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Can you see your emotional body? Your moral body?

by David Shackleton (Contact David at david@integraldesign.org)

The most important fact about psychological imbalance is to know that one is unbalanced.  Historically, balance has come about (where it has) through social and cultural factors.

For instance, the traditional roles of men and women balanced each other, political balance came through alternating from the left to the right, and social institutions evolved balancing elements (for instance, democracy can be thought of as giving hierarchical power (a masculine form) to the largest consensus (a feminine

But all of these were unconscious balances.  The time has come for conscious balancing to come about, within the individual psyche.  The first step along this road is the realization of imbalance and the need for balance as a psychological project.  To help create this realization is the purpose of this column.

It is dangerous to believe that a one-sided view is complete and righteous, because then one demonizes those who hold the opposite side of the balance that one lacks and needs.

An example of this occurred in Canada in December, 2008, when the Harper government proposed legislation intended to bankrupt the opposition parties.  The result was the formation of a coalition of those parties which threatened to bring down the government.

Stephen Harper prorogued parliament in order to avoid a vote of no confidence, perhaps the most undemocratic act ever performed within a parliamentary democracy.  The whole thing began with the profoundly unbalanced notion that the conservative party had the whole answer, that the opposition was superfluous and had no useful role, that we would be better of without them.  This is unconscious imbalance in the extreme.

Why is it normal for us to be unbalanced?  The answer lies with our feelings, what feels good and what doesn’t.  Let’s use an analogy.

Imagine a bodybuilder working out in the gym.  This particular bodybuilder has worked hard on the right side of his body, so his right side biceps and pecs are impressive.  When he picks up the weights with his right hand, it feels great, strong and coordinated.

When, on the other hand (literally!) he picks them up with his left hand, it feels weak and floppy and not something enjoys doing.  Much better to continue working out on the right, where he can lift fifty and sixty pounds, compared to the twenty his left hand can lift.

Such a bodybuilder would look strange, with impressive muscular development on only one side of his body and the other side undeveloped.  And yet, that is exactly what virtually all of us would look like, if one could see our emotional and moral bodies.

We keep using the approach that feels good to us, the one where we feel competent and powerful, and the balancing approach on the other side, where we feel weak or scared or
incompetent, stays that way because it never gets exercised.

We don’t develop the skills we need on that side because we would have to make a project out of it, exercising it anyway even though it felt awful, didn’t work well and wasn’t much good at getting things done (at first, anyway).

Since we are usually trying to accomplish something and don’t make time for developing ourselves or have patience to work though our incompetence, we stay with what we know, trust or enjoy.

Now, of course, bodybuilders know that they have to exercise both sides of their bodies, and they tend to do it in a balanced way from the start.  We don’t typically have that benefit in our emotional and moral development, principally because we can’t see the imbalance in our psyches.  Imbalance feels right, because we don’t know any better.

What would we do if we did know better?  We would make a project out of exercising our weaker side, developing its competence before we planned to actually use it to accomplish things in our lives.  If we are afraid of confrontation, for instance, we would practice confronting off line, in workshops or with friends or a therapist, in ways where we could learn without being penalized by failing to do it well.

This is the approach that I recommend.  Set some time aside for working on the weaker side of your psyche, and find ways to exercise those skills or approach where it doesn’t matter if you don’t succeed , don’t do it exactly right.  Start with small weights, in other words, and then work your way up.

Pretty soon, the new approach will begin to feel okay, not so bad.  And then it will begin to feel great, and you will wonder why you were ever afraid of it, and you will find yourself using it regularly in your life, and see it working for you in ways that you never thought possible.