Finding balance

Finding your balance point is a major part of this season, the season of harvest. We learn of need and abundance, of just enough and not quite enough. We learn what needs to be worked on still, and what we can sit back and enjoy. Having a birthday that falls right in the middle of the harvest season is a great reminder for me to stop, to take stock, in my own personal life. Too often for me the focus is outward, and rightly so in my opinion, working on deep integration and relationship. Too often too many spend their entire lives looking inward, and missing the entire outer experience of being in the world. The curse of self-awareness is a blinkered view of the world because the focus is centred on the self. When the self becomes “we”, however, our views can change rapidly. But right here, right now, I am about to celebrate another year’s passing in my life, camping with my husband, taking our canoe out and enjoying some time together away from all the demands of everyday life. With the equinox approaching, the crops still being taken in, the apples in my garden ripening, I see how everything in nature is working in a balance, where if something is out of kilter, it will more than likely fail.

Taking this time is essential for my own personal balance. Teetering on the tipping point of a situation can be gloriously inspiring, invigorating and exciting, but so can finding that harmony within. So many people feel alive only when they are tipped one way or another, but for me balancing in the middle of that teeter-totter was always the best place to be on the playground. Literally. I loved finding my balance, seeing the ends of the teeter-totter stretched out to either side, knowing that I could keep them both off the ground and in balance through finding my own centre. I didn’t need the drama of a great high or a low bump while sitting on the edge of that playground attraction – that middle place was the most exhilarating, where I found I used the most skill to find and maintain my own balance to affect the whole.

I’ve always had good balance physically. Learning to ski and ice skate from a very early age, riding bikes all summer long, I knew how to find and work with that sweet spot to my own advantage. With ice-skating in particular I loved spinning, finding that spot on the blade of my skate that allowed me to spin at speed in one place, ignoring the dizziness and simply being in the moment of perfect balance, often one leg lifted, creating beautiful shapes and feeling physically present and wonderful in that moment.

Spiritually, my work in Buddhism has helped me to understand the wisdom of the Middle Way. This is not to say that my life isn’t full of spiritual or emotional ups and downs, but instead the focus is to incorporate the teachings of harmony and balance into everyday life.

I simply don’t understand the need to create huge dramas when life is so utterly wonderful. I’m not saying my life is wonderful, for again there are equal amounts of pleasure and pain, work and enjoyment, life and death. But being in that moment of moving beyond opens me to the wonder that is so utterly inspiring to Druids the world over. It is that exquisite taste of awen, of inspiration, where souls meet and worlds are broken open into new and deeper meanings than ever imagined. That wonder is not just found in great highs and at the turning point of the lowest lows, but also in perfect balance.

This harvest season, as we approach the equinox, I’ll be working further with balance, opening my eyes to see it in the world around me, to allow it to inspire me further in my work. In the heathland and forest of my home, where the ecosystem maintains itself without human intervention. In the cycles of water and wind that roam over our blue planet. In the dance of stars and moons that hurtle through time and space. And at the centre of it all is balance, even as the world spins without, here, at the very centre is a stillness that is so exquisite there simply aren’t even words to describe it.

The Self and the Middle Way

I’ve just been introduced to a wonderful concept, a very different view of the Middle Way by Vietnemese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Beyond the Self: Teachings of the Middle Way.

So many people interpret the Buddha’s teachings of the Middle Way as walking between two extremes, of finding a middle ground between points of view. However, Thay talks about how we need to throw out all duality in order to truly understand the Middle Way. We do not walk between two extremes, but instead we throw out the concept of the extremes. We let go of dualistic points of view, and in doing so we are further able to release notions of the self in order to fully integrate with the world.

This has resonated so deeply with me, as for the past couple of months I have been exploring the release of the self and integration with the natural world as a result. To walk the middle way, we must, as Thay suggests “throw out” instead of letting go – as letting go still concedes to a dualistic nature of existence, and a self that is separate from nature. If we throw out all these ideas we are left with nothing but possibility.

The idea of the Middle Way, of changing the way that you think by throwing out dualities, has some other very interesting concepts to chew on. What happens if you throw out anger and joy? What happens when you throw out pain and bliss? Walking the Middle Way is not about never getting angry, or upset, or joyful, or blissful. It is about releasing ideas of opposites, and seeing the potential that is created in doing so.

How does this work then? If we throw out ideas of birth and death, we are simply left with manifestation of existence in all its forms. This reaffirms my belief that life does not begin when we are born, nor stop when we die: we simply change form, decomposing into the soil, molecules breaking down, chemical reactions occurring. We are released into the air through the plants growing around us, released into the water table, we fall as rain or snow, we are in the wind. There is no beginning and no end. When the conditions are right we manifest in different forms, whether that be human, water molecule, etc. When we strike a match, the flame does not come out of nowhere: the right chemical reaction must occur. When the flame is blown out, it does not disappear into nothingness, but simply ceases in that manifestation. When the conditions are right, it can appear again. As Thay puts it – clouds cannot die.

For me, this is the concept of reincarnation, exquisitely explained.

With regards to the self, we can take this further, realising that there is no separate self. We are beings that, like everything else on this planet, require the existence of other things in order to manifest. We are entirely co-dependent, there is nothing on this planet that can exist without other things. A cloud needs water and other elements in order to be. Humans needs water, food, shelter, oxygen and a host of other things in order to exist. Everything is interconnected. We cannot separate one thing from another – it is simply impossible. When we realise the interdependence of existence, we see that there really can be no separate sense of self – we are made up of millions of other human and non-human elements.

Thay goes further into describing all these other elements as having their own vitality, their own purpose, their own consciousness. Each thing is equally important in the manifestation of all existence.

For me, this is animism, exquisitely explained.

It is so wonderful when concepts that you hold so dear to your heart, concepts that you regularly meditate over, are expressed within a different religious path so eloquently. It shows a shared human experience, and a shared global manifestation of consciousness.

Thay is currently in hospital, aged 88 having suffered a brain haemorrhage. He is making progress, and we all wish him the best in his recovery, should that happen. Whatever may happen, we wish him peace and love. His teachings have made him a true hero of our time.