Balance

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

– Albert Einstein

Balance

I used to feel as though I was walking a razor’s edge. I had it in my mind that I was navigating a particularly intense brand of balance. I imagined that my balance was especially broad, reaching out to extremes on either side. This was all a story, of course. It wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it was only a story. I was perpetuating it by believing it (and even more so by telling it).

I imagined that I could increase my freedom by increasing my discipline. While it could be said that I was slowly giving myself more and more permission to exercise my freedom through my discipline, I see now that complete freedom was already my birthright, as I feel it is for everyone. Accepting this simple gift is often the hard part.

I feel now as though real balance is effortless. It’s already here. There is nothing we can do to bring it about. This doesn’t mean we can’t work toward goals, but I think we become less likely to invest expectations in specific outcomes. Even as I work on various projects, I continue to be firm with myself at times and quick to forgive myself when I falter. It seems less and less important to arrive at an end result.

My self-discipline is no longer about expectations, but is based more on standards. I feel if we can set ourselves higher standards, accepting that we will fall short of them at times, we will nevertheless stretch and test ourselves, growing beyond what we thought we were capable of. In this light, being able to accept short-term ‘failure’ can actually strengthen us, helping us develop a greater sense of determination and resilience. This patient persistence, when steadily applied, can eventually bring us into the silence of our own centre – our own hearts – where everything unessential begins to burn up and fall away.

But on our way here, balance is clearly a key to well-being. Living in balance can be seen as a ‘sweet spot’ where we let ourselves move through life without getting tangled up in fleeting experiences. We can cherish and celebrate all parts of life as they pass, but we need not resist nor cling to anything we experience. Easier said than done, obviously, but this is keeping balance – not trying to manipulate events or relationships to unfold as we want them to, but simply honouring them as they are.

At times, however, our balance can appear rather delicate, even slippery and sharp. As I mentioned before, it can feel like we are walking a razor’s edge, rigid and slick on either side. But even this can be seen in perspective. We can stop, take a deep breath and re-frame our narrative, realizing we’re more than likely caught up in thought. Balance doesn’t require cracking some code or figuring anything out. It is more like giving life full permission to do what it will with us.

There are countless ways to look at balance – there are too many frames to fathom and factors far beyond our figuring. It seems then that living life in balance takes a measure of faith. Stomaching some uncertainty seems vital. A tolerance for paradox may help us along the way, while we’re at it. It even feels like being ‘out-of-balance’ from time to time can be a part of anchoring in our overall balance. That sounds a bit crazy, but I feel it is true.

A phrase came to mind some time ago which feels relevant here. When it first occurred to me I intuitively sensed a deep truth in it, even though it didn’t necessarily make logical sense: ‘A return to balance is inevitable. A departure from balance is impossible.’ It seems to point to the fact that nature is taking care of everything. We need not struggle and strain. Life operates in balance, even when it seems to be completely out of whack. After all, what do we really know about the big picture if we’re in the middle of it?

After tasting some of the extremes at either end of the emotional spectrum and realizing they eventually level themselves out (despite ourselves), I have developed both a deeper respect for balance and a greater faith in it. Now I see balance wherever I look. Occasionally I catch myself yearning for more, which seems crazy. More balance? That sounds impossible. I like to laugh at myself when I see a thought like that pass by.

It seems that real balance is beyond value judgements. It’s the centre. How could we possibly amplify it? At best, we can look inside and let it level us out. Despite being drilled with heavy doses of duality every day, our attention often being pulled in opposite directions, we can take time to be still and submerge in our centre. This is a shared space, beyond comparison, beyond competition, beyond conflict of any kind. In this quiet core, when we let everything else collapse, we come to see the balance that never needed to assert itself. It has always been here.  It is beyond measure. How can there be any less? How can there be any more than all there is?

Einstein

Trust balance. Keep moving forward.

🙂

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Reflect On What You See

Poppies

This is a time for reflection. It need not be loud. It need not be wordy. But with an earnest heart, this time of reflection can lead us to see more clearly. We can come to see ourselves more clearly, as well as our place in this world. We can come to see just how much has been sacrificed for us to live as we do today. Realizing the incredible freedom so many fought for, we can begin honouring it by living lives of integrity and service. They need not be flashy. We can even serve in silence. But before running around ‘putting out fires’, I feel we would be wise to take this opportunity for remembering.

I started this blog on Remembrance Day last year.  My first post was about Remembering. I talked about the two sides of memory and the importance of remembering wisely – remembering with perspective. I won’t say much today. If you really feel like reading, look at last year’s post. There are a lot of words there. They are heartfelt, even if a bit pointed. But right now I am more interested in inspiring silence. This is where the real work of remembering is done. Silence is the invisible ground we’re all standing on, so to speak, whether we know it or not. This is the space we all share. We each have equal access to this silence in our own hearts. There are no borders or boundaries here. I am not speaking metaphorically. I encourage you to take ten minutes to unplug and listen to yourself. Remember who you are. This is perhaps the most powerful way we can honour the fallen. By remembering ourselves more deeply we broaden our capacity for service.

As we remember more of ourselves we become freer – freer to see and freer to serve. By allowing ourselves to see into our own hearts more deeply we release the chains of ignorance and reclaim our clarity and strength. This is an effortless process – which can nonetheless be very hard work. The willingness to be truly still is rare, but if we try we’ll see this willingness grow – and it is vital to carry on.

If we allow ourselves to be truly still – in heart, mind, and body – everything we have failed to face will step forward. This may be frightening at first, but the more light we shed on these shadows the stronger we’ll grow, building courage with every step. As we face these neglected parts of who we are, allowing ourselves to remember more fully, we gradually become freed from the clutches of fear.

So I encourage you to brave your own inner-silence, facing whatever battles you must face to break free. In this brave endeavour we can remember that the wind is forever in our sails. All we can truly do is allow everything to unfold for itself.

Turning The Corner

Equinox

Seasons are shifting. You may have noticed. The equinox is upon is. It is happening today – in about four hours (10:30 PM EDT). Today the sun shines directly over the equator and both day and night are equal length – twin windows of sunshine and moonlight. This turning point happens twice a year – once in March and once in September – falling directly between the solstices. The equinoxes are points of balance between the extremes of light and dark. I often stop to note these shifts and take time to appreciate the great cycle of life forever in motion. I see these moments as opportunities to check in with the quiet still-point which registers these passing phases (as if I needed more excuses for reflection.) As much as I would like to be perfectly still and observe life in effortless balance, I still find myself somewhat caught in the swing of the seasons, trying to piggy-back on its momentum to some deeper plane.

I cannot count the amount of times I have tried to ‘turn the corner’. I have been doing it for years – for as long as I can recall, really. Perhaps not all the way back into early childhood, though I cannot rule it out. My parents may be able to speak to that. I suspect that, to some extent, it is common for all of us to do this. Our recurring urge to ‘turn the corner’ arises as a desire to reset, to start again. OK. Here we go. Clean the slate. This time for real. One more shot. This perpetual impulse to ‘start fresh’ feels closely related to perfectionism (at least that’s how it feels to me). There seems to be some part of us that resists moving forward unless every step behind us has fallen faultlessly, sitting at least somewhat resolved in our rear-view mirrors.

I am hit with this feeling more often than I might like, despite trusting that every step forward is supportive. Even now, only a couple of paragraphs into writing, I have already stopped several times to consider tweaking this word or that bit of punctuation, apparently unable to carry on before feeling ‘satisfied’. I tweaked that last sentence even while discussing the very act, and then again after the fact, several times now – and this one too! This analytical impulse seems to be rooted in the desire for everything to work out ‘just so’, falling into its right place. While I have always appreciated tidiness and symmetry, at times it can become a bit compulsive. I can recall as far back as age six or seven (or whenever our family got Tetris on GameBoy), continually pausing and restarting the game after even the slightest ‘error’ (as judged by the young perfectionist-in-the-making). I wanted to set everything up just right and could not fathom one block being out of place. The same behaviour carried on through Super Mario, Golden Eye and various other games I played, pausing and restarting when any element of the level or my performance displeased me. I wanted to turn the corner and start fresh. It was a pattern that spread into parts of my life far beyond video games.  (Full disclosure – I spent about an hour playing Tetris today – for the first time in years – just at the thought of it…until I turned the corner and got back to my writing.)

Later in life, this urge asserted itself in the form of frequently committing myself to rather lofty ideals (followed just as frequently by defeats). Long before working toward any of these ideals ever occurred to me, I often got carried away visualizing my incredible (and obviously destined) success, unconsciously investing expectation in particular outcomes. As events unfolded in different directions, I would experience deadening let-down when my dreams fell to pieces. Repeating this pattern over and over exhausted me and eventually led to deepening depression and apathy, my strong idealistic streak being increasingly undermined by a lack of faith in my ability to accomplish anything important. I seemed incapable of dreaming small, and more and more incapable of chasing any dreams at all.

And yet some part of me kept emerging to ‘make a change’, to ‘set things right’. Whether it was my birthday, half-birthday, New Year’s Eve, Lent, March Break, or the third Thursday of June, I looked for any old excuse to start anew, to turn a corner. I wanted to break away from the past and really get the ball rolling once and for all. Though I had dug myself into a bit of a hole, this undying urge to ‘turn the corner’ eventually saw me make significant progress toward freedom and inner peace. I began letting go of clutter, inside and out, and found that the rough road behind me had been paving its way to peace all the way.

The key seems to be quick forgiveness, starting with ourselves. After owning up to our past shortcomings and letting go of judgement, we can see our paths resolve themselves in the rear-view mirror of our minds. Once we accept this inner forgiveness, we can effortlessly and playfully recommit to the loftiest ideals possible, knowing we may well fall off the pony a million more times, continuing to forgive and persist nonetheless. Indeed in any worthy venture, patience and persistence seem to be guiding lights.

Understanding that life is a process, accepting that we are all on journeys of learning and growth, we find a willingness to make mistakes, and a greater faculty for ‘turning the corner’ and ‘getting back on the horse’. Although I seem to need regular reminders, somehow I keep on trucking. On some level we all do, but struggling with our lulls can actually entangle us even more. I have learned this the hard way, and try not to fuss too much when good grooves take sudden turns.

Most recently, after riding the wave of a two-week juice fast into the new school year, kick-starting my writing routine after some summer fun, my lofty dreams of discipline and work fell flat. I tried to right the ship but it ran ashore. September has largely slipped away with little work done. Last week I hardly wrote at all. I slept in most days. I could feel the seasons shifting, and it made me feel heavy. A cold ran through our home and we all had the sniffles, some of us even worse. But I did my best not to wrestle with any of it, taking it in stride and trying as best I could. (Or giving up and watching a movie with a tub of hummus and a sleeve of rice cakes). Now two days into a fast, I am ‘turning a corner’ yet again, renewing my commitment to my morning regimen and riding the momentum of the equinox into a new season! The equinox is hours away and a new moon is upon us tomorrow – it feels like a truly great moment to turn the corner. Join me!  Ride the wave of the seasons!

Seasons

Honesty

honesty

Honesty is the best policy. We have all heard it many times before – and it seems a reasonable code to honour. But how often do we really live it from the depth of our hearts? I guess I can start by sharing that I don’t really know what to say today. Yet here I sit writing – for its own sake, I suppose. I have been in the habit of publishing a post every Monday for a while now, and I wish to keep my rhythm rolling. It is a routine more for myself than anyone else.

Even as I intend my writing to be an act of service, I am aware that relatively few people are reading these words. Perhaps my service is starting out simply – I don’t know. Either way, I try not to get caught up in chasing some vision of the future. I feel I can best serve others through complete honesty and unconditional acceptance of this moment as it is. As grateful as I am for every person reading these posts (THANK YOU!), I have to admit that just getting myself into the habit of outward self-expression is a large motivating factor. I feel it is a healthy habit, aside from what I might actually be saying.

Someone recently asked me (in reference to my blog) if I minded ‘hollering into a vacuum.’ I didn’t know how to respond. I wondered for a moment if we are all doing just that, on some level – hollering into a vacuum. At least we’re doing it together, I thought. But does it really matter if we get any notice for our work? For the most part, I don’t seem to mind doing my work without getting any attention or recognition. I am grateful to express myself. And if someone tells me that my post meant something to them, it is a feather in my cap, icing on the cake.

So when I came to face the blank page today, wondering what I wanted to holler out into this particular vacuum, I found myself looking over some old notes on balance. ‘A return to balance is inevitable. A departure from balance is impossible.’ I thought about re-working my notes into something for today’s post, but had to admit that I no longer feel the same way I felt when I wrote it. Not exactly, anyhow. And I also admitted that a part of me wanted to recycle my old writing just to get the ball rolling, just to have something on the page. That didn’t feel like a very honest motivation for self-expression. So I let it go.

As I slipped off to sleep last night I thought about how I was feeling (that being uncomfortably stuffed with hummus and mixed nuts), and I wanted to strip down any remnant layers of pretence and protection to be as open and honest as possible. I had been dreaming, the day before, of constructing a post that would inspire people and maybe relieve some suffering, but as I tossed and turned last night, mildly disappointed with myself, I didn’t feel worthy of standing on any soapbox and saying much of anything. I slept poorly and skipped my 5 AM alarm.  When I finally awoke at 8:30, I didn’t give guilt any room to roam. After a surprisingly strong yoga session and a very quiet and calming meditation, I arose to write.

Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on. I’m only just journeying through the mystery as we all are. These days, my certainties seem to crumble as quickly as they are built. I can’t say I mind. Even though well-intentioned, I recognize that I sometimes slip into some sort of ‘preachy’ tone in my writing. Though I want to share words of truth, nuggets of wisdom, seeds of peace, freedom and love – all born of my own experience – I don’t feel I have the right to tell anyone how to find anything in their own lives. I know there is something deep within us which we all share, but my saying so, and my desire to show people where ‘to find it’ may not mean much to anyone but me. At best, I can just speak my heart, whatever it seems to be saying at any given moment, and trust that to be sufficient in itself. Whatever it may spark in others is simply not up to me.

And in the spirit of total honesty, right now as I sit here and write, my body responding to our home growing colder with the seasons’ shifting, a bit of sunshine has made its way to my window and I am going to lie down on a sheepskin on the floor and just enjoy the warmth of the light for a while. I don’t want to waste this precious sunlight, abundant though it is. As the colder seasons approach, I am suddenly moved to take full advantage of every ray of light reaching through my window. I’ll return to my composition shortly. 🙂

peace

Hours have passed. I have combed through the above text now and dusted it up only slightly, and the sun has faded from the window. A thin ceiling of cloud now passes by, little blips of blue showing signs of the open space beyond. I am feeling fairly easy. I have not had the most motivated Monday, but I am at peace, and that seems good enough for me. I hope that, on some level, this simple slice of honest peace is serving the wider world.  See you next week.

Persistence

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I don’t want to. Now is one of those times. But I am trying, all the same. I am sitting here patiently, typing words, just to see what happens. I am hoping that I might soon feel like continuing. The weakest hint of momentum may just be enough to see me stick with it a while and churn a little something out. But developing the discipline to sit down when I am not inspired is not easy. It takes a lot of persistence. There are more than a few old roadblocks to break through.

I used to consider myself a promising young writer, though I mostly sat around waiting for the spark of inspiration to strike me. Occasionally a whimsical bit of verse would trickle forth, before falling prey to laziness – my base state for quite some time. I could work on something with a brief initial burst of energy, sometimes even following up with a weak second effort, but so many fine ideas fell flat simply because I could not seem to sustain any interest or discipline. I was ideologically opposed to the structure of discipline; I rebelled against its ‘necessity’. I hosted various vague and untested notions floating about my skull claiming that art should not require effort. I had grown wary of hard work, certainly not due to overexposure. But now I see the great value of structure and discipline in allowing our creativity a channel through which to flow. Seeing projects beyond their birth calls for this kind of commitment and perseverance.

I can’t yet speak from any great track-record of outward accomplishments or publications, as my writing regimen is still quite young, but I can feel the fruit of this routine ripening within me. (I think it’s going to be tasty.) Since the beginning of August, I have been rising at 5 AM every day (with rare exceptions), and after an hour of yoga and meditation (or exercise and prayer, depending who I am talking to – as if there were any difference beyond labels), I sit down at my eastward facing desk and write for three solid hours. Solid may be too firm a word. Solid is the ideal. At the outset, I would sometimes sneak away to play the odd song on the guitar. That is pretty rare now. I often look out the window and marvel at the sunrise playing on the underside of clouds. I close my eyes and breathe a lot. But staying in the seat is the goal. From 6 til 9. (Bathroom breaks are always permitted.) Over time, it has become easier to stick it out. This kind of discipline was never my strong suit, but I have found patience to be a huge ally in the battle of building will power. I can look to my simple meditation practice for developing these seeds of patience. 

I have only been an ‘active’ meditator for about two years now (admittedly, on the surface it looks pretty passive – I just sit there), but the growth I have experienced is astonishing. We are all capable of developing powerful faculties we never thought possible. The trick is doing it for its own sake. As soon as you feel some pressure or obligation, the spark is often lost. Setting goals is still vital, of course, but being able to work without attachment to firm outcomes allows us to discover that the worth of the work is the work itself. This is a most beautiful revelation. We can use incentives and other tools, as we wish, but I believe it is the simple creative release of self-expression in whatever we do that truly feeds us. There is nothing else we need. That fundamental dose of satisfaction is all we are really after, whether we see it or not.

I sat here from beginning to end – from word one to right now – and despite wanting to get up many times, I stuck it out, and I am glad I did. It may not be all that cohesive – meandering much as I did while writing it, jotting thoughts and jumping back and forth to tend to open threads – but I am glad I kept writing. This is such a simple reward. Discipline when exercised feels good in and of itself. Persistence pays. Keep at it.

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