Spirit Matters by Shirley Barr – Balancing on the Teeter Totter of Life – October 7, 2012

CFN – I have vivid memories of playing on teeter-totters as a child: most them were of being abandoned in mid-air by whoever was my partner, leaving me to plummet to the ground and smash my tailbone! Every once in awhile someone would come along with whom I could go up and down for a pleasurable period of time, and with whom there was a mutual agreement to end the game and be let down gently.


I loved those cooperative interactions so much that I was willing to go through the many painful ones in order to experience the good ones. This story explains the difference between when people cooperate as opposed to when people compete. We live in a society where competition is the prevalent mode of thinking, while cooperation is not as well understood, nor is it practised as much as it could be.

Yet, when we study science at its most fundamental level we come to realize that every single atom operates at the level of the deepest cooperation; otherwise the universe could not exist. If any atom were to just randomly decide to do something different the whole universe would experience a collapse. Therefore, natural laws operate in an inflexible manner –  for instance, the sun, the centre of our universe, cannot do anything other than shine in all its brilliance.The sun cannot wake up one morning and decide not to shine and instead go for a coffee. A cow is in a perfect state of natural bliss because it is content with eating and hanging out in a field; it cannot make its own decision to move to the next city and start a new life as a travelling sales person. Only humans can do that because of the fact that we have these capacities that transcend the natural world.


We are creators of inventions that capture the power of nature and bring it into service to our needs, for example, we discovered the power of electricity so that we can bring light into our homes. We have the power to continually invent and design our world, and the scale we are doing it at now is such that there is no part of the globe that is untouched by us. This has created such a crisis in so many areas: climate change that is accelerating, contamination of the air and water, battles over oil and energy, the depletion of wild fish and bird populations, famine, corporate take-overs of agricultural lands that were formerly owned by small farmers, financial meltdowns, unemployment. and so on. My purpose is just to highlight some of the issues, not to dwell on them.

Crisis is a sign of imbalance. What could be the possible causes of the imbalances we find in our world? Could it be because we put too much weight on the side of competition versus cooperation? Think about the teeter-totter example we started out with, and ask yourself: Do we really want to continue on this downward plunge towards a world where there is pollution, mass extinction, and less of everything? Is it possible to pull out of this nose-dive and seek a more balanced, cooperative approach? What can I do, as an individual, just one person, little old me, to bring some good into this world?

Shirley lives and works in Cornwall and is a member of the Bahá’í community. She can be reached at spiritmatters9@gmail.com; comments are appreciated.


  1. Spectacular words for thought Shirley. I believe you have hit the nail on the head.

  2. Regarding the competition thing; It’s always bothered me that just about every activity that kids and adults engage in seems to get reduced to a competition where first, second, and third prizes are awarded. Those who go home without a prize are the “losers”, and they always outnumber the winners. As a kid I played in a lot of piano recitals that really should have been called competitions. The focus was always on winning a prize rather than the pure joy of making music. It’s the same now with pretty much all the extra-curricular activities in our schools. If you win the prizes, it’s good. If not, you might as well find something else to do. Could go on, but you get the idea.

  3. I have learned that I can’t just depend on balance coming magically into my life. But I need to find ways to create balance into my life.

    Most of the time, I can recognize a heavy-weight on the other end of the see-saw.

    Over the last few months, the word “balance” keeps coming to my mind, and the image of a teeter-totter can help us visualize a healthy sense of balance in our lives.

    We don’t have to have a perfectly balanced life. If we were to just stay in one place on the teeter-totter, balancing across from our friend, things may get a bit boring. Life can get stale, too, if things never change at all. The ups and downs of life can make life interesting and can be a reminder to keep running to God to keep us faithful even in the hard times. There are times, however, when we let too many responsibilities and pressures pile up on the other end of our “teeter-totter”, and if we aren’t careful we can find ourselves stuck. We just feel a bit uneasy at first, then we get frustrated and upset when we realize just how desperate our situation is. We can get so fed up with all of the pressures that we are willing to do just about anything to get down.

    If we give up all of our activities suddenly, we can come down with a jolt. However, if we gradually get rid of some excess activities, our lives can be more balanced and much less stressful.

  4. @all- am thinking that our society is one that considers these real up and down, abrupt lurches with the clanking tail-bone smashing hurtle to the bottom as “normal”. When you grow up with a lot of tension, discord, anger, non-communication and put competition on top of that mix, that’s what you look for in relationship with others- that is, for you what “normal” is. That sense of normality is deeply held in our sub-conscious core and it’s only by undertaking the work to delve in there and bring these beliefs up to the surface, in other words, to consciously evolve, to question these beliefs, to seek to understand where all this patterning is coming from- only then can we hope to begin to come out of the trance that we are all in. So, on that note, will begin to write the next part of Spirit Matters….

  5. This may sound strange but I have reached a point in my life that no balancing is required any more. Living in the moment helps one keep balanced. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, today and this moment is all that matters. That keeps me balanced, unafraid and hopeful for things to come.

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