Balance: I Don’t Take Any Of This For Granted

Balance: Forget about balance. We are always out of balance. Always in perfect balance.

I sat meditation this morning as I do nearly every morning at about 6:00 a.m. This morning it was quiet, dark and cold. A wonderful way to begin my mornings. I don’t take it for granted, the privilege to begin my day in this way. The privilege to live in a place where I can feel safe. The privilege of having a body and mind, to be able to sit cross legged on a black cushion. I know I won’t always be able to cross my legs. What a pity, impermanence. And how wonderful and mysterious. And I don’t like it, that I won’t always be able to sit, to hug my wife and children, to chop fresh garlic for zucchini soup, to walk to the beach with my friends. I often think of creating a support group called BAC, Buddhist’s Against Change.

It is effortful and more painful, at times, to sit in this way then it was 10 years ago; more difficult than 35 years ago. And so much easier then when I first began my sitting practice, when I was 21 years old. My legs and hips were stiff and inflexible. Sitting every morning I could see and feel my hips opening, a little each day, my knees began lowering toward the ground, until sitting in this cross-legged posture began to feel more comfortable than sitting in a chair. This posture became my home.

I don’t take it for granted, the privilege of being able to follow my breath on this cold and dark December morning. It is pitch black dark this morning. I notice this as I bow toward my cushion, turn clockwise and bow away. This motion, this routine that I have performed innumerable times. Sometimes paying attention, sometimes lost in thought. This morning, I notice and I don’t take it for granted. Like a ballet dancer, my hands raise from my sides and palms come together. I bow from my hips, toward my cushion, turn clockwise and bow again. I notice. I don’t take this dance for granted.

This ritual that was taught to me, passed on from person to person, over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, passed on from warm hand to warm hand. It is unusually dark, black dark, no light. I remember – The street light outside the window of my home is broken. As I notice the absence of light I’m reminded that I called PG & E a month ago to report that it was broken; then called again a week ago to find out when it would be fixed. The second time I called the woman from PG&E said she would resend the request and mark it as “critical.” This was a week ago, I thought. Perhaps I need to call 911 to get their attention, I thought. This dialogue with myself happened in a millisecond, as I sit on my cushion. I’m annoyed, settling, swaying my upper body from side to side, amused at myself. Amused at it all. I don’t take any of this for granted, as I gently bring my attention back to my breath, body, and feelings. Knowing that this won’t always be the case, to experience darkness, to miss the light, to be annoyed, amused about anything, to be able to bring my attention back, again and again.

I glance at my clock on the bookshelf. It says 6:30. Thirty minutes seems to go by in an instant this morning. This isn’t always the case. I begin to slowly move my head, shoulders and upper body from side to side, an ancient routine for transitioning from meditation to entering the world. The words of Shunryu Suzuki float into my mind. “Swaying from side to side is not preparation, not transitioning for anything. This too is meditation.” Where is the line between meditation and not meditation, between paying attention, and not paying attention, the line between amusement and annoyance, the line between birth and death; these few delicious and impossible moments of time we call our lives. Just show up, fully alive. Just appreciate being alive. Just meet yourself, meet each situation, alive, and juicy, and boring. Broken and whole, completely in balance and completely out of balance.

I stand up. Noticing the stiffness in my legs, feet, lower back. Appreciating each creak and grown of this body as “they” say in Zen this “bag of bones.” I turn and bow toward my cushion. I turn clockwise and bow away from my cushion. Bowing to you, to my family, to my friends; bowing to the world. Bowing to the Buddha that is me, the Buddha that is you. Remembering Buddha; letting go of Buddha.

As I bow to my cushion there is a strange sensation under my bare and cold right foot. “What? What is that?”, I ask myself. What is under my foot, lying on my rug? I reach down in the black empty darkness, reach down, and there is an object in my hands. My glasses! The glasses I took off and placed in front of me 30 minutes ago. My beautiful, old dependable pieces of wire and glass that turn the world from fuzziness to sharpness, from out of focus to clarity. I forgot about them. I stepped on them, thoughtlessly. I feel ashamed, forgetful. I smile. Ah, so happy these glasses are flexible, nearly unbreakable. They easily return to their original shape.

In that instant, that moment my glasses become my teacher. Turning fuzziness into clarity, resilient, returning to their original shape. They are not ashamed. “What is your original face before your mother and father are born?” My glasses help me understand this silly and profound Zen question. I place them on my face; this time paying attention. I’m delighted, grateful. I smile. Feelings arise. I bow to my glasses, my shame, my resilience. I notice a tear, perfectly balanced under my left eye. I don’t take any of this for granted, the tear, slowly rolls, gone. The traces of thoughts, bows, darkness, tears, longing, memories, shame, aliveness, black cushions, Buddha, sweet caresses.

I don’t take any of this for granted.

The Hero’s Journey

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’s going to spend its life believing it’s an idiot. – Einstein

We are all heroes on our own journey. Sometimes we forget. Whatever we are doing, however mundane, however meaningful, this moment is unique and cannot be repeated.

We are always in some kind of transition. Writing now for me is a transition. I begin the process, setting out from the known to the unknown. I leave the comfortable world of not saying anything. Now, what to write? Then, at some point this transition will be complete.

The hero’s journey, our hero’s journey is like this. We set forth toward something, leaving the comfort of what we know. At this stage of the journey we need to let go of something. What is it that needs to be let go of for you in your life?

Then we enter the unknown. At this stage we might find some help in the way of guides or allies or mentors. We may encounter difficulties and challenges. We may find our power.

Then, we find our way, for now. Whether we are in the midst of a large life-changing transition or a small change. We open to something new; we find our way home.

Zen practice offers the realization that we are always in transition, and that we are always home. Our journey is to move from anxiety and difficulty to peace and freedom. And, we don’t need to wait; we can find peace and freedom with each step along the way.

What are some of the transitions you find yourself in now?

Creative Tension

“The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.” – Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Personal mastery is the practice of increasing our awareness, reducing our blind spots, and developing our responsiveness. Creative tension can be defined as the gap between where we are now and what we want. This creative tension might exist in many aspects of our lives – our relationships, our work, particular projects and aspirations, or creative endeavors such as writing, or art, or something physical. Or it might be in answering the question, what is my calling; why am I here on this planet?

Creative tension requires two important practices. One, is knowing what we want. Second is knowing where we are in relation to what we want. I’m reminded of the words of my mentor Harry Roberts, a Yurok, shaman, phd agronomist who sometimes said that life is simple; we just need to answer three questions: What do you want; What do you have to do to get it: and, can you pay the price? He would laugh, saying that most people never even ask the first question.

The second practice, knowing where we are means knowing our feelings, our inner voices, the stories we tell about our vision, competence, and power. It also means knowing who are supporters and allies are as well as understanding the source of our power.

Though creative tension is essential, Senge points out how we often confuse creative tension with emotional tension or stress. To reduce our emotional stress we may respond to creative tension by:
– Lowering our vision or goals
– Motivating ourselves through fear and stress
– Using sheer will power (“having lost sight of our goals, we redouble our efforts.”)

What to do? Spend time reflecting, unpacking, and clarifying your calling. What inspires you; really, what brings you joy. What has meaning in your life?

Spend time assessing where you are in relation to what you want. This often requires guides, in the form of a therapist, coach, mentor or some kind of group or community. And, develop healthy routines – getting enough sleep, a regular meditation practice, having real conversations – paying attention to your physical, emotional, social, and financial life.

Goals and Intentions

The goal of our life’s effort is to reach the other shore…the true wisdom of life is that in each step of the way, the other shore is actually reached. To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing is the way of true living.
– Shunryu Suzuki, from Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

It is important to have goals, in our work and in our lives outside of work. Goals provide a target to aim for, whether we want to reach certain revenues, develop new products, reduce disease or violence, or lose weight. Goals provide benchmarks and allow us to make appropriate and useful adjustments as we move along the path toward meeting these goals.

Whereas goals act as the “what” we want to achieve, our intentions can act as the “how.” Our intentions can clarify the spirit and attitude with which we want to pursue our goals. Goals, by definition are something in the future. An intention can be right now, in this moment. We may have a one-year or three-year or five-year goal. Our intention can begin immediately and can act as a container in which we move toward our goals.

I understand that intentions have gotten a bad name (i.e. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”) Of course, decisions we make with certain intentions may have outcomes that were not intended. We can’t hide behind our intentions. Instead we can act both boldly and with humility, learning from our mistakes, adjusting as needed.

Having goals can be powerful. Taking an idea and committing to it has weight and gives energy and meaning to our activities.

Setting intentions can also be powerful. Our intention might be to work with less stress, to live with more joy, to meet difficulties and opportunities more openly and directly. Intentions can act as a compass to keep us more alive and more focused, as we pursue our goals.

In the Shunryu Suzuki quote above he is saying that our real goal, the goal that truly matters in our lives is the goal of finding complete freedom, to live a life of responsiveness, of joy, love, and compassion; to free ourselves from small-mindedness, self-centeredness, and an ego-centric existence. This is the true goal of being a human being. Our deep intention is to live in a manner in which we are reaching our goals in each moment, without waiting. We don’t need to be attached to some outcome in the future. We make our best effort, not only to meet our goals, but to set an intention to live with freedom and compassion; right now, in this moment.

I recently led a 3-day retreat called Step Into Your Life. We began the retreat by asking everyone to write down their intention for these days together. At the end of the retreat we all checked in with what we wrote at the beginning of the retreat.

What is your intention for today, for this week, and this year?