Optimal Balance – By Pierre Zimmerman 8/1/22
From the Desk of Pierre Zimmerman: OPTIMAL BALANCE FOR HAPPINESS
The way to achieve genuine happiness is to apply effective means to balance the heart and mind in order to succeed in achieving a deep state of sanity and discovering a sense of inner wellbeing, which persists when alone or with others, active or at rest, and doesn’t require any external stimulation. Genuine contentment arises from the depths of a mind that is calm, clear, and open and being present in the world without being thrown into emotional disequilibrium. The route to wellbeing requires four kinds of mental balance: conative, attentional, cognitive and emotional. We will look at three kinds of imbalance in each domain: deficit, hyperactivity, and dysfunction.
Conation refers to the faculties of desire and volition, the mental process that activates and/or directs behavior and action. Imbalances in that domain are ways our desires and intentions lead us away from psychological flourishing and often into distress. A deficit occurs when we experience a loss of desire for happiness and its causes with a lack of imagination or stagnant complacency. Hyperactivity is present when we fixate on obsessive desires that obscure the reality of the present, being caught up in fantasies of the future, blind to the needs and desires of others. Dysfunction occurs when we desire things that are not conducive to others’ or our own wellbeing or genuine happiness. Daily meditation as a discipline requires motivation and continuous practice.
Attentional balance, including the development of sustained, voluntary attention, is a crucial feature of mental health and optimal performance in any kind of meaningful activity. Deficit in this domain is characterized by the inability to focus on a desired object, the mind becoming withdrawn and disengaged. Attentional hyperactivity occurs when the mind is excessively aroused, resulting in compulsive distraction and fragmentation. Attention becomes dysfunctional when we focus on things which are not conducive to our own or others’ wellbeing. Meditation quiescence has three qualities: relaxation, stability, and vividness for attentional training. The metaphor of trees with the roots of relaxation penetrating deep into fertile soil, the trunk of stability becoming thick and strong and the branches and foliage of vividness forming a lush, verdant canopy, support the three qualities.
Cognitive balance occurs when one views the world without the imbalances of conceptual projection, omission, or distortion. Deficit is characterized by the failure to perceive what is present in our five fields of sensory experience and in our minds, being out of touch with what is occurring around us and within us. Hyperactivity sets in when we conflate our conceptual projections with actual experience. We fail to distinguish between perceived realities and our superimposed assumptions and fantasies. Cognitive dysfunction occurs when we misapprehend reality in our ability to interpret what’s happening in the moment. The primary intervention or antidote is to cultivate mindfulness.
Emotional balance is a natural outcome of the first three balances. Emotional deficit has the symptom of emotional deadness and a sense of cold indifference towards others. Hyperactivity is characterized by excessive or obsessive experience of elation and depression, hope and fear, adulation and contempt, craving and hostility. Dysfunction occurs when our emotional responses are inappropriate to the circumstances, such as delighting in others’ misfortunes or resenting their successes. The meditative practices to cultivate the Four Immeasurables (qualities of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity) support the heart/mind to remain calm and open for a vast potential of mental health flourishing.