Balanced and BoundlessPosted: December 15, 2015
“You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless.”
~ Chuang Tzu
I hustle out the backdoor into the cold rain, grab a bucket of chicken food and hurry on my way. My head is down and I am lost in thought when suddenly my feet slip. My heart is instantly in my throat and pangs of fear shock it into beating wildly. I catch myself, narrowly escaping a meeting with the wood boards of the wet deck. “Whew, that was close,” I say to myself. Continuing on deliberately and slow, I raise my head up and am no longer lost in thoughts. Much steadier now, I feel balanced and stable and am able to finish up the chicken chores without further mishap.
Sewing recently with my Zen group, I had an interesting discussion with a friend about perspective and balance. She told me that her balance has worsened as she has aged, which isn’t surprising given that our balance usually declines from our 20s onward as we age. She also said that losing her balance is particularly easy when she has a narrow or blocked view. We know that vision is a critical component to maintaining balance so this isn’t surprising either. What struck me was that she said that if she has an expansive view, however, she feels much more balanced and stable. While she meant this physically, I also took this to mean metaphorically. There was even a period of her life when she was holed up in her house for a couple of months straight for medical reasons and that she would easily lose her balance during that time. When her medical incarceration was over and she could go outside, her balance was tentative but could be steadied if she could see the horizon. A narrow view was her balance nemesis.
This got me to thinking about the effect of one’s view and perspective on the balance a person experiences in their life and I think that my friend’s experience contains an important lesson. When we have a limited view, we easily become unbalanced because our perspective narrows. Jane Brody, in her New York Times article, “Preserving a Fundamental Sense: Balance, said “without a sense of balance, just about everything else in life can become an insurmountable obstacle.”
The reason that I nearly fell doing chicken chores was not because of a physical degeneration in my sight, proprioceptors in the bottoms of my feet or tiny hairs in my inner ear but because my perspective had narrowed. My whole world had focused in on thoughts in my head and I nearly fell on my ass. The benefit of the near disaster was of course that it opened me back up again to the world around me and in so doing returned balance to my life. I had become so focused on my own thoughts that I was missing what was going on all around me. When we have such limited views, we can’t help but be unbalanced. On the other hand when we have limitless sight, we are totally balanced and boundless. Being boundless requires great balance as we move rapidly from one moment to the next like moving from one boulder to the next. As I type this I am reminded of cross-country backpacking trips where I have had to navigate across boulder fields with rocks that moved haphazardly under my weight. In order to stay balanced on unbalanced ground, I had to move quickly and lightly while maintaining present awareness and a boundless field of vision (seeing the horizon). I had to know both where I was and where I was going in order to bound in a boundless field.
Our practice for maintaining a balanced life, then, is to expand our views and perspectives and to keep an eye on the horizon. What we don’t want to do is cultivate a narrowing of views which we know leads to imbalance. This would be like when you are about to pass out and your vision narrows to a dark tunnel ultimately ending in the height of imbalance – falling over. And the more myopic we become the less likely we are to venture forth into new territory – literally, cognitively, spiritually, and figuratively – because we are afraid of losing our balance, even if it is already a bit unbalanced. We erroneously think that by remaining in a narrow comfort zone that the ground beneath our feet is solid and therefore we won’t lose our footing. What I learned from my friend is that the opposite is actually true – that we need to venture forth and to expand our view in order to maintain our balance. This helps us navigate our always changing life and to not lose our balance in the process. The beauty of this is that we can take the expansive view with us wherever we go and we no longer have to worry about keeping our feet on so-called solid ground. This doesn’t guarantee we stay balanced anyway. When we keep our heads up and gaze out at the world as it is, we maintain a balanced and boundless state and realize the nature of the ground of our being: constantly changing and beautifully balanced.