Balance: An Epilogue—What Does Nietzsche think about Balance?

Our lives represent a dynamic interplay of Order & Entropy. These competing impulses intersect to form a vital crux; the heart of the human condition. Good old Friedrich Neitzsche memorably personified these two forces in the form of the Aegean deities Apollo & Dionysus—a dichotomy which first appeared in his famous work, The Birth of Tragedy. The lucha libre betwixt these two demi-gods finds expression, for instance, in the apparent paradox of Fate & Free-will: in one sense, we clearly enjoy the liberty to make decisions. And yet, we also perceive an ordered sequence of events. Like the handiwork of Hepaheastus, cosmic blacksmith, this process forges an interminable causal chain. Actions have consequences; cause begets effect, which in turn ripens into the cause of a new sequence. Apollo tells such order.

Dionysus defies it. His ontology is undifferentiated, random, relative. Dionysian reality is not a chain but a soup; the broth of primordial unity—the chowder of entropy.

The Apollonian model provides the possibility for understanding,
The Dionysian for freedom.

In the context of Rolfing® therapy, our challenge must be to recognise & accommodate both Impulses within the scope of our work. We appreciate that our actions have physical & structural consequences. We also appreciate that we do not control these consequences. We accept that we control the result only to the extent that we create the appropriate causes & conditions for it. In our particular context, we influence the outcome of structural integration by supporting the body’s innate resources. Then the body heals itself. Only indirectly can we induce this marvel; not through the outcome but the process.

Here we adopt an unwavering faith in the activity of nature—that if we sow an acorn (and provide it with sunlight, water, soil, & shelter) it will become a sprout, and then a sapling, & finally mature into a towering arboreal titan. The process is both ordered & ultimately entirely out of our hands.

Keeper of circadian order, every morning Apollo ushers in the dawn, born by twin fiery stallions. And yet at any moment our central star could presumably be gobbled up by some roving cosmic vortex: Dionysus robed in his cloak of dark-matter, a black hole that swallows up the whole sun. To hold both poles within our consciousness, integrating Order with Chaos within our ken: this is the ultimate expression of Balance indeed.

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Balance IV: An Hymn to Themis, Titaness of Balance

Balance is not a commodity to quantify
Nor a quality to mete & measure.
No object to be claimed or gotten.
Balance enters when we wed
Our actions with the space; the place—
When wholly we partake in the holy here & now:
These are Themis’ rites:
Contextual, relative, dynamic.
The minute we attempt to grasp her,
She has already slipped through our fingers.
Balance is not a thing but a process;
Not an object; an activity
And gods exist, but not in space & time.

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Balance Part III: Peace & Reconciliation Between Opposing Poles

In this third segment of the The Way of the Elbow’s series on Balance, let us consider the reciprocity of (im)balance between mind & body, and examine the possibilities for integration.

PHYSICALLY, When a structure is imbalanced, a destination on the floor is not far-off; certain immutable laws of physics doom this unhappy arrival. The Rolfing® logo presents the human body schematized as a stack of blocks. With a rudimentary knowledge of the principles of physics, we understand that a tower built of blocks thus askant will not stand for long. We ourselves fail to fall over immediately only because (mercifully) to reduce the human body to a stack of blocks is a gross oversimplification—compensatory systems come into play in such cases. Yet when our skeletal structures lack alignment, the muscles & fascia of our bodies must reconcile the mechanical imbalance. Such an enterprise is an inevitable source of tension. This tension resonates through all chambers of our being. Often such tension becomes habitual & we cease to notice it. One task of the Rolfer™ is to reawaken a client’s perceptive abilities so that she can once again come to notice such subconscious contractions & begin to exorcise them.

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PSYCHOLOGICALLY, The process is no different: the mind mirrors the physical realities of rude Newtonian mechanics. We find that when our thoughts waver, our “structures” falter. Lacking the capacity to arrive at balance of the mind, the body will struggle to sustain any form of mechanical rectitude, as will all our affairs. Imbalance reverberates through all aspects of our being, from a wobbly body to a frenetic mind.

To resurrect the dichotomy from Part I of this series, we can say that the psyche that adopts the qualities of chaos or rigidity will never support a dynamic alignment of the body. An expression of chaos might be to chase every random thought-train that happens to caper through the mind-scape. In another act of figurative necromancy, recall the cloud-capped mountain-metaphor from this post’s predecessor: imagine if this geologic Titan were to chase after the roving clouds. To a thought, a-float in the welkin of the mind, one could hardly ascribe more substance than to such atmospheric phenomena as the aforementioned nimbo-stratus vagabonds. And yet we often lack the equanimity of our Alpine counterparts of this analogy—whereas the mountain remains steadfast, we quickly lose all poise. And whereas, therefore, a mountain is never toppled by such nebulous distractions, our fates are often otherwise.

Rigidity might appear as over-effort. Striving only augments the net tension within the body-mind system. If such an over-lusty individual manages to balance, he does so not because of this heroic effort, but in spite of it. Balance is an activity for the instinctual lizard brain & body—striving of the conscious mind will only interfere in an enterprise for which it has no capacity.

Most interestingly both rigidity & chaos almost invariably arise in quick succession. Occasions wherein our balance falters represent the dissolution of any integration betwixt these polarities twain. We frantically oscillate between the two extremes of our stipulated dichotomy:

Dionysus sends chaotic thoughts about, Zeus-like, hurling lightning-bolts through the vaulted heavens of our ken.

Apollo sculpts them to appear the finest figments we could imagine & we vow to acquire them.

The apparitions of our dreamscapes deceive us, we take these tantalising shadows to be truth, & attach our desire to the most evocative among them. The rigidity of this attachment becomes our downfall and, finally, we fall down.

How do we rectify such situations? Strive to integrate these opposing impulses! Between chaos & rigidity we find the fine pivot-point of balance! To reject any pole is already to forfeit this delicate equilibrium…integrate them, embrace them both, allow them both to co-exist & BALANCE will arise!

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Balance II: A Practical Approach

Balance, that elusive condition! We struggle to achieve it. And when, for a fleeting instant we manage it, just so, it vanishes even as its promise is in the making & we must begin our search anew. Mechanically, it is no surprise that balance often eludes us. As bipedalists, our forfeiture of extra feet inevitably renders our locomotion precarious. If gravity had its way, we would topple over indeed.

Fortunately for our purposes, we have a range of tactics to meet this mechanical challenge withal, spanning from resistance to capitulation. When the negotiation of our questionable stance becomes too much, we resort to one of these unhappy extremes—the former representing rigidity & the latter chaos. In his best selling book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, author & psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel postulates the definition of health as balance between these two states (a balance that he felicitously calls “integration!”) Though Siegel conceived of such a model in the context of psychology, the principle transcends attempts at compartmentalisation & is therefore entirely applicable to the Rolfing® context (this is really rather unsurprising given that every physical motion of the body originates as a packet of information, transmitted via nervous-impulse from the mind…).

But if you’re skeptical, good. Then don’t believe my pontification! Employ the scientific method! Investigate for yourself! Here follows a practical method the experience the extremes of chaos & rigidity, & in all hope, to ultimately achieve a happy integration bewtixt them:

(1) Stand on one foot in a city bus. Strain to maintain perfect stillness. Try really hard. Form the intention be still, & demand the body follow suit. Resist militantly any tendency to wobble. Exclude all distraction & focus on the task. This tactic represents rigidity.

(2) Repeat the procedure channeling the opposite extreme: make no resolution whatsoever & fly away in total distraction, chasing whatever thought or sense-impression happens to flutter across your mind. This approach tends towards chaos.

(3) Now finally, as a mountain is unmoving, but not by effort, simply feel yourself as still as a mountain. Don’t try feel like a mountain—be it. Bumps & wobbles: these are like clouds rushing by a snow-capped gendarme in the Swiss Alps—a geolithic titan does not chase the clouds. But neither does it push them away. Accommodate postural responses as if they were clouds, or aspen leaves rustling in a spring breeze on your hillside.

What did you find?

My experience provides the following conclusion:
Resistance is rigidity.
Capitulation is chaos.
In Integration there is Balance.

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation (Bantam Books: New York, 2010; Oneworld Publications: Oxford, 2010)

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Balance Part I: Pre-ramble & “equilibrio ergo sum”

Preamble (more of a rambling than an ambling—over-perch it if you will…)

Conventional Western healthcare is fragmentary; it is not whole. Rather it suffers from innumerable holes wrought of the selfsame reductionism & mechanistic philosophy that permeates all avenues of our policy & thought—only such a tradition could claim with a straight face that Love is merely a sequence of chemical reactions in the brain involving dopamine & oxytocin & evolved for the sole purpose of furthering the species. Any time someone says “merely,” watch out…they’re trying to pull some reductionistic piece of wool over your eyes & eviscerate human experience. In stereotype, we conceive of a black-and-white Manichean universe—a Salisbury Plain whereupon the forces of good & evil meet in epic and endless eschatological battle. In this charicature of a cosmology, we hold faith in final victory for the forces of righteousness. This is the first delusion; all categorical statements are false.

Let us therefore relinquish this binary vision & accept the doom of destiny: order falls to entropy, Chaos slays Truth, Dionysus dines & sips red-wine upon Apollo’s muddy breastplate. Such a conceptual Ragnarök is a catharsis. To let go the strain of sustaining such a myth is like a welcomed breeze a-waft through the fusty dungeon of our binary thought. Hindus venerate Shiva the Destroyer. Of the tripartite Godhead, Shiva is its annihilative expression. Why worship such a sinister figure? Because his destruction is deliverance; liberation from the bondage of our conceit. To disabuse us of the latter is to emancipate us from the fetters of errant understanding into the bliss of freedom.

* * *

Part I

Having thus dispensed with the erstwhile reigning delusion, let us now consider with clarity one peculiar aspect one the human condition that is all too-easily lost in the illusion of Manichean conceit: BALANCE. The latter is a marvelous aspiration that is rather conspicuously missing in modern Western medicine. And (in the way we usually objectify of it), balance itself is also a myth. One is never balanced. Instead, we are continually balancing. The peculiarities of our language allow us to dessicate the fundamentally fluid nature of what is fundamentally process. In practice, it is an errant notion to talk of balance as a thing. Instead, it is an activity.

To speak of balance, then, is to speak of a continual activity of relating to the environment—attending to the feedback-loops of our divers systems of perception and engaging in perpetual response & readjustment according to this interminable influx of information. When the process falters, we topple over. In such a fault, the precariousness of our bipedalism achieves its full catastrophe & we find ourselves face-down in the dirt, literally, or worse: life itself depends on balance of bodily processes—if homeostasis is forfeit, our existence is not far to follow. Let us therefore amend the notorious Cartesian claim & in proud enunciation declare the truth:

Equilibrio ergo sum“—”I balance therefore I am.

20131116-205507.jpg Nataraja: Shiva as “Lord of the Dance,” executes his performance of sublime destruction upon the vanquished dwarf Tamil, the master of illusion diminutively personified in the Hindu mythos.