Sunday, August 21, 2011

Living In Balance And Harmony

When you think of living in balance, how do you perceive that balance? Would your life and lifestyle be pretty mellow with no great highs or lows, similar to driving over a terrain of little hills but no tall mountains or deep valleys? You would experience no great ups or downs; nothing to get upset or angry about, but nothing to get excited about either? You would have no major illnesses; you would feel pretty good but experience the occasional “blah” day?

Many people would consider that to be a balanced life and be pretty satisfied with it because most see balance as an apothecary’s scales or a see-saw where there are little ups and downs, but basically “balanced” means horizontal levelness. Take a moment to consider the things we say to warn people off from imbalance: “Don’t tilt the apple cart;” “don’t tip the scales;” “keep it on an even keel.”

That perceived state of balance really means equilibrium: “A condition in which all acting influences are canceled by others, resulting in a stable, balanced, or unchanging system.” When talking about Dao and balance, we can safely agree that there is nothing about the Dao that is unchanging. It is quite the opposite, changing every minute of every day.

Take a moment to ponder all the things around you that are changing right this minute; depending upon the time of day you are reading this the day is changing to night or vice versa, the summer is changing to winter in the northern hemisphere and winter to summer in the southern hemisphere, at the time of this writing the moon is changing from full to new. On a more personal scale, your body is shedding old skin cells and making new ones, your qi is circulating through your energy channels, and your body chemicals are rising and falling in their own rhythm. Many of these things you don’t pay much attention to or even notice in the course of the day, but they affect you just as profoundly as the recognition of hunger or sleepiness or any of several emotions you may be feeling like anxiety or depression or happiness or contentment.

Can you imagine being caught in an ever-balanced, unchanging life? What would that be like? Would it always be spring or autumn so the length of day and night were equal and the seasons would never change to bring extreme heat or cold? Would your thoughts always progress smoothly from one idea to the next? Would you always be emotionally mellow, feeling neither anger nor joy?

When I present “balance” to you that way, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? However, that is exactly the kind of life you create for yourself when you attempt to maintain rigid levels of brain or body chemicals through unnatural measures in an attempt to control unwanted emotions or diseases without getting to the root of the problem to learn why those difficult emotions and diseases are bubbling up in the first place.

In following the Dao, equilibrium is not the sort of balance we are trying to attain.

In his writing “Balance” from the book 365 Tao (1), Deng Ming-Dao reminds us: “Nature does not achieve balance by keeping to one level. Rather, elements and seasons alternate with one another in succession. Balance, as defined by the Tao, is not stasis but a dynamic process of many overlapping alternations; even if some phases seem wildly excessive, they are balanced by others.

“Everything has its place. Everything has a season. As events turn, balance is to know what is here, what is coming, and how to be in perfect harmony with it. Then one attains a state of sublimity that cannot be challenged.”

You can see that balance is not equilibrium, and perhaps that is why equilibrium is so difficult to maintain – it is not natural, it is contrived. If you must spend your energy and attention maintaining equilibrium, you have neither the time nor opportunity to be aware of the cycles which create balance naturally.

In part, the reason equilibrium is so highly valued today is because changes in life come so swiftly and unexpectedly you have little time to adapt to one change before the next challenges you; they come at you like white-capped waves in a stormy sea. Not only is it difficult to keep up with today’s fast-paced technology, but all these labor-saving devices have actually caused American workers to be less productive rather than more productive, and instead of taking less time to complete tasks, it now takes longer. No wonder you become angry, frustrated, and depressed. Life has tossed more complications at you than you can cope with. It is nearly impossible to “know…what is coming, and how to be in perfect harmony with it” as Deng Ming-Dao suggests. You can barely keep up with what’s here and now!

The way to calm the mind and soothe the body is not through chemically forced equilibrium. Generally speaking, chemicals do not help your body to perform natural processes; they supply your body with uniform levels of needed chemicals so your body does not have to perform at all because your natural system has been bypassed. When one body system is bypassed, it affects the performance of a second, related system, and then that second system requires intervention, and so on, in a chain-reaction of chemically-induced stasis which is quite unnatural, and causes more ill-health than it cures.

The correct path to natural balance and wellness can be found in verse 19 of the Tao Te Ching (Peter Merel interpolation (2))

If we could discard knowledge and wisdom Then people would profit a hundredfold; If we could discard duty and justice Then harmonious relationships would form; If we could discard artifice and profit Then waste and theft would disappear. Yet such remedies treat only symptoms And so they are inadequate. People need personal remedies: Reveal your naked self and embrace your original nature; Bind your self-interest and control your ambition; Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.

Here is one interpretation of how this verse instructs you in achieving true, natural balance.

If we could discard knowledge and wisdom Then people would profit a hundredfold;
This does not mean to throw away what you know. It means that the demands for learning that are made upon you may account for the higher levels of stress and anxiety you experience, and may lead to feelings of fear, anger, resentment, and depression. Today, those demands often include becoming proficient in complicated technologies, and learning several jobs so that you are able to cover jobs for other people when they are out sick or on vacation. If the demands made upon you were fewer or less intense, you would not suffer sustained and debilitating levels of energy-draining and disease-causing emotions like anxiety and depression, and you would not require chemical interventions. Yes, you probably would experience these negative emotions, but you would “profit” by having shorter and fewer episodes, and you would have the mind power and the energy to effectively counteract them with techniques such as going for a brisk walk, or doing qigong.

If we could discard duty and justice Then harmonious relationships would form;
Duty and justice are the expectations and laws of other people imposed upon you. Often, that expectation breeds resentment and ill-will, exactly the opposite of harmony. Goodwill cannot be forced or legislated. Harmony comes when you work with others because you want to, not because someone else demands or expects it.

If we could discard artifice and profit Then waste and theft would disappear.
Waste and theft are both products of overabundance. If you live lavishly, opulently, not only is it wasteful, you will likely be a target for thieves. There is an inner angle to this also: waste and theft of your energy. If you put an overabundance of energy into attaining wealth and profit, you suffer burnout. If you are directed to expend your energy on tasks that only cause you anger and frustration, or things that will only profit you outwardly, you effectively “steal” energy from more deserving pursuits.

Yet such remedies treat only symptoms And so they are inadequate. People need personal remedies:
So far, the things that have been discussed either come from or apply to your interactions with other people. Without addressing your inner self and inner needs, any changes will halt the course of imbalance and illness but do not address the issue of how to effect a cure for your health and well-being.

Reveal your naked self and embrace your original nature;
We all wear masks at times. The problem has become that, in order to maintain emotional self-protection, you wear a mask most of the time; no one knows the real you. It may be protective, but it is stressful, too, like being on guard or on alert every moment with never a time to relax. You need to be open and honest with the people around you, and with yourself! Be who you really are, not who you are expected to be.

Bind your self-interest and control your ambition;
Bind in this context means to reduce your self-interest. Basically, don’t make yourself crazy! Sometimes the demands and expectations you put on yourself are worse than those put on you by others. Many challenges can and should be enjoyed, they keep life interesting. However, know your limits and don’t push them past the point of no return. It’s not a good or stimulating challenge if it harms your physical or emotional health.

Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.
“…simplify your affairs.” Much easier said than done, but if you truly desire to return to a state of balanced health and wellness which includes anticipating changes and being in harmony, never doubt that you have the ability and will find the way to do it.

I believe the golden key to unlock the treasure in this case is the phrase “Forget your habits…” How often do you do things out of habit without even realizing it? Many times a day, I guarantee it. The only way to break a habit is through awareness. It is imperative that you watch your thoughts, and watch how your thoughts create your emotions, and watch how your emotions create your health and well-being.

One way to “forget your habits” is to embrace change. Change everything you can about your day. Change your alarm clock so that you arise a few minutes earlier or later. Eat a different breakfast. Drink a cup of tea instead of coffee. Wear your Thursday suit on Monday and your Monday suit on Thursday. Take a different route to work if you walk or drive. If you ride, sit at the back of the bus or subway car instead of the front, or vice versa. Smile and say “Good Morning!” to everyone you see instead of hiding behind the newspaper. If you drive, listen to a different radio station. Smile and say “Good Morning!” to everyone in your office, especially the people who give you a hard time. (They will wonder what you are up to!) Take or buy something different for lunch.

By now I’m sure you are getting the idea. Changing your routine periodically will enable you to better cope physically, mentally, and emotionally with all change whether it is initiated by you or someone else. Do not be overwhelmed by change and attempt to cure it with stasis. Take control of the change, and allow the dynamic ups and downs of the natural world bring you into true balance and harmony.

(1) Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Harper San Francisco, 1992, ISBN 0062502239


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