Balance in a World of Duality

by Susan Kapatoes, MHA,CPC

A Balance Beam Act

When I saw my niece perform her balance beam act for her gymnastics meet, I was astounded at her ability to sustain her poise. Watching as a spectator, it is blatantly apparent that the beam is narrow. It is only four inches wide. For the gymnasts, it takes a great amount of concentration to stay aligned and upright throughout the entire act. As my niece was placing one foot in front of the other, I thought to myself, “Isn’t life like a balance beam act?”

When you are centered and in-sync with yourself, you have the capability to make decisions from a place of inner power and stability. Like a gymnast walking the balance beam, it takes a conscious effort to remain within this empowered state of mind. But the more you practice getting in touch with the core of your being, the easier it becomes to tap into this essence and realize the benefits with greater consistency.

The key to navigating your life with ease is to maintain your equilibrium within a world filled with dualities and endless activity abounding from every direction. In this blog, we will discuss the concept of duality along with a tool that you can use to develop your sense of equanimity, a state of mental calmness and stability, especially under stress, strain, or a difficult situation.

What is Duality?

Duality is an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something. As hinted by the word “dual” within the word itself, duality refers to having two parts, often with opposite meanings, like the duality of good and evil, peace and war, up and down.

Duality has technical meanings in mathematics and physics. In mathematics, the property of two theorems, expressions, etc., of being dual to each other. In physics, quantum mechanics has shown us that light can behave as both a particle and a wave. As Albert Einstein wrote: [1]

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.

Similar to the concept of duality is the Chinese philosophy of the yin and yang aspects to our lives that appear to oppose another, but can actually complement each other to benefit the good of the whole. When discussing the concept of duality, it is impossible to talk about the yin or the yang without some reference to the opposite, since yin and yang are bound together as parts of a mutual whole. For example, there cannot be the bottom of a mountain without the top.

There are tangible dualities that run throughout all elements of our lives. From emotional states (happy vs. sad) to personality traits (ambitious vs. ambivalent) to physical sensations (hot vs. cold). It is important to balance these quality types in order to nurture our optimal well-being. When we harmonize our inner self, we can function with more efficiency and clarity.

To demonstrate the importance of balancing our dualistic natures, I will be using the example of the Type A and Type B personality types, including the yin and yang qualities that make up their character traits.

Type A and Type B Personality Theory

The Type A and Type B personality theory describes two contrasting personality types. People who are intensely competitive, highly organized, ambitious, impatient, aware of time management and/or aggressive are labeled Type A, while more relaxed personalities are labeled Type B.

This theory was developed by two cardiologists in the 1950s, and had a significant impact on the evolvement of the field of psychology.

The Type A Personality

Type A people are known to be high-achievers, multi-taskers, status-conscious, and proactive. People with Type A personalities are often “workaholics.” They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence. They are always in a race to achieve lofty goals and cannot rest on their laurels. They have an innate need to compete. If there is no obvious competition, they will create one.

As with all emotional attributes, there are consequences if these behaviors are taken to the extreme. A person with excessive Type A behavior may develop or experience the following: (1) free-floating hostility, triggered by minor incidents; (2) irritation and exasperation; (3) high stress due to competitive drive, and (4) severe edginess due to a sense of urgency.

The Type B Personality

Type B people typically live at lower stress levels and have a greater tendency to disregard physical or mental stress when they do not achieve. When faced with competition, they may focus less on winning/losing and more on enjoying the game. They are usually attracted to careers of creativity such as being a writer, counselor, therapist, actor or actress. However, computer and information technology managers, professors, and judges are more likely to be Type B individuals as well. They are free thinkers and enjoy exploring new ideas and concepts. They are often reflective and contemplate both the “outer and inner world.”

Taken to the extreme, the Type B personality may become too lackadaisical. They could lose the ambition to advance their careers or progress in their personal lives. They may become unconcerned with the details of their life because they often believe that ‘everything will work out.’ Due to this fatalistic attitude, they have a tendency to leave much of their lives to chance instead of taking the initiative to forge their own path.

The Importance of Balance

When viewing the differences between the Type A and Type B personality types, we see that there are positive qualities to both character traits when they are in a balanced state. When either type is taken to the extreme, this is when the irrational behaviors start to manifest.

The Type A goal-driven mentality can be balanced with relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness. The type B personality can be balanced by finding suitable work or hobbies that ignite their passion for living, creating a spark of enthusiasm.

Before we discuss the benefits of meditation as a tool that all people can use to maintain their equanimity, I would like to share a hypothetical story of three hikers and a mountain in order to illustrate the value of balance.

Three Hikers and a Mountain

Three hikers were getting ready to hike a beautiful mountain in Washington State. The skies were clear and the temperature was perfect. One of the hikers, Type A, was determined to reach the top of the mountain as quickly as possible. Type A was goal focused and knew she would reach her destination in exactly two hours. Another hiker, Type B, was determined to take her time to reach the top and not worry how long it would take to complete the journey. Type B was going to enjoy herself, and this was the first priority.

Balance, the third hiker, had a plan. She would arrive at the peak in approximately three hours. This would give her time to appreciate the breathtaking environment, but she would keep going at a steady pace until she reached the target. It was 8am. If she reached the top by 11am, this would give her enough time to explore the peak and eat lunch without having to rush. She would start her descent at 1pm, leaving ample time to reach the bottom before it started to get dark.

Type A succeeded in reaching her goal in a two quick hours. She briskly walked the path with her eyes glued towards the ground, intent on the placement of her feet. The wild roses that were blooming in full grandeur escaped her attention. Their sweet scent drifting through the air, unnoticed by her senses which were completely devoted to finishing the task at hand. A majestic bald eagle was perched in a nearby tree, observing Type A as she strode by with steadfast conviction and singular concentration on the mission.

Type B reached the top of the mountain in five hours, but there was not enough time to eat her lunch and explore the environment. There was also the risk of darkness descending upon her as she hiked the long return. Type B enjoyed the delicate flowers, the bald eagle, the soothing streams, and the sauntering deer along the way. But her lack of foresight in planning this adventure was placing her in a dangerous situation of not reaching the bottom before dusk encroached upon her.

I use this example as a way to show that there are benefits in being goal-focused because Type A people get the job done. They are efficient and hyper-concentrated on the final target. But they tend to miss the joys of a life fulfilled by the heart. They forgo the simple pleasures in order to satisfy their sense of duty to complete the end objective.

Type B was able to reach the destination, but her lack of planning produced a stress-filled venture down the mountain. She thoroughly enjoyed the journey towards the goal, but did not prepare for the entire show. She also was hyper-concentrated, but it was on the peripheral attractions, and not enough on the task at hand.

Balance employed a combination of both the Type A and Type B skillsets. She enjoyed the journey to the top, but was also aware of the bigger picture. She was cognizant of the fact that she had to leave herself ample enough time for the return hike as well. This idea of being mindful of the entire experience, and not just focused on one element of it, can also be applied to the way we live our lives.

In this modern world, there can be many obstacles along the path towards fulfilling your dreams. These challenges have the potential to block or delay the attainment of your aspirations. Each one of us has different values, but if you can enjoy your life experience while cultivating your ambitions, then you have the best of both worlds.

Luckily, there are tools that you can use to strengthen your inner balance so that you can maintain your centeredness and focus. For this blog, I will be highlighting the benefits of meditation, a universal technique that can be practiced by anyone, regardless of personality type.

The Benefits of Meditation

In 2013, a Harvard Medical School Study [2] sought to verify the acute benefits of meditation after just one Relaxation Response (RR) session. The researchers were interested in discovering the molecular mechanisms that were responsible for counteracting the adverse effects of stress disorders. They measured acute transcriptional changes in genetic activity after participants listened to one relaxation CD.

Overview of Harvard Study:

  • Sample Size: 52 subjects, both RR veterans and novices.
  • Method: Listened to one relaxation CD, twenty minutes in length.
  • Blood Samples Taken: Prior, immediately after, fifteen minutes after listening to CD.
  • Results: There was an increase in energy metabolism, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance. A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration and prevents it from fusing with neighboring chromosomes. There was a decrease in blood pressure, inflammatory response, and stress-related pathways.
  • Conclusion: Human genetics are rapidly affected by RR techniques, such as meditation. Enhanced genomic activity causes physiological changes within our body via biological pathways that are linked to select gene sets. This study used advanced genomic testing to analyze transcriptional changes that occurred during one RR session. In molecular biology and genetics, transcriptional regulation is the means by which a cell regulates the conversion of DNA to RNA (transcription) which orchestrates gene activity.

The regulation of transcription is a vital process in all living organisms. The findings in this study suggest that RR techniques such as meditation can help to counteract the detrimental effects of stress-related disorders such as hypertension, anxiety, diabetes, and arthritis. It can also improve energy resiliency and cellular stability.

It is interesting to note that this study verified the short-term benefits of meditation. In other words, you do not have to be a seasoned practitioner in order to experience the positive effects of meditation. By simply listening to one relaxation CD, you can feel calm, centered, and peaceful. To have these effects last for a longer period of time, it is recommended to implement a meditative practice on a consistent basis.

Closing Thoughts

We live in a world of duality which is filled with opposing characteristics that are seemingly contradictory to one another. Even though there are yin and yang qualities that differ from each other, they are intrinsically bound to one another as parts of a mutual whole. For example, there cannot be the bottom of a ladder without the top.

Just as Einstein observed that the true nature of light can only be understood by comprehending its ability to behave as both a particle and a wave, so it is with human nature.

To understand our complex behavior patterns, we need to realize that there are dualistic principles that are present throughout all aspects of our lives. In order to maintain a sense of equanimity while navigating the avenues of life, mindfulness and meditation are tools that can be used to develop and preserve our inner clarity.

Mindfulness, in this aspect, comes in the form of awareness. Being aware that we have a choice as to where we would like to live in our mindset. We can choose to operate on the periphery of extremes, or we can choose a more balanced approach and make decisions from the center of our being which is our place of empowerment.

As we saw in the hiking example, Balance chose to combine her goal-focused determination along with her sense of enjoyment to get the most out of her experience. She saw the bigger picture, and this expanded perspective helped her to select the best course of action.

During life’s most challenging and rewarding times, in the balance is where your power resides.

 


[1] Harrison, David (2002). “Complementarity and the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”. UPSCALE. Dept. of Physics, U. of Toronto.

[2] Bhasin MK, Dusek JA, Chang B-H, Joseph MG, Denninger JW, Fricchione GL, et al. (2013) Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62817. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062817