“Seems to me that doers never dream enough / And dreamers often do nothing at all / And to find that middle ground is rough / But I'll be damned if I let go / Stop looking for the balance”—Steppenwolf “The Balance”
One of the things that really interests me about the fall is the autumnal equinox itself, which we experienced almost a month ago now. In summer and winter, we celebrate the longest and shortest days of the year respectively, but in spring and autumn (which have always been regarded as lesser, transitory seasons) we celebrate the two days of the year when light and darkness are in perfect balance
Of course, in human life, nothing is ever quite in perfect balance, at least not for a full 24 hours, except maybe for something super-engineered for that purpose like a gyroscope or some other clockwork masterpiece.
The gyroscope, as a matter of fact, is particularly interesting for my purposes, but we will come back to that.
Balance is a skill I’ve never mastered. I never mastered old-fashioned roller skating, let alone roller blades. I went ice skating once, in high school, and I was such an embarrassment on the ice that once my friends got me off of it they made me promise not to get back on it. I have kept that promise to this day.
It was fine as long as I was gliding across the ice, but I still don’t understand how, once you fall down on the ice, you are supposed to get back up. I watch hockey players and figure skaters do it, but I’ve only ever seen that on television, and I saw David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear on television, too. That’s just movie magic.
In fact, I’m more convinced that the Goonies found an actual pirate ship than I am that people fall down while ice skating and get themselves up without help. I can’t say a bunch of kids couldn’t pull off the former (I have never myself gone looking for a pirate ship) but I happen to know the latter is physically impossible.
I think I was about 14 when I finally took the training wheels off my bike, although to be fair, my memory may not be spot-on there, owing to the impact of trauma on memory. That’s certainly the way I remember it. One day I was happily riding around in my driveway prevented from falling over by two small adjunct wheels, the next day I was picking gravel out of my knees, and the next day I was pleasantly driving a four-wheeled steel beast that not only played my cassette collection, but also kept my hair dry and didn’t flip over every time it saw a rock on the pavement.
I love it when people tell me that something I haven’t done in years is “just like riding a bike.” I assume by that you mean it’s wobbly, uncontrollable, and likely to result in the removal of several layers of skin. No thank you.
My yoga teacher can attest that I also struggle with balance poses in yoga. I’m better than I used to be, but few things are as difficult for me as the elegantly simple “tree pose,” in part because my brain tells me that I’m not balanced if I’m not still.
In truth, however, balance in tree pose is a matter of many small adjustments. In fact, if you are perfectly still, you aren’t balanced. Balance is the result of constantly adjusting to the sway of things.
It turns out this was also my problem with balancing on skates and balancing on a bicycle. If I felt unbalanced, I was afraid to keep moving. Unfortunately, the only way to maintain your balance is to keep doing just that.
Remember when I said that we would come back to the gyroscope? A gyroscope at rest isn’t balanced at all. What causes the perfect balance of the gyroscope is something called its “angular momentum vector.” (Just don’t ask; it works because physics.) The point here is that without its momentum, a gyroscope is completely at the mercy of gravity—like me on a bicycle.
For a long time—until it completely fell apart—I had a custom bumper sticker on my car with my favorite Stephen King quote on it: “You can’t be careful on a skateboard.”
And you really can’t. A skateboard, like so many things, is another example of something that stays balanced only when it stays in motion.
This is a lesson I have been in the process of learning my entire life, or at least since I first tried to take the training wheels off my bike.
When you think you’re falling over, keep going forward. That’s where the balance is.
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