This morning, I woke feeling really off balance; though its been creeping up on me for a few days (probably not helped by the multiple solar flares that have been taking place over the Bank Holiday…). My muscles hurt, limbs felt tingling and ‘electric’ and, worse, I knew immediately that I felt somehow emotionally discombobulated, that sort of sinking feeling that I experience very rarely these days but used to get a lot. Yet here’s the difference compared with, say, two years ago and that is that my first reaction was to relax and lie there, allowing myself to feel it fully, letting it all wash over me, without judgement or alarm…and then I stuck my metaphorical hand in my equally metaphorical tool box and felt around for the appropriate tools to help me to see my way thought the feeling, much like you might feel for a torch in a temporary power cut.
By the way, I share this because we all go to this place at one time or another; it might be a feeling of overwhelm or even of panic, of tangible fear about something ‘real’ that is happening, or just a general feeling of malaise without obvious cause, a sense that something is not quite right, a niggle that plays out in your mind like something you’ve forgotten to do, or as actual feelings of being a little under-the-weather, a feeling of lack of trust in life or the fairness of the situations you find yourself in. At the root of such feelings lurks the culture of separation that permeates much of the outside world that we live in and which convinces most of us, over time or when we are at our lowest ebb, that we are vulnerable, in endless competition with others and fundamentally alone. If you’re anything like me (and many are), there might have been times when it tipped you off balance into long-term chronic pain and very real physical symptoms. The thing is, we all feel off balance at some time or another and are very quick to blame outside stimuli – a lack of money, other people’s behaviour, the general state of the world – but key to all this is our reaction to all of those outside stimuli and that’s something I’ve steadily learned to focus my attention upon since all those outside ups and downs will carry on, regardless, since they are what we have signed up for in this life experience. These ups and downs are how we experience who we are and GROW and so deluding ourselves that what we would really like is some sort of steady, unwavering plateau of calm is one of the biggest confusions of our times as its simply not what we’re here for. Quite frankly, if everything was balance and harmony on the outside, how would we even know we had achieved it on the inside and that is what the name of this life-game is – inner balance, refound!
Back to this feeling: for me, the trigger can be something as ‘small’ as a change in the weather – yes, a change in the weather! When I woke this morning, the week-plus of glorious sunshine and soaring temperatures had been abruptly replaced by overcast skies, high winds, the sound of cars driving along rain-wet roads and a greyish filter cast over all of spring’s colour. With the shutters still drawn, it could have been autumn or even winter and I almost had to grab my husbands hand to stop him from switching on the electric light or it would have really felt so. I’m just one of those people who are profoundly sensitive to lowered levels of daylight yet all that really does is act as a catalyst for other ‘issues’ to enter in and try to preoccupy me, but only if I let them.
So having allowed myself to acknowledge this feeling, what did I reach for from my ‘toolbox’? Well the first ‘thing’ was the get-out-clause which allowed me to mentally scan my schedule to identify things that were important for me to do today versus what I could postpone or simply put down for another time. I was already off the hook for the school run (a rare occurrence on a Wednesday and so already I was feeling deep gratitude for the universe working with me on that – and encouraging feelings of gratitude is another profoundly important tool in my box) so I could take the morning at a pace that felt right and un-forced. I also spoke to myself softly and reassuringly on all this and that’s so important (people underestimate the impact of the tone they use in their internal dialogue) because that simple message to yourself that its all ok, that feelings have been acknowledged and are being accommodated, not bulldozed through, makes all the difference to how the message is received. We all take on some sort of parent-voice in dialogue with our inner self (usually the one internalised from our own parents…) and so adopting the kindly, understanding voice that is soft-spoken and nurturing is so key in this situation – in fact, any situation – rather than bellowing out exasperated mantras to ourselves like ‘get over it, get on with it’ or ‘come on, get up, you haven’t got time for this, you’ll get behind’, even ‘oh no, feeling ill again’, etc. which is how so many people speak to themselves, consciously or not.
The next thing I reached for was the iPod containing my Jeddah Mali guided meditations which are, quite frankly, one of the real treasures of my ‘tool box’. Even since finishing the three-level ‘Changing the Paradigm’ course of audios that this comprises, I find I’m still dipping into them regularly and when it comes to choosing a topic, I find the best result is gained by skimming the titles until one resonates. This morning, there was no question that it was ‘Balance’ that I was seeking and this delivered all that I could have asked for, deeply focusing me upon all of the understanding that I know I already hold within me but which, just for a temporary moment, felt like it was slipping out of my grasp – and that, too, is so important; the loving acceptance that whilst we might grow and mentally grasp these things, even live according to them for long periods of time, it is a necessary part of the human experience that we keep forgetting and then re-membering what we have learned, allowing us to apply the learning in a variety of situations in a way that wouldn’t be necessary if we ‘got it’ all first time, as each new situation allows for even more growth than before (much as a muscle that is stretched and torn with each bout of exercise grows back bigger and stronger, more suited to its purpose over time).
And so, addressing this exact topic (as I knew she would) in her guided meditation ‘Balance’ (from Embracing Freedom) Jeddah describes how:
“…mind’s insistence on highs and lows, on opposites creates a see-saw effect in our life whereby we are shuttling between one extreme and another and it is this very movement between opposites that gives us a sense of life, of change but this endless cycle of highs and lows, expansion and contraction is ultimately wearing for it is ceaseless, there is no end. We imagine we are moving towards greater good, greater expansion only to find that it is relative to the lows and the contraction. What would it feel like to step off this endless cycle and to exist in perfect balance, perfect poise, eternal grace? In order to experience it, we must place our consciousness where it exists. What is the only thing in life which is constant, ever present? Yes it is the nature of awareness itself, not the shape and form that awareness can easily move into but it’s very nature.”
So what is awareness and how do we find it? Well, that comes automatically as a result of learning to live in ‘the now’, the present moment – that thing I’ve talked about many times before, usually with reference to Eckhart Tolle who first alerted me to its vast potential. When we live in the now, we find we are in direct contact with awareness. Once there, the mind stills and as you hold consciousness steady, the nature of awareness reveals itself and all its inherent consistency and reliability. Its then that you begin to feel real balance and poise as these come naturally and effortlessly. (As I type this the sun has just come out from its grey cloud mass and filled the window with light…) In that state, we feel held and supported, regardless of what is going on ‘outside’ – and this is not to deny that these things may be happening, or that some of them may need our urgent attention – but from the perspective that our personal sense of balance is key to how well we cope with those things, may even enable us to cope with them in a way that is deemed extraordinary by others (there’s an ever-growing list of CEOs who meditate…) the importance of retaining inner balance is worthy of all the priority I have learned to give to it. From a perspective of balance, everything feels utterly do-able.
More than just a centre point or the result of a bigger picture where opposing elements cancel each other out, balance is very much its own state. Jeddah continues “We can feel this energy is not questing, is not seeking. It is fulfilled unto itself. It is whole, complete. It is full. There is nothing that needs to be added.”
This begs the question, how much of what throws us off balance in life is the kind of thought or consideration that results from some sort of quest for something that we deem to be ‘missing’ (the adjective underlying every object or outcome that we desire)? How much are we thrown off kilter because we detect (and so panic about) an absence of money, security, recognition, time, sunshine or even health. Back in the ‘old days’, when the walls that held off the overwhelm (I knew no other method, back then, than to build a high wall…) came crashing down on me, and as pain and exhaustion came scrambling over the rubble, the next thing I used to do was bewail my absence of good health – and pursue remedies with all of my might – and so perpetuate this down part of the see-saw for weeks if not months. Once I learned to go within and seek balance as my one and only requirement, the very things I had been questing for started to come to me and then more positive change followed because, once this kind of balance has been experienced, the highs and the lows generated by the mind become utterly unimportant anyway and so many of the quests become, quite simply, obsolete. Our perception of what is really important or needing our attention alters subtly yet importantly once we have attained this state and learned to hold it for even part of the time.
The really great thing is that this state is available in every moment of every day, fully accessible to all with no special password to get in. Yes, for me, meditation was my entry point and crossing paths with a great teacher like Jeddah Mali on my path (and a great many teachers are available to us, in our homes, in this digital age) was a huge help. With more and more practice, you learn how to live from that place, most of the time, by learning how to shift consciousness right into the centre of your being. This can be done anywhere, by grounding yourself, as I’ve referred to before, and a quick and portable version of this is to simply place your hand over your heart, in any situation that throws you off-balance, and breathe deeply from that space whilst visualising your feet connected by strong tree roots attached deeply into the earth through which energy and light enters you and courses into and through the full extent of your body. Keep breathing through that heart space whilst keeping your hand in that place. Welcome to balance.
“Now notice that you did not create balance by getting your affairs in order, by organising your finances, by eating better, nothing has changes in the external world. You have simply shifted your conscious attention to where balance already exists.”
I love this part of what Jeddah explains and I remember vividly the first time I heard it (a long time ago now) and its sheer impact, as it hit me right in the centre of my being, as someone who, at the time, typically sought balance by enacting all of my control-freak tendencies to balance the books or research some massive change to my lifestyle – usually in the midst of feeling really, really unwell and with all the desperation of someone on a desperate quest for the one piece of circumstantial salvation that would somehow change everything. We’ve all heard the line “what you seek is within” and all its various permeations, but I think that was when I finally got that I’d been looking for a solution in all the wrong places and that what I sought was already there within and fully accessible. I promise, once you get this, it strikes you as being something so major (including majorly overlooked) that you simply want to share it with anyone and everyone that is ready to receive it.
Leading into this final point that, once attained and – in any degree – maintained, this balance influences our entire perception of life and shines out of us, helping those around us to remain more balanced also. This works on both the grand scale – “The more people accessing a state of being, the easier it is for others to access it” (Jeddah Mali – introduction to ‘Balance’) – and at a more intimate level, something I now routinely see played out in my own life, with this morning’s events as a point in case. A year, maybe even six months ago, my own state of imbalance and feeling unwell would have subtly impacted upon others in my family group as I tried to enact my usual morning routine without acknowledging how I felt – “soldiering on” – and so carried my imbalanced energy around and shared it with others, in all of my verbal and non-verbal interactions with those people. This morning, I stayed in bed for another hour and took time to address what I was feeling, placing all of my priority on that. The entirely spontaneous outcome was that my husband joined me as I listened to music on my headphones (after my meditation – music being one of my other key ‘tools’) and we just lay there holding hands while he waited for our daughter to get ready for school. She then joined us and so what started as imbalance became an impromptu family gathering on my bed as compared to the usual perfunctory conversation over a bowl of cereal. Having spent half an hour meditating myself into balance, I spent the next few minutes being bounced on by my daughter but there is always plenty of room for love – perhaps the biggest tool of all – within a balanced state and this brings to mind (yes, I know I keep bringing this film up but it just crops up as a point of reference so very often…) the film of “Eat, Pray, Love” where Liz Gilbert tells her spiritual mentor that she has given up her relationship because, having spent months getting herself into balance through spiritual practice, she feels that, while she was in the midst of her love affair, she could not keep her balance. “Oh, Liz, Liz…” He exclaims, “to lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life”. For me, that lesson has been learned, the practical way, many times over (and will continue to be demonstrated, I’m quite sure, in new ways, time and again, for the remainder of this life-journey until I can be quite sure that I’ve ‘got it’). This morning, we all smiled a lot more than usual, I got to spend a nugget of time with my family – instead of just being grunted at – without even getting out of bed and it gave me a whole lot more to feel gratitude for. Small demonstration that what we find unfolding as though by accident (though clearly not) when we hold our own balance is even more balance as we create a more stable environment around us, becoming of service to others and so scattering our light.
As a total addendum to the above – so how has my day gone? Well, I was meant to paint today after a long break dealing with exhibitions…and haven’t managed to do so which means my thinking brain would like to have me feeling stressed about that but, so far, I’m staying grounded and taking the angle that it just wasn’t meant to be a painting day; better stuff will come out of me tomorrow! In the meantime, I’ve written this post which – in many ways – is a subject that’s been on my backburner for ages and there’s nothing like writing from the perspective you gain from the very core of the experience, when its actually happening, to enable inspiration and words to flow. Net result is that I feel much better in myself and – I think – have recovered much more quickly than I usually do from these ‘downs’ on the see saw since the very act of writing about balance has kept me in balance. Then, as though to give the smiling nod to all I’ve just said, the sun has just come out for my walk, a blackbird has just started singing on the roof and I’ve just heard a moment ago that a lovely woman I was introduced to last week, and who is deeply enthusiastic about my paintings, has decided to buy one of my originals. Now that, for an artist, is a very wonderful and productive day. Need I say more. 🙂
Jeddah Mali – Changing the Paradigm series of guided meditations
Eckhart Tolle – author of ‘The Power of Now’