Zen Living Through Balance
The Tao of Balance
Last week I wrote about Yin Yang balance, and how this occurs in the body. This week I’m carrying on with the theme, and using two illustrations of balance.
The Yin Yang symbol is so familiar that we don’t actually see it.
Or, we see its shape, and miss its essence. So, look again. What is elegantly captured above is perfect balance. It’s not a matter of one or the other — it’s both/and.
And then have a look at the dividing line between the colours, curving along the middle. You could see that line as the Buddha’s Middle path, or Way. This is the path that moves away from extremes. One way to think of it is to picture a river. One bank of the river is chaos, and the other is rigidity. The middle of the river, where the flow and action is, could be thought of as flexibility.
Last week I made mention of my first 32 years, and my excessive “yang-ness.”
I thought of another illustration.
I learned to play golf when I was 12. My dad was a pretty good golfer — he shot consistently in the 80s. Me, I had trouble breaking 100. I had a wicked hook, and spent a lot of time extracting lost balls from the rough.
I’d read the books, and I’d watch videos, and all I ever saw was what you could call the hand position correction for a hook. In other words, rather than taking a normal grip on the club, you’d reposition your hands so as to “correct” the club face. Using a contorted hand position for 20 years, I could shoot mid 90s.
Some point along the way, Dar started messing around with golf (not her favourite activity — she played so as to hang out with me.)
I had no clue how to teach her, so off we went for lessons.
We got a female golf pro, which I thought was interesting. I can remember wondering, in advance, how she saw golf — how her approach differed from mine.
She asked me to hit a ball. I choked up on the grip, and hit a mini-hook about 100 yards with a 5 iron (a club you should get an average distance of 150 years with.) She then said something interesting. “Finish your swing, and hold it.”
I’m thinking, “Odd request, but she’s the pro.”
So I did. She walked up, and started fiddling around with my stance. The first thing she did was take the club from me, and hand it back. She said, “Take a neutral grip.” I blanched, and began to explain about my slice. She raised her hand.
“How has correcting your hand position done in terms of straightening your line of flight?”
“Hasn’t helped much, but…”
“Hmm. Maybe you’d want to try something new…”
So she continued, twisting my body, my hand position, the placement of the club. Remember, I was still holding the position of the end point of the swing…
She said, “Memorize this body position. Good. Now swing again, and stop, so you’re positioned like this.”
I did and she corrected. Again, and again, until finally, maybe 50 swings in, she smiled.
“Tee one up.”
I did. I got into my “stance,” and immediately rotated my hands.
I looked up, puzzled.
“Neutral hand position, and end the swing the way you learned.”
“But… I’ll kill someone over to the left with my hook.”
“Normal grip, finish the way you’ve learned.” How Zen!!!
I swallowed hard, swung, and finished. I watched in amazement as the ball sailed straight out, about 130 yards.
After those lessons, I began to regularly break 90.
The point? In order to achieve balance, you have to
- stop doing what doesn’t work, and
- start doing what does.
And it helps to have someone to “adjust your posture into the finish position.”
OK, another illustration.
Let’s imagine something bad happens. People in general tend to react in one of two ways:
- excessive yin, or
- excessive yang.
I’m digging back decades for this story, to my time in the Ministry.
Young couple, I’d married. I got a call, and learned that their infant had died of crib death. Dar and I were away, so it took me 2 hours to get there. I walked in, to the following scene.
The mom and dad were standing in the middle of the living room, looking dazed and blank. On one side of the room were several people weeping and rocking. On the other side of the room was a huddle. They were talking endlessly. They’d walk over to the parents, and say stuff like,
- “It’s all for the best, he’s with the Lord now.” Or,
- “Thank God you’re young. You’ll get over this, and you can always have another.” Or,
- “Buck up. Tears aren’t going to bring him back.”
(You wouldn’t believe some of the crap I’ve heard at Funeral Parlors. My “favourite”: “Doesn’t he just look like himself!” No, he looks dead. Yikes.)
So, I am taking modest liberties, but that really was the picture. Yin on one side of the room, yang on the other. Why?
Most suck at dealing with what are considered “negative” experiences or emotions: death, accident, natural disasters — anger, grief, depression. There is a reluctance to simply “be” with this stuff — the yin people want to hide or escape , and the yang people wan to fix it or trivialize it. In general.
So, I watched for a minute, then went over and hugged the parents, and said, “I am so sad. We need to talk. Let me clear the room.” Both parents looked at me, smiled a bit, and nodded.
I kicked everyone out. Me, doing yang — I still knew how!
I then turned to the parents, and walked them over to the couch. I sat them down. I knelt in front of them and said, “I have no words, no pat answers. I do have two shoulders.” They both collapsed onto my shoulders, and they sobbed for a while. I shed some tears, too, while remaining present and aware.
They wound down and looked up, and their eyes were much clearer. We then were able to talk, to communicate, and to design the funeral service.
Compassion means being with someone else, right where they are, without being intrusive, and without backing away.
It’s being “right there.” So, no closing your eyes, no drifting off into la-la land. Right here. Right now.
Compassion is not coming up with answers or explanations, (yang) or getting lost in your own imaginings (yin.)
In a sense, it’s going inside and accessing your feelings (which are there because of something similar you have experienced — I can’t feel another’s loss, but I can resonate with their loss by accessing my losses.) You also access your mind, not for explanations or pat answers, but to pay attention. My mind gives me lines like, “What do you need, right now, from me?” Or, “Here’s a Kleenex.” Or, “Would you like a hug (to be held?)”
The discipline is to resist rushing in to fix the other (you can’t) to explain (you can’t) or to pull back out of fear, or to dissolve into a puddle. Just be here, now. Balance.
To learn this, we often have to lean in the opposite direction. I remember learning to turn into current in a kayak. It’s like riding a motorcycle — you lean into the turn, even though that seems “wrong.” With kayaks, you actually expose the bottom of the boat to the current.
So, yang people need to practice yin ways of being, and vice versa. The ever eloquent Darbella described it this way, as she wrote about a Haven experience:
“Prior to attending the Come Alive, I saw myself as a person who chose not to connect to people around me. In fact, I believed I could make myself invisible within a group situation. I felt very isolated and alone — even in a group situation. In the past, being shut down was a comfortable place to be. I spent a lot of time there — alone. Although I chose to experience life fully with Wayne — could be open and honest with him — could communicate with him from my heart — could share with him how I felt in my body — could truly be me — I chose to see myself as a person unable to share in a similar way with other people. A fear of rejection kept me isolated in my own safe, comfortable space. I was aware at a cognitive level that I had begun to change the way that I related to people but my internal picture of me remained stuck in the old view of isolation.”
“In my communications over lunch [one day], I shared my internal picture of myself of being a person who does not connect with other people. The reaction to that one was great disbelief. I actually heard what people were saying and I was amazed. This did not fit with my internal picture of me. By the time I returned after lunch, I was aware that I had made an internal shift in the picture of me. I now saw myself as ”me emerging“ — a person who can connect with others. The energy visibly flowed in my body.” Read the whole story here
Just a suggestion. Go to Dar’s archive, start at the top and read her articles. She’s brilliant (I know. I’m prejudiced…) and says all of this in interesting ways!