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As a metaphor for emotional regulation, I’ve been thinking about the simple image of balancing on top of a ball lately.  The one in my imagination looks like one of those rubber fitness balls that people do ab crunches on at gyms.  I’m sometimes visualizing standing on it, sometimes sitting.  The image came to me during a long meditation in which I was noticing that many of my thoughts seemed to take me away from my body sensations.  

I would be focused on my body, noticing an ebb and flow between inner-ease and mild anxiety, like waves washing onto the shore.  This felt analogous to being balanced on a ball, but not perfectly still, with a little wavering here and there, but not falling, focused on responding to microshifts in the ball’s position with nearly instantaneous counter movements to prevent the ball from rolling out from under me.  A small wave of anxiety could come from any “direction” – unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, just as one could feel a ball spontaneously begin to quiver in any direction along the plane of the ground.  But as long as I paid attention to the unbidden emotional stirrings and responded in real time by allowing them, relaxing into them, and opening to them, they’d quickly pass, just as a ball wavering underneath me could be steadied as long as I stayed focused on the aim of staying balanced.

Then, some thought would enter my mind and surreptitiously pull me away from the body.  This felt like a larger, more precarious wobbling of the ball underneath me.  And if I concentrated, I could redirect attention back toward the body, steadying the ball and feeling ease again.  Other times, I’d fall off of the ball, metaphorically, becoming identified with thoughts and “leaving” the body.  This would lead to less ease and peace.

I thought of the phrase, “on the ball” which means that we’re in control of a situation.  To be “on the ball” emotionally feels, to me, like inhabiting the body such that my emotional state of inner peace is maintained.  In order to do this, it takes concentration, just as balancing on a ball would take concentration.  On a ball, little shifts in wind or muscle fatigue in the legs might create the beginning of a small wobble, which could turn into falling off of the ball, depending on how watchful we are being and how skillful our attempt to correct and balance is.  It’s when we’re not paying attention to balance that we easily fall, at least while we’re learning.

I think that maintaining optimal emotional balance throughout the day similarly takes vigilance and dedication for most people.  As we get better at this, it becomes more automatic.  

If we were balancing on a ball and paying attention to anything and everything else besides balancing, we’d be most likely to fall.  And if we are paying attention to everything besides our own emotional and somatic stability, we’re more likely to go about our day emotionally dysregulated to some degree.

This metaphor isn’t perfect.  With a real ball, we could just get off of the ball, and stay balanced on solid ground.  But with our emotional balance, there is really only one place to balance.  There is no shortcut or easy way out.  If we fall out of emotional balance, there’s no surface we fall down to, on which we are suddenly balanced again.

Often when people get therapy or coaching, they are essentially working on this skill of staying on the ball of emotional, mental, and spiritual balance, and all other goals they may have tend to follow from this fundamental ability.  The process of therapy is largely a practice of balancing on the emotional stability ball, in the presence of some disturbances (life challenges) with some help to stay stabilized and, most importantly, to increase balancing skills in the face of increased challenge.

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