15 October 2018

Nothing to Excess

I have written about the importance of balance and perspective before, particularly in relation to finding the right balance for each individual, and keeping things like assessments and examinations in perspective. But balancing is about more than just juggling and prioritising the different demands upon our time.

Balance means not hiding.

Wellbeing is really about seeking a balance between life's emotions - not just pleasure-seeking, but understanding that life and death, joy and pain, are indivisible. Happiness is not just having fun, it is a sense of satisfaction and contentment that comes from a life being lived well. It is the comfort found in so many places - the smiles of strangers, the arms of loved ones, the pillow we weep into whilst watching a soppy movie, the cuddle of a puppy or a child, the peace of a gentle sunset, the satisfaction at having done some good in the world. Learning to deal with those issues of raw human suffering, whether it is our own or the suffering of others, is an essential part of being well and being human. It is impossible to understand the 'human condition' without giving consideration to the events and emotions so many of us spend so much effort trying to avoid. It is the exploration of issues surrounding sadness and horror that is a crucial element in us expressing gratitude - appreciating the goodness in our lives and thanking those who make our lives better; and I think it is essential in providing purpose - hopefully driving us to make the world a better place, or at least to bring light to the lives of those around us.

Neither should we hide from our responsibilities. Hiding is something that is easy to do in a busy world and in an overloaded life. We have a responsibility to and for ourselves, but also towards others and to the world around us. When things go wrong, we have a responsibility to learn from that, and to apologise if necessary. In this sense, balance means being honest with ourselves and those around us.

Balance is about remembering. I often remind the boys that we are animals, a biological fact we tend to ignore. As animals, we need to spend time in the natural world, particularly outside in the sun. The natural rhythms of the world are a part of us - the seasons, the tides, sunrise and sunset. These remind us of life's ebb and flow - that there are busy times and quiet times, times for laughter and for sadness, times for planning, doing and reflection. When our lives are out of balance, we are well-served by switching off and returning to nature, even if it is for just a few minutes.

Balance is anchored by purpose. Without a purpose to which we can return, we tend to drift, seeking to fill that emptiness with one pleasurable experience after another. And whilst purpose will be a topic for further discussion, at its heart lies something beyond us, bigger than us. Having a purpose gives life greater meaning. And it is most often built around service to others. When we notice that our lives are out of balance, it can help to focus on others for a while, instead of ourselves. Seneca once said, "If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favourable." As long as we know where we want to go, we can keep moving. And whilst the port - our purpose - may change through life, it is still helpful to keep it in mind.

Mr James Hindle
Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing