The concept of ballast was discovered early in seafaring days. Ballast is material that is placed in a ship or structure to provide stability. It determines the ability of a vessel to right itself. Ballast is often unseen and remains below the waterline of a beautiful sailing ship. Ballast can be redistributed to adjust to sea conditions. It can increase speed, adjust the center of gravity or increase buoyancy. When rough seas are encountered, ballast will determine how soon and how well the vessel is righted.
Babies need ballast. The world will send rough seas and high winds into the lives of our babies that will send them reeling to and fro. Inside of each budding human, there are ballast areas that can be filled to provide stability. I look at it as three compartments for parents and caretakers to fill and tend to. These containers serve as ballast to the human being. Each represents a different and separate area which act in together for the stability of the whole person.
Mental Physical Spiritual
We fill the Mental with knowledge, schooling, tidbits of wisdom from our superior experience with life. We instruct in impulse control, emotional intelligence.
We fill the Physical with food, exercise, clothing, care and medicine in sickness and all kinds of healthy practices that make a body grow.
And with what do we fill the Spiritual? What is the spirit? Where is the soul? Filling this cylinder with a belief system and anchor to things outside the self is important to stability. Even those who profess no belief in a higher power often have some religion – a profession of respect for forces of nature or powers outside of self.
We can fill small minds with great knowledge and yet have an empty spiritual cylinder. We can build bodies to near perfection, and neglect the other containers. Balance is key to ballast. Some things fill all three – for example, music. Knowledge of the instrument, physical agility through practice; both spill over into a spiritual experience that only music can deliver.
It is important to note is that a spiritual cylinder can be full in the face of near empty physical and mental capacities as in those born with imperfect bodies and minds.
Spiritual filling comes from a different source than mental. The filling of the spiritual comes through a very personal journey and the exercise of faith. A willingness to admit we are not the center, but that the center is outside of us and stands ready to guide us toward perfection. Spiritual filling requires humility and recognition that our desire for faith is indeed the size of a mustard seed. But, the promise of endless growth is clear for those who choose to exercise those spiritual muscles.
Religion and spirituality has been neglected as a positive force by health professionals in the past, usually only mentioned in relation to pathology. However, more current research is pointing to the benefits of a rich spiritual life and the positive effects on mental health(1). Practices of prayer and church attendance have been shown to significant positive health effects (2).
Babies need a model for the filling of all three containers. By teaching them that there is a need to feed and fill these areas, we create a schematic in their brain. A framework is provided for building and filling their own ballast cylinders. Even if they later choose to toss out a ballast container – or half-fill them, they still have the framework. Ultimately, all Babies model parental guidance for a while, and then they strike out on their own journey and make their own decisions about what to put in their ballast containers.
And we just sit back and watch them.
1 Levin, J. (2010). Religion and mental health: Theory and research. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/aps.240 http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/levin_religion_mental_health.pdf
2 Koenig, H. (2012). The Handbook of religion and health (2nd Ed).Oxford University Press.