In the familiar child's game "Tag", if I'm the last person to say "Not it!", it then becomes my aim to catch another person in order not to be it any more. Well, what happens when we are "it"? Everyone else runs away. And when we chase after them, they run around like maniacs trying not to get caught. That's the nature of the game, right?
Well, consider for a moment what would happen if we were playing tag and I were it, and I made my move to chase and then just lay down on the ground? Fairly quickly you would notice I was no longer pursuing, and you would stop running, you might look at the others and shrug. One might say, "What's up with her? Hey, are you all right?" If I lay there, long and still enough, eventually you would begin to come closer, warily at first, but you would come. Perhaps, one of you would be so concerned that I had suffered some physical trauma you would bend down to check my vitals. And then, I'd nab you! Ha! Well, you might say, "That's cheating!", and you would be right, regarding the rules of Tag.
You may recall a time from your youth when you set your sights on a boy or girl who struck your fancy. If you knew what you were doing, you played it cool, dropping subtle hints here and there, waiting patiently to see if you had piqued the interest of your intended, allowing him or her to come to you. Some of us, however, were not patient enough for that strategy, in the game of love, and we laid chase, in hot pursuit of our heart's desire. I don't know about you, but when I employed that tactic, inevitably, my crush went running in the opposite direction.
So you see, when we run after or pursue something, the implication is that it's something that we lack. If we lay chase, what ever it is we are after is going to run away. That is the nature of predator and prey. As we see in the game of love, or tag, when we become the aggressor, when we are "it" our quarry, or our goal high-tails it for the hills.
But in the game of life, if balance is our goal, we cannot pursue it. We have to be a little creative with the rules, a little bit cunning, a little counter-intuitive. Instead of aggressively chasing after balance, we need to do just the opposite. We must stop playing the game. We must "give up the fight" and surrender. Because the truth is that balance is not something outside of us that we must attain or achieve; rather, it is something within us. It is our natural state of being.
In order to find balance in our lives, we must give up our need to succeed, to win, to come out on top, to make our fortune, to "have it all", and instead we must look within. What we are experiencing in our external environment, in the events, experiences, and relationships of our lives, is always a reflection of what is happening within us. It is a reflection of how close to or far from center we are in any moment. At center, we are fully aligned. We are aligned on the vertical axis, with the Higher Self, the I AM PRESENCE.
As everything is constantly in motion, balance is a very relative term. We are continually adjusting and correcting, honing and fine-tuning. As we see in the body, the concept of homeostasis, where we maintain a relatively stable and constant condition, is only possible as a result of multiple systems continually regulating and adjusting to internal and external variables, such as temperature and moisture.
To be in balance does not mean we are static; quite the contrary, it is an ever-changing, fluid process of checking in, listening to what is, and adjusting accordingly to what we discover. We are not seeking or looking for balance; we are continually creating it, in relation to where we are in any given moment.
So what is it that throws us out of balance? If it is our natural state, the only thing that can upset that delicate condition of equilibrium is action, in one form or another, what is known as Karma. Within every action are the seeds of its effect. Action merely means setting energy into motion.
Though many of us may first imagine something overt when we think of taking an action, like picking up a glass, or writing a letter; an action can take the form of something as subtle as a thought, or a few words. Every action begins as a thought, so even that thought or those mere words serve as catalysts that set in motion changes, chains of events we might never have imagined.
You may say, Well if I don't think, speak or act how can I achieve anything, or get anything done. If the shark stops swimming it dies, right!?" Action in and of itself will not knock us off-balance. It is, however, when that action manifests in the extreme, or we stray far from center, that we lose our equilibrium.
So what exactly is meant by extreme? When we find ourselves situated at one of the two ends, or at the farthest limit of anything, we are out on the extreme. We are either burning up, or freezing cold, ecstatic with joy, or in the darkest state of despair.
We don't have to be pushed all the way to the limit, teetering on the edge of the abyss in order to feel the effects of imbalance, although a moment of crisis like a physical illness, or an emotional breakdown are sure-fire ways to get our attention. Though these conditions may seem to come out of nowhere, to blind-side us, what actually happens is that they gradually, often imperceptibly creep up on us, until we detect one or more physical, mental, emotional or spiritual manifestations, and we cannot hide our head in the sand any longer. And then we ask ourselves how did I get here?
The body and mind are very adaptable, and we can grow accustomed to states that are dysfunctional, or detrimental to our greater wellbeing, particularly if we continually deny what it is we are feeling or experiencing. An often-used excuse is, "I don't have enough time to tend to this right now. I've got too much to do to eat right, get enough sleep, move my body regularly, meditate, speak to my boss about my excessive work load! Who has time to have a meaningful conversation with their child, partner or spouse!" There are myriad excuses and distractions that turn us away from the signs and signals our body, mind, and soul are sending us that tell us the time to pay attention is now.
The current economic engine and the media that fuels it encourage this constant state of activity and productivity. Our contemporary Western culture glorifies this frenetic lifestyle, and often demonize stillness as unproductive, or a sign of laziness. When we are overly consumed by our busyness, by the distractions of daily life, we likely neglect the crucial process of restoration essential to the greater wellbeing of body, mind and spirit.
Many of us, who have consciously embarked on the spiritual journey have the misconception that the most efficient path to enlightenment is through the subtle door of the mind, and if we ever expect to reach it, we must, in some way, disassociate ourselves from the grosser, material form of the body.
The ancients knew this could not be farther from the truth, and embodied that knowledge in such physical practices as Yoga, and Qi Gong. They understood that these forms were essential to the seeker's process of developing and honing awareness. They came to these disciplines daily to maintain the optimal conditions in the physical body necessary to support them on their journey inward. They understood, practiced and taught, like Jesus the Christ, "the body is a temple." It is the home of the spirit, the vehicle for the soul, not merely a bag of gristle and bones.
One concept that Yoga and Qi Gong have in common is that energy is the vital force that makes up and moves everything in the universe. The Yogis call it Prana; the Buddhists name it Qi. Hatha Yoga and Qi Gong allow us to develop, harness and direct this Life Force through movement and breathing practices, which are essential for balancing body, mind and spirit, and lay the foundations for advanced states of meditation that eventually lead to the transcendence of both body and mind, when one merges with the All That Is in the deepest states of Samadhi bliss, in "the peace that passeth all understanding."
Dr. Reginald A. Ray, a Professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University says, "My experience suggests that our problem is very simple. We are attempting to practice meditation and to follow a spiritual path in a disembodied state, and this is inevitably doomed to failure... the full benefits and fruition of meditation cannot be experienced or enjoyed when we are not grounded in our bodies... there is no other way to do so."
The image of the candle has been used for centuries to explain the nature of the symbiotic relationship of Yin and Yang. The solid, substantial, heavy wax is Yin, which we might envision representing the physical body, and the insubstantial, bright, hot, upward moving, flame, the Yang, we could see as symbolizing the mind.
When we bring the body and mind together in balance, through mindfulness practices, we create the forces of heat to burn off impurities in the body, and light to illuminate the mind, so we may fully merge with the divine essence of our being. The symbiotic nature of matter and energy, of body and mind, makes them inseparable, and equally essential for illumination.
The body is wholly as vital an aspect as the mind to our returning awareness that we are Individual Souls in the unified Consciousness of The One. BKS Iyengar, one of the first Yogis credited with introducing the physical practice of Hatha Yoga to the west says, "It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity."
The Buddhist saint Saraha said, "In my wanderings, I have visited shrines and other places of pilgrimage, but I have not seen another shrine as blissful as my body." Dr. Ray goes on to say; "We need to realize that our body is not a beginning point, not a jumping off point to something else. Rather, the body is itself the pathway to realization, and, at its deepest level, the embodiment of enlightenment itself. To know the body is to meet the awakened state." This is aligned with a remark made by Trungpa Rinpoche: "There is no division between the spirituality of the mind and the spirituality of the body; they are both the same...."
The Yin Yang symbol is fairly ubiquitous. In the ancient, complex, ordered system of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is symbolic of the ever-changing universal process. We may have the concept that these two qualities are extreme opposites, like the body and the mind. Yet, within the creative tension of life, polarity is at the core of our universe. In this dynamic electro-magnetic matrix, each aspect inter-relates, inter-penetrates, and exists as a result of the other. That is why the symbol is structured as it is. The poles of this unified whole are always characterized in relation to one another, like the moon's tides, or the inhalation and exhalation of breath, continuous, oscillating cycles of one flowing into the other.
Yang means: "lighter than." It is at the surface, rising, dispersed, external, and exposed. It is intimately related to Yin, which means "darker than." Yin is at the core, sinking, condensed, internal, hidden. According to this ancient tradition, balance or optimal health is about having easy access to both of these qualities. A balanced and free flow of movement in both mind and body provide the necessary conditions for the illumination of the spirit.
Yin appears within Yang and vice versa, as symbolized by the smaller circle of the opposite color held within it. Yang merges with Yin and Yin merges with Yang. Everything in the universe is in perpetual motion, cyclic in nature, and everything contains its polar opposite. Cause is inseparable from effect; the one inevitably reveals the other in an eternal cycle of involution and evolution. What we ingest into the mind will inevitably affect the body, just as what we take in as food affects the function of our physical form. If there is dis-ease in the mind, it will ultimately manifest as imbalance in the form of physical symptoms.
Most people are riding the "Tilt-O-Whirl" of life on the outer edge of the circle, going, going, going, and then crashing, crashing, crashing. The force at the outer edge is such that if we were not strapped in tightly, we would get thrown off into the bushes. To create a balanced existence we must come to the center, with one foot in Yin and one in Yang. We must remember the symbiotic nature of body and mind, and nurture each with equal attention.
The pattern of our everyday lives requires that we balance the inner processes of nurturing the Self, which are said to be YIN, with the YANG, manifesting as the activities that engage us in the outer world. Wisdom and efficient energy use are YIN qualities, whereas YANG energy thrives on the thrill of the hunt, the struggle and victory of battle. However, if we are too efficient with our energy we become stagnant, and if we continually run, go, and do, we eventually burn ourselves out.
Our daily activities at home, work and play, considered YANG in nature, are powered by our internal engine, which is fueled with QI, the Vital Life Force Energy, stored in the dantian, located about an inch and one half below the navel. At days' end, when we return home, after exerting ourselves in the various tasks on our to-do list (YANG in nature), to kick back, unwind, relax, and sleep, (YIN in nature), we have the opportunity to replenish the well of QI that will fuel us for another day out in the world of affairs.
When we chase after "success," or the "American Dream," when we overwork, overeat, over-indulge, over-engage with the distraction of our choice, we deplete this storehouse of essential vital energy. We could imagine that the dantian is like our energetic savings account. We also have an energetic checking account, from which we continually draw to fuel our daily activities. At night during sleep is the time we are replenishing the savings account. However, many of us do not get adequate hours of sleep, or we sleep fitfully, perhaps waking up during the night unable to return to sleep. We may lie tossing and turning, spinning on some encounter from earlier in the day, or micromanaging the next day's events. This is by no means restorative.
So if we are going all day and still going all night, eventually the checking account runs dry, and then we start to tap into the energetic savings account. But if we have not been mindful to make an occasional deposit, we know what happens, the bank moves to repossess our car, and foreclose on our home, then we are left immobilized and at the mercy of the elements.
When we neglect our body and mind we experience blockage in the flow of our resources, Qi, Blood and Moisture, and we begin to experience the breakdown of organ systems, which manifest in physical, mental and emotional symptoms.
How can we focus on our spiritual practice when the body, mind and emotions are out of balance and screaming at us for restoration? We can quit the game, slow down, surrender, and stop directing our energies outwardly. We must make an effort to turn inward and realign. As we let go of the past, and cease projecting into the future, we will come into the present moment. As we still the mind, focusing our awareness in the body, within the rhythmic cycles of breath, we bring them into balance and merge with the Soul.
Katrin L. Naumann, MFA, E-RYT