Teaching Balance and Rhythm

"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."

Thomas Merton


Finding Balance and Rhythm while commuting:

Rhythm has played a part in all my best commutes and I am blessed that several were incredible. The ferry from Manley to the Sydney Opera House, skate skiing in Anchorage for four months of the year and a bicycle ride to the Conway Centre on the island of Anglesey.

Picture a beautiful stately home. It has manicured grounds running down to a narrow strip of the Irish Sea, forced between the mainland and its island home. As I rode onto the property I entered under a large limestone arch to be greeted by the crenellated towers of the stables. By my side an ancient cromlech stood proud in the middle of a field. It was an incredible place to work, with amazing colleagues and a beautiful lofty classroom in the stable. Ambling past the big house on our way to launch canoes or kayaks at the dock was the icing on the cake.

During the ride I particularly enjoyed crossing the Menai Bridge, Thomas Telford’s suspended testament to beauty and efficiency. Looking over the side was a 120 foot drop to the Menai Straits. This channel has a tidal difference in excess of forty feet and in its effort to make this possible, currents race through at six knots or more. As the ride was a twice daily occurrence the pattern between moon, season and climate became apparent. Nature’s dance is a subtle blend of rhythms defined by variables, however, when you immerse yourself in it, the pattern makes itself known.


The Realization:

My bicycle meditations brought me to the realization that there is a pulse beating through most of our existence. The sun comes up and goes down. Our blood courses through our body. There is birth and there is decay. It is all one big complex rhythm. I was also reminded of the balance required to navigate it successfully. Again balance comes in a number of forms, sometimes it is static and sometimes dynamic. If I bank my bike with no speed I am apt to fall. When storming downhill I have to lay the bike on its side to make it around some corners.


Balance and Rhythm in Adventure Education:

As I pondered my rides it became apparent that all successful movement requires a display of balance and rhythm. Teaching students to climb, kayak, canoe or ski were merely variations of the same themes. The beauty of it all though is they are also great analogies for moving through life.

When you teach someone to climb you are also teaching them what it is like to be on top looking down. You show them how it feels to cling on when everything is screaming and the resultant euphoria of pushing through hardship. You let them find out the power of trust and how it opens up new possibilities. You support the power of visualization and, positive intentions and beliefs (how else do you complete a hard climb?)  You share how practicing the pieces allows you to be successful when they are put together in a big route. You instill the benefits of goal setting.

The zenith of this contemplation though, surrounds teaching someone to think about their center of mass in relationship to their hands, buttocks or feet. When they learn how timing a movement allows something impossible when static to become a graceful and successful fluid motion. At that point, it is not too difficult to ponder and transfer the same concepts to other occasions in life. We move successfully through life when we look to create balance and rhythm.


Teaching your child balance and rhythm:

When I watch my students play games that force them to experiment with movement I do it with intent. I am encouraging them to create a harmony that can transfer to other areas of their lives. Thomas Merton was an interesting character and seeker who turned to ascetics to find his happiness. I think we can teach our children to learn these same lessons outside, without austerity and with the fun of excitement, challenge and adventure thrown in for good measure. What our children learn running down a steep mountain trail, when given the right key, unlocks the most profound life lessons.

How are you going to get your children outside? How will you help them find their balance and rhythm?