While we frequently speak about having more “balance” in our lives, the term can seem a bit vacuous. What exactly do we mean by more balance? And further, does the term refer to psychological balance, such as equal parts positive and negative emotions? Or are we speaking about balance between psychological and physical energy?
Clearly, balance can be hard to define, and even harder to find. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the forerunners of positive psychology and the foremost researcher of the experience of flow — as defined by having an intense experience where we are completely immersed in something where the demands placed upon us seem to match our capacities perfectly. There is an absence of conscious thought, and the mood is characterized by a state of being contented, peaceful and satisfied.
Interestingly, whatever it is we do when we are in a state of flow, we must be in balance. For the dancer, the painter, the actor, or the singer who experiences this ecstatic experience, should they be off balance, their ability to meet the demands placed upon them would be compromised.
Such is the state when we are on the back of a horse. Should our balance falter, we could, in the worst scenario, fall off. In a less severe state, we would feel as if we were going to fall off.
Now, losing balance on a horse is an interesting interplay of both physical and psychological balance. As Csikszentmihalyi notes, flow demands so much of our attention that “existence is temporarily suspended” as we does not have enough mental capacity to process both the experience of flow, and our own existence. So, as Csikszentmihalyi states, we create a “new reality” where we are experiencing something that we have not experienced before.
So, we are completely immersed in riding a horse — not only because we do not want to fall off — but also because the experience itself demands too much of attention to be thinking about anything else — including our own existence.
And this may just be one step toward balance. After all, for most people, thinking about our worries, frustrations, and letdowns can occupy the majority of their attention. Yet by interspersing these thoughts and feelings with times when we are fully engaged in the ecstatic state of flow, we can begin to shift the pattern.
Over time, we can replace what would otherwise be a chronic state of stress, with a new normal — one that is significantly more positive. And one that may just include staying in balance — on the back of a horse.
Young girl balancing on horseback photo available from Shutterstock.