in every aspect of life. Hospitable strangers host you in a foreign land; you allow foreigners to stay in your home free of charge. You learn from your father how to catch a fish; you teach your daughter how to catch a fish. You have a revelation from the natural beauty at a national park; you encourage others to go on a similar hike and/or volunteer to pick up trash along the trails. You’re born into a wealthy family; you spend time experiencing and informing others what it’s like to be in dire circumstances and how to approach the disparity.
I find it much more natural to dwell on the negative aspects of life than to bask in the positive. For whatever reason, the human brain naturally fixates on problems and when something is satisfactory, it’s taken for granted and ignored. It’s crucial to have moments to step back and look at what really matters, and to me that’s having a life that makes the world a better place, pardon the cliché. On any given day, most people have a handful of issues or regrets that add up to something terrible, something commonly called stress. But when one looks back at those issues and regrets just one short year in the future, most if not all of those stress components will be purely trivial.
In reality, so many of the important factors in life are out of our control. Where we’re born, what genes we inherit, what kind of family we have, who we meet, unexpected experiences and events, luck, timing, tragedies, etc. But as we can only control our own choices, the most we can do is hope to find this balance and know how to approach the past, present and future. All without giving in to negativity, stress, worry and/or cynicism, no matter how bleak it may seem sometimes. Breathe in, breathe out.