Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Finding Balance

My father was athletic in his youth and has continued to maintain his fitness throughout his adult life. He has never "exercised," but he did do all of his own yard work. He would take the stairs instead of the elevator. He would park the car in the farthest corner of the parking lot and walk briskly to the store. His theory, one that seems to have worked well for him, is that there are plenty of opportunities for fitness in the course of one's day-to-day life, if only one makes the extra effort, and most of that effort involved avoiding modern conveniences.

Life today is more convenient than ever before. There are times at the supermarket when I realize that most of my fellow shoppers are shopping on behalf of someone else, putting together bags for delivery or pick up. Indeed there are professionals poised to perform just about any of our day-to-day tasks, from housekeeping and yard work, to filling out forms and folding laundry. Of course, these conveniences have always existed for those possessing the wherewithal, but they are increasingly becoming available to the rest of us.

Indeed, that's the purpose of most technology, to make life more convenient. For the lion's share of human history, for instance, if one wanted to convey information to another person, it had to happen face-to-face, then came letter writing, then telephones, and now texting. For most of human history, if one wanted to go somewhere, one had to walk, then came horseback riding, then trains, then individually owned automobiles. We all take advantage of these conveniences, of course. Right now, as I write this, I'm employing a convenience that replaced handwriting, by way of typewriting. When I hit the "publish" button, I'll be using a convenience that replaced calligraphy, which replaced the printing press. And to get this to you, my reader, I've used a convenience that is replacing book stores and news stands.

But as convenient as these conveniences are, there is, as my father recognized, a dark side. We are becoming increasingly sedentary people, so much so that many find that the only way to maintain their fitness is to set aside parts of their day to be not sedentary, to go for a run or a bike ride or head to the gym for an hour on, literally, a treadmill. And for every one person who does this, I think it's safe to say there are two who feel like they should be doing it, not to mention the millions who don't see the problem with their conveniences, many of whom are young children.

It's not uncommon to spy children old enough to be in elementary school still being pushed in those tank-like strollers, sucking on sippy cups, munching on "wholesome" crackers or fortified "food" bars, and playing games on mom's (or perhaps even their own) smart phones, everything they could ever want conveniently at their finger tips, without having to rise from the seat of their mobile lounge chair. They wear shoes fastened with the convenience of velcro instead of laces, their parents arrange their playdates for them, and their favorite TV show is on demand. It's become cliche to moan about childhood obesity, and our culture of convenience certainly feeds it, but it's about more than just physical fitness. Being sedentary is as bad for the brain as it is the body, but I'm not telling anyone reading this anything they don't already know, which is why our kids are also on soccer teams and enrolled in dance classes, the childhood version of exercising on treadmills.

One of the most uplifting things about humanity is how interconnected we are. There is no other species as reliant upon one another as modern humans. If other species are thirsty, for instance, they must individually go to the source for a drink, while we just turn on the tap, which is only possible because of the work of hundreds, if not thousands of other humans. If other species are hungry they must go on a hunt, whereas we need only step into the nearest restaurant which only exists because of the work of hundreds, if not thousands of other humans. Nearly everything we do is only possible because of our fellow humans, working together, perhaps without even knowing it: harvesting the raw materials, manufacturing, shipping, refining, discovering, adapting, delivering, serving, inventing, selling, re-inventing. We are a global network operating in many respects as a single being. It's awe-inspiring. It's beautiful.

And it all tends toward making life more convenient. That is the yin and yang of it. It's what we humans do, we continually make life more convenient for ourselves and others. It's been our greatest adaptive advantage, far more important than our opposable thumbs, and it threatens, always, to be the source of our undoing. Practitioners of the Tao have long understood that it is always about finding a balance. I cannot tell you, nor you me, where that is. Each of us must come to our own understanding of that balance. For me, I find myself increasingly joining my father in avoiding some of the modern conveniences that the rest of you provide for me, those that negatively impact my physical or mental well-being, but your balance point will not only be different than mine, but also change, as will mine, over time.

There are no right or wrong answers here, just a reminder to remain conscious and to make that consciousness visible to the children in your life so that they will grow up knowing that they too must find their balance.

(I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!)

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