Finding Our Balance
by Archene Turner
December 15, 2013
Imagine for a moment you are travelling to a different land, and its people are bilingual – they speak their language and yours. Once there, you discover that in this part of the this new land, generations ago your people settled there, so today the natives and you share a common ancestry. You recognize this link in the music, the food and even some of the folk lore and suddenly any nervousness about this land disappears.
In that land, you are staying in a place isolated and difficult to reach, high in the hills, surrounded by nature. Its entry portal down below separates the familiar world from this new world. The internet is on one side, freedom from the internet is on the other.
Being here in this new world gives you distance from your life so you can better see the totality of it. With this space comes respite from the distractions that constitute your everyday environment. In this place you may find the quiet, the opening that allows deeper reflection. In this space of quiet perhaps you can pick and choose what you want to keep in your life, it may even enable you to start something different to live a more balanced life.
You have been drawn to this place for its approach to life, one that is built on balance between man and nature, between self and community, between the mind and the body. Here you can begin to find what your spirit and body know you need, though you haven’t the words yet to describe it. Still despite the pleasant and comfortable surroundings, you are apprehensive – about the new.
You sense that practices learned here could bring more balance into your life, but you are not ready yet to jump in, to take part in the practice. You need instruction, to be taught, but you still hang back. Perhaps observing this potentially beneficial practice would help. Maybe they would let you watch. At the appropriate time, you walk with others and enter a great hall. You ask the teacher if you can observe rather than participate – to see if it is right for you. While watching, barriers within you dissolve, you no longer just see “others” “not like you” doing it. You can see glimpses of yourself engaging in this practice.
This is what happened for my wife & me on a recent retreat in Costa Rica. We went there to enjoy the nature, to rest and take time out. We returned home with much more than we expected. Our big take away from Costa Rica – coming out of this new ‘space’ ‘time out’ allowed us to take the first steps in aligning our lives differently, to make more room in our life for the spirit, to achieve greater mind body connection.
Upon returning home, the universe is still giving us insights about living a balanced life. For instance, this past week has been filled with the celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela.
So what was it about Mandela that touched the hearts of people of all colors and faiths all over the world? I believe it was how he cared.
How did that caring manifest itself? Time after time when we saw Mandela, or when people spoke of him, they spoke of his huge compassion, his humility and reverence for life. Not unlike how people describe Gandhi or other great spiritual leaders, or most recently the new Pope. Did you know Time magazine picked the new pope as man of the year?
These gentle giants share behaviors that we too can adopt to live a more balanced life.
At heart of compassion is love – a reverence for life, expressed by seeking and respecting the good in everyone. Mandela seemed to embody not just courage, but love: a mindfulness and understanding of consequences, a centeredness that allowed him to practice emotional patience, that enabled him to put aside any urge for anger, revenge, retribution, fear – any of which would have been justified in light of the terrible injustices he saw and personally experienced. His capacity for compassion, his ability to respect the good in everyone (no matter how deeply buried), gave him the heart and strength to espouse forgiveness as an essential step on the path to reconciliation.
Mandela also had a humbling gift of expression, and as this preacher struggled to find the words for today, it came to me how important it is to choose the right words, words of human connection, words from the heart. We are too often surrounded today by the words of “leaders” whose speech is filled with anger, aimed at tearing down others. Mandela once said “ if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to im in his language, that gs to his heart.”
Yet, when did you ever hear negative words from Mandela? In his writings and especially in his public speeches, he took great care to find the best in people, to articulate the feelings and aspirations held by many, even as they suffered indescribable pain. Mandela in word, deed and presence exemplified for me gentle loving kindness in action, spoken by a man with deep emotional balance, by a man having found inner peace and purpose, a sense of centeredness rooted in self-knowledge and devotion to building a beloved community.
His light will serve as a beacon for generations and gives me strength when struggling with change. Or when seeking balance in our own life.
Finding balance is usually achieved by making changes. But change is so hard. We can default back so easily. How can we make lasting changes that bring us closer to balance? How does one change one’s life in the midst of what Meadow’s calls sludge? In the midst of the every day. Especially when that every day could include a bad boss, the fear of losing a job, a troubled marriage or bad relationship, a draining illness, the list goes on.
I believe each of us longs for a more balanced life, a life with a stronger center, to live with more conscious purpose. That is what brings many of us to church, after all. But when we leave church, it is so easy to return to our chaotic lives. And the cacophony of the everyday so easily drowns out the message and distracts focus on intentions.
How do we make room in our hectic life, how do we keep the message in the chaos, how do we reach into ourselves for the strength to change, to let spirit or shine speak.
First thing to do is to reflect on motivations – do we want to do this because we really want to, or because we are being told it is good? what is motivating it? Look at what makes us happy. What truly makes you happy. Is our happiness based on things, people, places? I would argue that once you peel back the layers, most of us feel the happiest when we feel connected to the whole universe. That underlying connection is always there. The question is accessing it.
For my wife & me, it was going away, briefly, to an unfamiliar place in nature, where our “every day” was left behind. It gave us the space that insight requires, it enabled us to refocus our behaviors and begin to take action. It helped us identify not just the outer obstacles but some of the inner ones, too.
Have we rounded the bend? Certainly not. But it feels like we have found an opening, and upon returning to the chaos, it feels like we are taking steps that will put us on a new path. We’re fortunate in doing it together, so we can lift the spirits of the other, so we can still the voices that interfere with will. You have this community to keep you on track.
In terms of change, I’m fond of leaving things open rather than setting unrealistic goals. Instead, I say “what’s the harm in trying something for a month and then seeing what happens?”. I’ve found that the most important change to make is attitude. When I am able to be more of a positive, loving, caring heart-filled person, it is easier to make room for new ways, to create the space for spirit. This is nothing new, nothing exclusive to any of us. Each of us has heard in timeless ways, “If you want more love, you have to give more love.”” Sometimes when it’s the hardest thing you could do.”” If you want more peace, be more peaceful. “”Be the change you want to see in the world.” These are more than slogans, they are learned truths.
We are nearing the beginning of a new year, a time to take stock. And at this point, which in the Christian tradition is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, where Christians move from expectation to celebration, exampled by our opening hymn rejoice! We too can turn the corner of our lives to new balance.
Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us with words like from A. Powell Davies. He said “The religion that knows that we shall never find the fullness of the wonder and the glory of life until we are ready to share it, that we shall never have hearts big enough for the love of god until we have made them big enough for the worldwide love for one another.” Gives us an answer.
So love one another. Or one of my favorite’s “One love, one heart – let’s get together and feel alright.” I use to sing that Bob Marley song over and over again as a child. Nowadays I have a new mantra – it is an adaptation of the well known prayer of Francis of Assisi:
Make me an instrument of peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
My new mantra helps me be a little more explicit in what I have to do to change and gain more balance. And when I say this mantra over and over again in my day, I start living it.
May we all gain more peace, love, pardon, faith, hope, light ad joy to live our balanced life.