Balancing Self

A good character is not life lived according to a rule (there rarely is a rule by which good qualities ought to be combined or hard choices resolved), it is a life lived in balance
— James Q. Wilson

In his article on equipoise, the New York Times columnist David Brooks states that ‘the person with equipoise doesn’t feel attachments less powerfully but weaves several deep allegiances into one symphony’. The thrust of his argument is that today’s world is so diverse and ever evolving, adopting a pluralistic and respectful view of who we are individually, and who our fellow human beings are (both individually and collectively), is the only way forward.

Mr Brooks’ argument struck me as full of merit on the basis that it recognizes a fundamental truth about people – no one is ever just one thing. The current climate in our world can sometimes seek to limit us, categorizing everyone into just one narrow label. This is nothing new, of course – reductionist points of view date back as long as difference has been part of our lives; noticing someone’s difference can be the first step towards that quintessential separation: ‘me’ versus ‘not me’. What has been surging to the forefront – consciously and unconsciously – is that everyone increasingly feels the need to define themselves as a way to protect, promote or push away aspects of themselves, while at the same time denying their own plurality and that of other people.

In practising Psychosynthesis counselling and psychotherapy, I aim to help my clients excavate the full richness of their life and being, and allow them to live the full spectrum of experiences and feelings that make up human existence. People often come presenting one issue – for example, being bullied at work – and in the course of our work together, discover that their own sense of self can be galvanized to not only put a stop to the bullying, but that getting in touch with their sense of self reveals a complex portrait of who they are and who they might be. A ‘victim’ at work can be a ‘perpetrator’ at home, and a ‘rescuer’ amongst friends – these labels are useful in thinking about circumstances, but to live life from only that one vantage point is to miss most of what life is about and to wilfully ignore an individual’s myriad experiences.

In the same way, seeing others as being more than who they present themselves to be can fundamentally change our perception of them – and of ourselves because it reveals to us who we are in relation to them. Relating to others is at the heart of the human experience – choosing/being stuck in one mode of being and relating severely limits us. Learning about and accepting who we can be requires compassion, bravery and a willingness to become aware of the unconscious ways we limit ourselves and others and choosing to make a change.

Mr Brooks urges ‘balance’ as a means towards equipoise – ‘achieving balance is … a matter of striking the different notes harmonically’. Perhaps the first step toward really living today is self-awareness, with compassion, for oneself and others – and this is the path of Psychosynthesis counselling and psychotherapy.