A new magazine called Balance launched in London in April this year. It has a steady focus on mindfulness and better wellbeing, and a mission to wake Londoners up to the benefits of both. A thought occurred to me as I read through it this week. If it was called Ballast it would feel like a very different proposition as indeed would the notion of ‘work-life ballast’, ‘mind and body ballast’ or indeed ‘inner ballast’.
I love ships, I especially love container ships. I love how they can move smoothly through water whilst carrying so much cargo, so much weight. They stay afloat because they have ballast. I spent time with dock workers on a recent project, and they explained what a skilled job loading a ship’s cargo was. A ship needs a heavy weight, a ballast to adjust both stability and draft so that it stays up and on course. I know there is a whole nautical engineering science to it that I don't understand, but there’s also a lovely poetry in the paradox that a ship needs weight to float.
The solidity and weightiness in the idea of ballast is missing for me in the discourses around balance, which instead feel like an elusive invitation to try and achieve a state of equilibrium or correctness. In the invocation to evenly distribute the elements of one’s life there is increasingly a whiff of moralistic ‘right-living’ that I’m also less than comfortable with. I also wonder what you do with balance, once you (one of the lucky few) get it? Once the state is ‘achieved’ are we then just on a wobble board trying to maintain it? It feels precarious. The balance trend is often missing what Neuro Linguistic Programming calls ‘the endstate energy’. Balance isn’t an achievable endstate, nobody can feel balanced all the time. The endstate energy is how you might feel and be as a person once balance in a specific circumstance is achieved?
If I think about ballast as a way of being, it feels less precarious. Once the right weight is determined, it’s there, it isn’t going anywhere, and because it isn’t going anywhere, you can. Once you fix your ballast, how much lighter might you become? Ballast is made from all sorts of stuff, silt, wood, metal, water. I like the idea that the weight, or the silt inside doesn’t have to sink us. Instead if we use it right, weigh it up, adjust it, get rid of some because it isn’t the right kind of weight or it doesn’t let in enough draft then it can be the thing that helps us float.
I’m lucky enough to live near a port, and I sometimes go there at night, when the big ships are lit up and being loaded. I look at those magnificent ships, bathed in light, and I know that they will be weighted down in the water, with optimal draft and I feel safer in myself. When I feel safer in myself then I can steer my boat where I want.
Build your ballast and steer your boat. I’ll leave you with the words of Adrienne Rich from her poem, Integrity.
Nothing but myself?....My selves. After so long, this answer. As if I had always known I steer the boat in, simply.