Balance

 Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island

Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island

Nature has a way of balancing itself out. As we fade into the fall, nature's brilliance is on display. It doesn't go away unnoticed, as the brilliant colors of this tree call our attention to it! And soon, these very trees will be barren, then soon thereafter full of green leaves again. Aaah, it's a perennial balancing act that nature has been conducting for a long time. It's an enduring dance, a reminder of the true nature of all things -- nothing lasts.

For me, the idea of staying in balance hits home closely. For a while recently, I've felt that my life wasn't entirely in balance. Too much work, and not enough time to just have fun. Last month, I read a blog by Ramit Sethi that struck home. In it I recall him saying that one should stop all work by a certain hour of the day (i.e., no late nights), and go on to prioritizing things like eating well, being in touch with family and friends, and getting a good night's sleep. That is a definition of a rich life. I took it heart, and have been trying this approach. Occasionally I am successful, occasionally I am not, but more and more my life is moving in this direction.

In class this month, I shared this quote from the Buddhist meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg:

The 7 factors of Awakening: The path of liberation laid out by the Buddha is not one of self-judgment, grasping, or acquisitiveness, but rather, one of balance. If we can bring our system into balance, it is believed, freedom, love and compassion will emerge. One essential way this balance is described is through the 7 factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation, effort, raptness, calm, concentration and equanimity.

From it I took that if I am to expect to be able to be more enlightened than I am now, I have to first be in balance. When my life is not in balance, it is hard for me to stay calm, concentrate, be mindful and maintain equanimity. In those moments when we are not overly stressed or worried, we've all experienced feeling an intense Universal Love for all beings, and have let go of old grudges This is a good reason to try to maintain balance.

Maintaining balance requires both attaining and letting go. The 13th Century Persian Poet Rumi wrote:

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as bird wings.

In other words, we can't keep going and going. Especially as things get busy for us during the holidays -- it's important to make time to bring our life to a standstill. In yoga asana practice we do this by coming to chid's pose. We have to take time to stop, pause, and contract inward to balance out all our active doing.

Sarah at Charleston Yoga shared this sage advice:

Can you remain calm in the midst of your everyday life?  Consider for a moment the importance of balance in the natural order of human life.  Every human body yearns for and thrives in a state of inner balance, inner peace.  This feeling of serenity provides a reference point: it will increase your awareness of, and decrease your tolerance for, the imbalances you normally experience. Think of the first experience you had in Shavasana (Corpse pose), a state of deep relaxation.  Once you've had that experience of relaxation you have a reference point; you can more easily notice tension as it arises and take steps to release it.  Once you know what true balance feels like, you'll begin to notice what's out of balance in any area of your life.  As simple as that??  No, not really ... you must practice daily.  See you on your mat.

One reason we practice yoga is so that we can get in touch with this reference point of serenity again and again, to the point where we don't want to let it go so easily. I've heard some retirees I know say that they don't want to go back to working full time again now that they have the freedom to come and go as they please, with fewer external demands on their time.  And one said that looking back she has no idea how she juggled a full-time job with her personal life. In his former job, my partner found himself so overworked and not able to enjoy life that he said to me several times he was ready to say to his boss "I quit." Fortunately, he's found himself in a new job now, and all indications so far are that his work-life balance will improve.

In the practice of yoga asanas, it is important to remember that there has to be a balance of effort -- a balance of intention. as it were -- in each yoga posture. According to this translation by SwamiJ of Sutra 2.46 from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: 

The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless (sthira), as well as comfortable and ease-filled (sukha), and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)

It is said that unless one is steady and comfortable that one will not be able to experience a higher Awareness of the Infinite. So when you are practicing yoga postures, you must check in with yourself from time to time, honestly asking yourself if you are working so hard that you're losing sight of the larger picture.

During this holiday season, I hope that the hustle and bustle don't throw you off balance too much. And I hope you will have extra time to reflect quietly back on your year, celebrating your triumphs and also making note of things you want to change in 2018. Spending time reflecting back at this time of the year will be a nice way to balance out your 2017.

May you be happy, healthy, balanced, and free ... for the benefit of both yourself and all beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni