Lately, I’ve been thinking about the balance–or lack thereof–in my life. I feel like I’m trapped on a seesaw, bouncing between exuberant, joyous highs, and depressive lows, never knowing the peace that can be found between the two. A life without balance is a life without consistency. It’s hard to be content when your only gauges are whether you feel like life is a beautiful journey or a never-ending cycle of failure and disappointment. I don’t know how to be OK.
I was introduced to the concept of equivalent exchange (or tōka kōkan) by Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA), an anime to which I am far beyond late. **Feel free to roll your eyes at me if you’ve liked the show forever.** For those unfamiliar with the show, the storyline follows alchemists and brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric as they journey across the country in pursuit of a powerful object that will make their life right again.
That’s as simple as I can describe it because it’s so much more. I’m also being purposefully vague because if you haven’t watched it you need to queue it up on Netflix immediately.
To clarify, this post is NOT an overview of the show. If you would, just indulge me for one more short paragraph.
There are two completely different, separate versions of the show: the original Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009). Despite fervent online suggestions that I start with the latter interpretation of the series’ original manga, I went with the first. Long story very short, I adored it entirely whilst simultaneously feeling like my heart had been tied to a railroad track and run over by many trains.
The concept of equivalent exchange existed before FMA and exists far beyond it. However, it was FMA which first made it real for me. While the concept in the series most prominently relates to alchemy–having to give something to get something–it was also presented it as a concept related to human effort and relationships. That’s where it sunk in for me.
I’ve taken a lot in this world, and I’d argue that I’ve paid for far less than I took. My life has not followed tōka kōkan. I eat a lot even knowing I don’t have the money to replace the things I’m eating. I damn near expect the time of my friends and loved ones to satisfy my emotional shortcomings without genuinely considering their needs first. I call, text, and FB message often and for long durations, expecting a consistent stream of love and attention.
I’m selfish but working on being a better person.
And it hasn’t always been about me taking without paying the price. For me, tōka kōkan works in many ways. There are certain people whom I both choose to stay away from and/or can’t have in my life. In many ways, I feel guilty for cutting people out. I find myself wondering if they’re suffering; if maybe I matter to them more than they’re able to express. I have a very guilty mind.
But I’ve managed to find peace in equivalent exchange. I keep these people out because relationships, like most things, require a give and take. If you’re constantly giving, or the other person is constantly taking, there is no balance. You’ll always be left hurt or wanting more. I’ve felt this way. I’ve been in relationships like that, both platonic and romantic. In some cases, I was the abused party and in other cases I was the abuser.
When I’m the abused, I settle on showing the person the permanent door. It’s not selfish to bar people from your life. I sure don’t feel bad, anymore. I’ve felt feelings beyond intense, cried for people, and attempted to fix things, all to no avail. From this point on, I’ll let people back into my life when they pay the price of equivalent exchange. I need to see that they understand the pain they’ve caused, the emotions I’ve gone through, and the lack of balance in the relationship. If not, I wish them the best in their life over there while I continue my life over here.
On the other hand, when I’m the abuser I find it simultaneously simpler and more difficult. Simpler because I know I have to pay a price, and that the responsibility of effort falls on me. More difficult because only when you’re paying the price do you see how much destruction and selfishness you’re capable of.
I’ve hurt people, bad. More often than not relationships in my life end with people going away, far away from me. I’m talking blocked on Facebook and ignored text messages. But there are the rare few who stick around and allow me the chance to rectify my wrongs. It’s a process based on hope, because even after paying the price, you may not get back what you once had. But a life of balance is a life of peace, and I want that so fucking bad.
So I’ll just keep on paying good, where I once gave bad, I’ll give, where I once took, I’ll listen, where I once shouted, I’ll smile, where I once frowned, and I’ll laugh, where I once cried. I will live by tōka kōkan because I’m tired of always being at the top or bottom of the seesaw. Resting calmly in the middle doesn’t sound so bad to me.