Monthly Archives: September 2011

Autumnal Equinox

We have been exploring the concept of balance, inspired by the coming of the autumnal equinox, when night and day are equal in length. We have looked at: how to be in balance in the midst of chaos and how to create balance in our lives. And here we are at the autumnal equinox (Happy Fall!), only to discover that balance is not any particular moment in time, but something that we can find in any moment, even in the midst of challenging, seemingly out of balance circumstances.

Yet hearing or reading about a concept such as balance is just the first of a series of ways we incorporate it into our lives so that it can be of value. After learning about it, we live with it as an interesting idea. If it holds our interest, we study it in greater depth. With each exposure to the concept, we pause to notice our own response, what it activates within us: curiosity, fear or greed, for example. Our process is to question the concept itself, our understanding of the concept, and our reaction to the concept. By testing it for veracity, opening to it, walking with it, sitting with it, we can ultimately awaken to the truth through our own insights. Through this process we may find that we have incorporated this concept into our own view and our own way of being in the world.

What has come up for you in this exploration? Is the concept of balance valuable for you at this time? Is there a sense of imbalance in your life? If so, what is causing that sense of imbalance? Is it the causes and conditions of life that feel askew and you are struggling to stay centered amidst them? Or are you out of balance in your own patterns, not getting sufficient sleep, exercise, nourishment, meditation, pleasure, social engagement, mental stimulation, peace and quiet, laughter, order, simplicity or space for contemplation?

Through the regular practice of meditation we find the still point of center, a sense of being present and compassionate with whatever arises. From this vantage point, we can accept circumstances beyond our control and be empowered to change what is within our control. This sounds like the AA Serenity Prayer, which is based in deep wisdom. Whether we are prone to addictive behavior or not, we can incorporate this saying into our lives when seeking balance, for it is when we get out of balance that we fall into unskillfulness in whatever form is our personal pattern.
The Serenity Prayer concludes by asking for the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can change and the things that are beyond our control. This kind of discernment, being able to see when we are creating the imbalance in our lives and when it is something that we need to find a way to make peace with, comes with the regular practice of meditation. Without this clarity, we may believe we have no power to change a situation that is destructive, disruptive or out of balance in some way. Conversely we may believe we have it all together and it is our business to ‘correct’ someone else’s situation. We may spend our time railing against the world rather than accepting our seat at the table to co-create the world.

What comes up for you as I say these things? Notice images and associations. Make notes or journal if that is useful. What is the story you have been telling yourself? How has that story prevented you from seeing the balance that exists or seeing the imbalance that exists in your life?

When we talk about balance it is easy to assume that happiness is somehow only attached to one state of being, that happiness will come when all our ducks are in a row, all the stars aligned and we have gotten our act together. If we think we can only find happiness under certain conditions, as if we were hot house flowers, then we are creating a false narrative, an overly narrow and virtually impossible standard for happiness to exist.
Seeking happiness in itself is a sure means of never attaining it. If happiness is always on the horizon, then it is always beyond our reach. We are in a constant state of waiting, of hoping and dreaming. Look at the horizon. Does it ever get closer? No matter how far you travel you will never reach it. Is that not so? So our practice isn’t about some moment days, weeks or years hence, when all will be perfect. Our practice is about this moment: Being present, being compassionate, being here for the only gift we are given, again and again, fresh in each moment. Balance is only possible in this moment.
This sense of presence brings us the gift of being in balance, aka Equilibrium or Upekka, one of the Four Bramaviharas, or divine abodes. The first three Bramaviharas are Metta, loving kindness; Karuna, compassion; and Mudita, sympathetic joy, when we are happy for the happiness of others.
These states of being arise naturally out of the practice of meditation, of being present. We don’t have to go on a trek to find them. They are here and now, always arising from our regular practice of meditation. As you practice with consistency you may notice a sense of lovingkindness arising in you, not just for people you like for a particular reason, but for all beings. That is Metta. May ALL beings be well.
You may notice as you continue to meditate regularly that compassion arises. Compassion for yourself as you let go of erroneous ideas of who you are; and compassion for others, not because you feel sorry for them, but because you feel connected to them – no longer ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ but ‘There go I.’ That is Karuna.
As you practice you may begin to notice that you feel true joy for the happiness of others where before you may have felt gnawing envy, as if their happiness was stolen from you. Now you see that joy creates joy and is contagious. It is an infinite rather than finite resource. That is Mudita.
And you may discover that thanks to your meditation practice you are developing the ability to be present fully even when two strong emotions are vying for your attention. For example, it is not unusual at some point in life to be attending the wedding of a child and at the same time mourning or worrying about the ill-health of a parent or other loved one. In such a situation without the gift of a regular meditation practice, we might feel incapable of holding these two experiences or some other complexities of life without being plowed under by them. With meditation we find emotions can be full, rich and powerful, but there is a spacious awareness that gives us the abiding strength to hold it all in a loving open embrace. That is Upekka.
These four states, these heavenly abodes, are the naturally arising gifts of the practice. And Upekka, equanimity, the ability to live in a balanced way is indeed a great blessing. Explore this concept of balance in your own life and in your way of being in the world. Distinguish between what is within your control and what is not. If it is within your control, find the strength of love and gratitude within you to choose to create in each moment a balanced and harmonious life. If it is beyond your control, find within you that still point of center again and again, using the paired intentions: to be present and compassionate.

Lao Tsu, the Tao and Balance

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Even though our focus here is primarily Buddhist, no exploration of the subject of balance would be complete without looking at the Tao de Ching. Two weeks ago we looked at the gyroscope as an example of how we can find balance even amidst seeming chaos, by staying centered in the moment, sensing our connection through the paired intentions of being present and being compassionate. Then last week we looked at the Buddha’s Middle Way and the Eightfold Path to see that not only can we be balanced in the midst of whatever arises, but we can actively create through our conscious choices a more balanced life. The Tao looks at both of these aspects, using different language for the same concepts.

I am no expert on the Tao but I did study it quite intensely at one period in my life and I have a number of translations of the Tao de Ching to work with. I remember answering the perennial question about what book would you have with you on a desert island with ‘Tao de Ching.’ Why? Because in 81 succinct verses it encompasses so much wisdom, and each time I read a verse it is fresh for me. I learn something new from it because I am in a different place. 

If you are unfamiliar with Taoism or the Tao de Ching, there is plenty of information online to explore, so I will give a very brief introduction here:
About the same time the Buddha was teaching in 500 BC, legend has it that an archive keeper in a kingdom in China named Lao Tsu, which translates ‘old master,’ saw that the kingdom was decaying and decided it was time for him to hit the road. On his way out the western gate of town on his oxcart, he was stopped by the gatekeeper who implored him not to leave without at least writing down some words of wisdom, for he was known as a sage. So Lao Tsu got down off his cart and spent a couple hours writing down these verses, then went on his way and was never seen again. This may be a true story or it may be a legend with symbolic seeds of wisdom in the story itself, and the Tao may be the compilation of many sages over the centuries.

The word ‘Tao’ means the whole or supreme reality, and ‘te’ is the way we put our understanding of the Tao into action for the benefit of all beings. Ching means book, so the Tao de Ching could be translated ‘the book of the Supreme Reality and its Skillful Manifestation.’ So you can see that this is indeed very much what we were talking about in our previous discussions of balance: We align with the oneness, and put that awareness to use in our interactions with the world.

There are many translations of the title and of the verses themselves, and it is very interesting to have a few translations available to explore the verses. Why so many? If you look at a verbatim translation with each Chinese symbol of each verse given all its possible meanings, you can see it would be impossible for any two translators to come up with identical wording. I have no need to choose one translator over another. I like to draw from them all to get a well-rounded feeling of each verse. But if you plan to only purchase one book and you have several to choose from, you might take the time to compare how each translator approaches a particular verse, and then choose the one that resonates with you. 

CLICK HERE to see animated version

In class I began our exploration of balance and the Tao by showing the Yin/Yang symbol. Most of us are at least familiar with the sight of this symbol in all its various decorative uses, but what does it really mean? As a teacher I believe that the symbol was developed as a teaching tool to demonstrate balance in nature. Looking at it you can see that the black swirl and the white swirl are perfectly balanced, and that within the black swirl is a white dot and within the white swirl there is a black dot.

If you were able to click on the symbol and see the animated loop, then you can see how this static image represents a singular point in time that is ongoing ever-changing. The black and white dots started as mere specks, almost invisible, and are continuing to grow so that at some point the white swirl has turned black and the black swirl has turned white, and then specks of the opposite begin to grow within them. Studying this symbol, especially in its animated form, gives us insight into the way of the universe. Isn’t this our experience of nature as we traverse the seasons, from dark to light, from cold to hot, and from wet to dry?  In this season of the ending of summer, isn’t the hint of fall here, making itself known more and more each day, like the growing speck of black or white in the Yin Yang symbol? Noticing the ongoing changes in nature and in ourselves with loving curiosity and appreciation for being present to experience this fleeting gift of life and frees us from clinging to one over the other. 

One student in class said she felt that the animated gyroscope from last week was more helpful than looking at the Yin Yang symbol because it offered a stable place to be, and the Yin Yang is in a constant state of flux. But when we look at the Yin Yang we are observing it from a whole view, not getting caught up in any place within the circle but holding a sufficiently expansive view that we see the way of the 10,000 things. Understanding the constancy of change and the nature of impermanence is key to liberating ourselves from being dependent on specific causes and conditions to stay the same for us to find joy in living.
Yin and Yang are opposite energies that together form a whole. As you read the following list of yin and yang opposites, feel it like a poem rather than simple information to be understood. Yin is dark, yang is light; yin is moon, yang is sun; yin is night, yang is day; yin is winter, yang is summer; yin is soft, yang is hard; yin is interior, yang is exterior; yin is passive, yang is aggressive; yin is contracting, yang is expanding; yin is water, yang is stone; yin is valley, yang is mountain; yin is estrogen, yang is testosterone; yin is contemplative, yang is active; yin is feeling, yang is thinking; yin is subconscious, yang is conscious; yin is listening, yang is speaking; yin is nurturing, yang is achieving; yin is intuitive, yang is reasoning.  
(If you are familiar with yin and yang, you may have noticed that I chose to use the hormones testosterone and estrogen rather than gender, which is traditional.  All of us, men and women, know what it feels like to have testosterone coursing through us. We feel strong and able, ready to accomplish whatever we put our minds to. And maybe sometimes we feel it as anger, frustration, even an urge to be violent.

Likewise, we all know what it feels like when estrogen flows through us. Perhaps we tear up with empathy at a movie. We feel a sense of connection with others and the world around us, we feel open and curious. But perhaps at times we might feel vulnerable, sad and weepy.

So we understand that women are not all Yin and men are not all Yang, that we all feel the effects of both these hormones to varying degrees throughout our lives.)  

Our awareness of yin and yang helps us to bring them into balance and become more skillful. Chinese medicine and martial arts are all about this balancing of the yin and yang within us, and skillfully using them in our interactions.  
I hope that reading the above list of yin and yang qualities gives you a feeling of the difference between the two, and how they work together to create the whole of our experience of life. It is less important to be able to name them yin and yang, and more important to notice this ongoing play of opposites that together form a whole balanced system. Understanding this, there is nothing we want to eliminate. All aspects have their place in the scheme of things. Developing an awareness of the Tao, of the wholeness of life, brings us into balance.  
Here are a few verses from the Tao te Ching just to give you a taste. I hope it will inspire you to peruse your bookshelf for that copy you’ve had since the sixties but never really bothered to read, or to enjoy discovering it for the very first time. 

Be still
And discover your center of peace.
Throughout nature
Then ten thousand things move along,
But each returns to its source.
Returning the center is peace.
Find Tao by returning to source.
Tao 16 Trans. Diane Dreher

All beings support yin and embrace yang
and the interplay of these two forces
fills the universe
Yet only at the still-point,
between the breathing in and the breathing out.
can one capture these two in perfect harmony.
Excerpt from Tao 42, Trans. Jonathan Star

The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
Thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.
Tao 7, trans Stephen Mitchell  

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
This nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
This loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
Tao 67, trans. Stephen Mitchell

The Buddha’s Middle Way

After last week’s exploration of finding balance in our lives amidst the inconsistent causes and conditions that abound, I wanted to bring the Buddha into the conversation because his first discourse after his awakening included an explanation of what he called the Middle Way, and what is the nature of the Middle Way if not balance?
Remember that the Buddha’s life had been marked by two extremes. Siddhartha Gautama was raised in opulence, luxury and sensory indulgence. When he left that life, he joined a group of wandering mendicants who practiced asceticism, denying not just the pleasures of the flesh but as much of the basic needs of the body as they possibly could without dying from their rigorous practice. Siddhartha was quite gifted at the various ascetic practices, mastering them quickly. But after six years he found that this extreme did not satisfy either. So he set off on his own, sat under the Bodhi tree with clear intention and a willingness to be present with whatever arose, and ultimately awakened.
After he awakened, thus becoming a buddha or awakened one, it is said that he sat by a river and listened to a lute being played. He noted that the strings of the lute needed to be neither too loose nor too taut in order to play beautiful music. Just so he realized that over-efforting and under-efforting both create discord, that only when tuned to what he came to call The Middle Way could true happiness be found.

This was an important insight for him and an important message for the ascetics to hear because their whole practice was imbued with extreme deprivation and self-mortification.
How important is this message to us? Is it a message only for people living at extremes? Can those of us who live moderate lives feel smug and move on to the next lesson? Is living at extremes a real problem for us?
The Buddha said we should neither force ourselves to do things we cannot do, nor lose ourselves in sensual pleasures. Those two words ‘force’ and ‘lose’ are key to this teaching.

Force. Hmmm. When have we ever forced ourselves to do something that it turned out well? How present can we be when we feel forced. What inner aspect is in charge of this forcing? Is it a wise inner aspect or a fear-based one? I think of some inner Gestapo with threatening words and weapons that will be used if I don’t tow the line. How whole-heartedly will I do whatever task is at hand under these conditions? How much of my mind is preoccupied with plotting escape routes?

But wait, sometimes I do have to just force myself to get out of bed in the morning, and the minute I do I am glad to have done so. So isn’t a little force necessary? When I stop to think about that moment, I can notice that my body wants to rise, wants to move, wants to greet the day. The inner Gestapo has nothing to do with it. What keeps me in bed is any of a number of emotions that have already scoped out what the day might bring and are pulling back in aversion. Or, there is simply a greedy self-indulgent aspect that finds the coziness of bed quite addictive. So there is a subtle but powerful difference between forcing myself to get out of bed, pushed by some name-calling inner drill sergeant, and being present with the natural call to rise.

The idea of losing ourselves in sensual pleasure actually sounds pretty good but in truth the more present we can be with any state, the more pleasurable it is. When we lose ourselves what are we losing? Our access to inner wisdom? Who is making the choices when we are lost? Some greedy aspect that wants to gobble up all the goodies before they are gone? Is the jagged edge of fear really adding to our experience or taking away from it? An interesting exploration for each of us.

Last week we studied the image of a gyroscope as an illustration of how our twin intentions of being present and compassionate keep us stable rather than subject to the extremes of the events that may happen in our lives. These two intentions are the mainstay of our practice. If they were the only things we learned, they would be enough to make an enormous difference in our lives. But the Buddha in his initial teaching spoke of The Four Noble Truths, and the fourth among them was The Eightfold Path, which provides us with actionable means to create the Middle Way in our own lives. By following the Eightfold Path we not only can survive and even thrive in adverse conditions, we can actively create conditions most beneficial for our welfare and the welfare of others.

If you are unfamiliar with or would like review, look up both explorations of the Four Noble Truths, including the Eightfold Path. Since this is the primary teaching of the Buddha — the most important thing he wanted to share when he began teaching — it is certainly going to be worth your time to find out about it.

The Eightfold Path supplies us with tools or guideposts to see when we veer off into extremes and get out of balance in our lives. Every day we are in a position to make conscious skillful choices that will create either happiness or havoc in our lives. So the Middle Way is not just being able to tolerate what arises, but developing the skillfulness to actively create balance in our lives. We develop behaviors that support health and well being, like eating a balanced diet, getting sufficient exercise, and working without over-efforting. We may recognize the way we speak or act out of fear and anger, and then have to live with the drama that unfolds. With awareness we recognize how we are often causing the events around us. Hopefully as we grow older, we grow wiser, and maybe we don’t need to Buddha to tell us how to be skillful, but the Buddha and his concepts help to make the process of being skillful so much more satisfying as we develop a sense of presence and compassion rather than a scolding tone that diminishes all life.

Sometimes when I work I think about the yogi jobs on retreat. A yogi job is what each retreatant voluntarily undertakes for about an hour each day for the benefit of the whole community of retreatants — chopping vegetables, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming a hallway, sweeping a terrace, etc. At the beginning of my first retreat, I wanted very much to do a great job, to be the best yogi possible. But it is difficult to sustain that kind of intention when you begin to feel the interconnection of all beings. The intention shifts to a joyful sense of participation. I found myself doing the job at hand in a whole-hearted way without any sense of needing to be the best at it, or looking for approval, or being afraid of not doing it well enough. While at first a job like scrubbing a shower might seem boring, ultimately it isn’t at all. And even if it were, the yogi job is for a set amount of time, no more than an hour and usually less. For most of the jobs, we simply do the best we can within that time frame allotted and then put our tools away and go back to our sitting practice. We accept that no one is going to break silence to exclaim what a shiny shower stall we’ve polished, and any need for praise has been replaced by something infinitely more satisfying, a sense of being present and interconnected.

After a retreat, I bring home that wholesome attitude toward working, but soon I am back to the habit of over-doing and being goal-oriented, forgetting that it doesn’t all have to be done right now. And sometimes I find I am full of thoughts that show me I am doing the work for approval and the fear of not being good enough in the eyes of the people I care about. But now when that happens, at least I notice it, and I can make the shift into a more wholesome relationship.

For further exploration of the Middle Way, you might review these three posts: Middle Way, Middle Way, Don’t Tip the Boat!
 Pilgrimage: Sarnath

As we study the Middle Way we want to remember that it is not the mediocre way, not the straight and narrow path, not the bucker up, put up and shut up way. It is the wisdom way, the alive way, the present way, the treasure way, the juicy way, the rich way, the Way.

Finding Balance

Here we are in September. Notice how that feels, what thoughts come up for you around the end of summer, the coming of fall.

We are coming into the time of the autumnal equinox, where day and night are equal in length, so I’m drawn to think about balance — finding balance in our lives, noticing where we get out of balance.

Do you notice where you get out of balance in life? Where you over-indulge or over-effort? It’s often in certain specific areas — in our relationship with food, work, family, friends, coworkers, entertainment, exercise or access to nature. Finding balance begins with noticing what’s true in our current experience.

If you have ever watched a gyroscope in motion, you can see that it is always in balance. This example of one shows how the center portion is stable while the rest circle in all directions. The two parts of the upright pole extending vertically from the level disk remind me of our paired intentions to stay present and compassionate. Where the pole intersects with the disk can be seen as the still point of center that we cultivate through meditation and these intentions.

One kind of gyroscope animation from Wikipedia

The three outer circles in constant motion represent the causes and conditions of life, the events that are unpredictable and beyond our control. With practice our attention stays more and more centered, able to be present with all that occurs without being thrown off by it.

Finding balance is not making sure that everything is even, equal and easy in our lives, but rather that however wildly the circles of life rotate, we are grounded through our sense of presence and sense of compassion to be able to be with it. In looking at this center level disk that represents awareness, I imagine it as having grown from a very small point, the point of a pin that I’ve mentioned before to describe how it may initially feel to be present for a brief moment or two. Now awareness has grown to be this stable ample disk where we can maintain awareness for longer periods without grabbing for one of those rings.

Looking at the gyroscope animated image above, can you imagine trying to hang on to one of the outer edges, the wild swings and loops, being tossed this way and that, and trying to hold on for dear life? Imagine how easy it would be to be thrown off.

When we ride the edges of our experience, allowing ourselves to be thrown by causes and conditions, we suffer and those around us suffer. But when through regular meditation practice we stay present and compassionate, we can find joy in simply being alive even in the most difficult circumstances, while still being fully present for whatever arises. We don’t have to find a ‘better ring’ to hang onto. We simply practice awareness.

If this gyroscope image is useful for you, you might gaze at it for awhile and incorporate that image into your practice.

In our lives, sometimes we may focus more in one area than another, but we can still stay in balance. When we get out of balance, it is because we have gone unconscious and grabbed one of the outer rings of our experience. Perhaps we’re spending too much time at the computer and we’re overriding our sense of presence with a sense of need to get things done. We get into future thinking, grinding through this time in order to get to the reward time when we can relax.

Pause for a moment and think of where in your life you might be out of balance now. If nothing comes up, that’s fine. You might think of a recent example, or an area of your life where you often get out of balance.

Once you have it in mind, think of ways you seek balance when you notice it. For example, when we find we are eating to extremes and growing by leaps and bounds, a typical reaction is to determine to go on a strict diet. Often because the diet is so devoid of joy we put it off until some future date, and then knowing it is coming we figure we better eat up while we can, thus getting ourselves further out of balance!

Then when we actually go on the diet, maybe we get really into it, maybe we enjoy the rigors of self-discipline as a fresh contrast to the over-indulgence we had been experiencing. Yes, but what else is happening? Are we so focused on this regime that we are making it our life? Are we talking about it with others to the exclusion of any potentially more interesting topic? Are we defining ourselves by our ability to stick to a diet and lose weight? Are we spending more time in front of the mirror? Are we living for a future date when we will be at our target weight, promising ourselves the perfect weight wardrobe?

And then what happens? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason that diet programs always say ‘Results not typical’ under the before and after photos of celebrities that followed their program.

It’s not that it’s impossible to lose weight and keep it off. It’s just that the above example, which IS typical, is how we try to balance and extreme with another extreme. This looks more like a teeter totter than a gyroscope, with us soaring and plunging and ultimately falling off.

So I am living with this in my own life: noticing where I am living at an extreme and noticing the reaction to counterbalance it with another extreme. And instead of following through with that plan, which I have seen over and over again doesn’t work, I am simply being as present as I can be and as compassionate as I can be. I am making note of little traps that I fall into and figuring out little work-arounds that help me avoid them. For example, lately at meetings I attend there have been tempting snack foods put out within arm’s reach. I am finding there is another option besides indulgence or denial, even for me. I deny myself the food until I am leaving, and then I take one piece and enjoy it. So this is an example of how each of us can find our own way around things that throw us out of balance and into unconscious behavior. Noticing what happens, and instead of over-reacting or making it someone else’s problem — i.e. “Let’s make a rule that no treats can be brought to meetings.” — simply finding ways to negotiate a workable solution that is balanced.

I’ve noticed that when I am over-efforting — spending too much time on the computer working on a project or being focused on preparing for a future event that needs to be perfect in every way (an example brought up by a student that I think many of us can relate to!) — that if I stop to think about it I realize I have gone into people-pleasing mode. This desire for perfection, for making everything right, is our fear of not being accepted, not being enough, and not being loved. It is a form of appeasement we may have developed in childhood to cope with parents whose critical faculties were in high gear, or some other such challenging situation. It’s the way we’ve dealt with it and we can’t find fault with it because working hard is a virtue, is it not?

I think we can agree there is nothing wrong with hard work, but when it begins to crowd everything out, then we know we are dealing with a matter of extremes. In the example of preparing for an event, the student mentioned that by party time she was wiped out and not present to enjoy it or to be available for others except to make sure they had what they needed. But what they needed was her! Her presence!

So that need to please and appease is something to look at when we find we are over-efforting. If that doesn’t exactly fit, we might think of it in even a broader term of needing to exist, and acknowledgement from others for a job well done is a way of knowing we exist. Of course it is only a temporary fix and doesn’t truly satisfy.

When we are under-efforting or over-indulging, as in the case of over-eating, we might look at what we are avoiding or denying ourselves. What is this indulgence a stand-in for? Where in our lives are we denying ourselves some aliveness, some joy?

When I’m looking for inner answers, I often turn to nature. When I think of balance in nature, one of the best examples for me is the tree.

A classic tree image is of roots reaching down and out in balance to the outreach of its branches. As I think about the tree with its branches reaching up to the sky, its leaves absorbing nourishment from the sun, its roots absorbing nourishment from the soil, and its whole being functioning in balance with all of life, as it takes sin carbon dioxide and releases oxygen for mobile life forms to breathe; as it provides shade, shelter and nourishment to woodland creatures; and its roots keep the earth together. Just by being, existing, a tree performs its balanced functions that benefit all of life.

Just by being, existing, attuned with our own inner wisdom, there is a distinct possibility that we too are fulfilling our natural function. Perhaps we don’t have to go to extremes! Perhaps we just need to stay present and compassionate to be fully alive and balanced.

Speaking of roots, we can revisit our exploration of shallow-rooted fear-based living versus deeply rooting in the spacious nourishing soil of life. Another way we get out of balance is between our creative non-linear impulses and our inner desire for structure and rules.  In psychological terms these are the puer and the senex. I have been rereading ‘The Wisdom of Imperfection’ by Rob Preece, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Jungian psychotherapist, and he mentions these terms. So let me bring my own exploration of shallow and deep rooting to these two aspects. The puer when it is well-rooted, coming from a sense of love and wholeness, is a font of creativity and freshness. The senex when it is well-rooted is the ability to take that creativity to its fullest expression through supplying a grounded organization for it. Preece uses the example of a craftsperson who develops senex-based skills and systems to bring to fruition the puer-based creativity of their craft. But now let’s look at the shallow-rooted fear-based puer: infantile, childish, erratic, different just to be different, using imagination to create conspiracy theories, mischief and destruction. And the senex when it is shallowly rooted in fear becomes rigid, autocratic, bureaucratic, heavy-handed, punitive and authoritarian, squelching all creativity and fresh thinking as threatening to the systems it has established.

So when the puer and senex are deeply rooted, nourished and tapped into a loving inner wisdom, they are a powerhouse of combined creativity and the supportive structure and systems that build upon and maintain the fruits of that creativity. When they are shallow-rooted in fear, puer and senex fight each other because they feel threatened by each other.

We can see this when it happens in ourselves, and we can clearly see it happening in the world around us. So that gives us a way of looking at what happens that can be very helpful to remind ourselves to attune to the inner wisdom, to stay present and deeply-rooted, knowing ourselves to be a natural expression of the universe loving itself. Just like the tree! And in that alignment we find a natural way to find balance in our lives.