Zen and the Art of Pool Maintenance

2012-03-05 00:00

PASSIONATE sport players and fans are often happy to wax lyrical about why their favourite sport serves as a great analogy for life. A keen golfer may talk about staying on life’s fairways, needing to be able to play yourself out of the rough, and of having to play the ball where it lies. A rugby enthusiast might tell you that like life, rugby is an ongoing struggle, that you have to try to get past what is in front of you, and tackle whatever comes your way.

While sporting analogies may provide some interesting and colourful perspectives on life, for me, one of the most comprehensive and constructive “life is like ...” analogies comes from a far more unlikely place. I have been looking after pools for most of my adulthood and for me, there is definitely Zen in the art of pool maintenance. A brief look at just three important aspects — pH, total alkalinity and chlorine levels, will hopefully persuade you likewise.

PH measures the ratio of acidity and alkalinity, and is one of the more well-known measures of water quality. Maintaining the correct pH balance is crucial. Depending on the type of pool surface, the ideal pH range is between 7,2 and 7,8.

PH levels that are too low can cause cloudy water, staining of the pool surface and filtration problems. PH levels that are too high can corrode metal piping and cause eye irritation.

And it is the same in life. Balancing the different aspects of our lives, especially the major and often conflicting ones like work and play, exercise and rest, is crucial to our long-term mental and physical health, and is vigorously promoted by mental health experts.

Over time, living an unbalanced life causes problems. Having too little work to do can make a person frivolous, and leave them disconnected from the world. Working too hard and for too long hours over time can cause burnout, one’s family life to suffer, jading and loss of vitality.

A lesser known, but also critically important aspect of maintaining pool water is total alkalinity. While pH levels indicate the ratio between acidity and alkalinity, total alkalinity measures the total amount of alkaline in your pool. The ideal total alkalinity range for a pool is generally given as between 80-120 parts per million.

Think of total alkalinity as the chemical equivalent of the adage that you get out of life what you put into it, and to get a lot out you need to put a lot in. Total alkalinity is about putting the full into a full and balanced life. This requires commitment, engagement and lots of energy.

A pool with too little total alkalinity may experience pH “bounce”.’ PH bounce causes pH levels to become volatile and fluctuate unpredictably, often causing pools to suddenly go green.

Putting too little into life can also cause instability, making it easier to succumb to distractions and temptations, and you could easily find your life’s journey commandeered by the will of others.

Too high total alkalinity levels are less common than too low, but when they do occur, the consequences can be serious. The pH can become difficult to adjust, and the water cloudy and in constant need of acid.

Likewise, it is possible to put too much into life, and the consequences can be destructive.

Here, I am talking about people who are fanatical about what they do, who don’t stop acting on the world for a second to give their lives (and the lives of those around them) any time to breathe. Adjectives like self-absorbed, obsessive, selfish, intolerant and inflexible can often be used to describe this kind of behaviour.

And finally, there is chlorine, the sanitiser, the chemical work horse whose job it is to keep pool water clear and inviting by destroying bacteria before it takes hold.

Chlorine needs to be added regularly. Neglect to do this and your pool could turn green with proliferating algae in the space of a few days.

If pH speaks to balance, and total alkalinity to being fully engaged with the world, chlorine is about the constant vigilance and effort required to stay on top of things and to get them done.

Even if the fundamentals are in place, you should never let your life run on autopilot. It might sound a bit “Old Testament”, but we need to constantly keep burning the chaff to remain effective and to move forward and grow.

So there you have them — pH, total alkalinity and chlorine; a dynamic triumvirate that; when properly managed; will give you a healthy and happy pool. Take some time out to check out the status of each in your own life, and you may discover first-hand that there is indeed Zen in the art of pool maintenance.

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