I remember running freely as a child, with my arms thrown out wide as though they were wings, crashing down the steep hills of our farm, calling out at the top of my lungs and almost flying, almost falling, perched and balanced, trembling like a kite upon the roaring winds of the sky.
Balance is not a point of stillness that we need to establish by dint of discipline and effort; it is to be discovered and acknowledged when finally found, and then kept. And balance requires continual movement – the bicyclist waiting at the stoplight must make constant small adjustments to remain upright; and the moving stream is never stagnant. Flow is the form of nature, which always heals itself – abhorring vacuums, filling empty spaces, and always on the move.
Where there are eddies in the stream of life, where the moving waters swirl about something encountered in order to account for it and to make appropriate adjustments, there is energy put to use. But when the waters are dammed up and the vitality is sapped by effort, they become moribund, and entropy sets in. Nature will seek to erode these obstacles, and human will – our nostalgic attachment to the way things once may have been – is the effort to resist that inevitable cosmic flux.
Even plant life requires mobility to thrive. I once knew a man who took his potted plants for daily walks; and although I believe that may have been a bit extravagant, I have heard that trees planted in BioSphere 2 (the hermetically contained Arizona experiment) died because, although everything else required had been designed into the project, wind was not. Watching the leaves of trees stir in the breeze, we see them stirred to life.
Movement makes change possible, which our resistance attempts to avoid, and this is the nature of Nature. The temporary conflict of opposites inevitably precedes their eventual confluence, no matter how long it may take, where the turbulence of opposing currents are resolved farther downstream – as in the traditional Taoist figure of the taijitu, in which yin and yang revolve upon one another in the perpetual dance of mutual definition.
I’ve said before that my two eyes have two different opinions of what they are looking at. If they are in contention they produce nothing but a headache, but if they work together they will see something neither one can see alone: dimension. This work of coming into balance is a dynamic process, requiring neither aggression nor submission but rather a mutually attentive and respectful presence that recognizes events with a balanced attitude.
I remember once working with a couple who disagreed on whether their son was ready to learn to drive. Together we labeled one side of a sheet of paper “reasons why he should learn to drive now”, and the other side “reasons why he should not learn to drive now”; and then we all began thinking of things to write on both sides, arriving at a final, collaborative decision. Carl Jung referred to this process of finding consensus as circumambulation – walking around the issue and viewing it from all sides, together, rather than debating it from two arbitrarily opposing sides.
A life lived well can be described within cardinal points marked not as north, south, east and west – but rather as nutrition, hygiene, exercise, and rest. All of nature busily feeds itself and cleans itself, and stirs itself up and calms itself down – in constant motion, and in constant balance. And we are always moving, facing in one direction or another, knowing it is now time to nourish ourselves, or to clean ourselves, or move, or rest. It’s always time to do something.
I’ve long believed the heart is what integrates the mind and the body, the head and the gut. The mind may think, and the body may digest, but it is the heart that puts it all together. Once, working with a scrambled young man, I devised a simple exercise that the two of us would do together. We sat cross-legged and, breathing in, we would raise our arms out and overhead; then, breathing out, we would bring our hands down together to the heart. Breathing in, we would then bring our arms out and down; and, breathing out, we would bring our hands up together to the heart once again. We did this again and again, bringing the operations of the head and the gut together into the heart, that destination where mind and body best meet.
Here, in the heart, we can find balance in the confluence of the pulsing flow of life. Contrary to what may be desired, there really is no living “happily ever after,” just as there never really was a “once upon a time.” As a friend once said, “the bottom line is – there is no bottom line.” Life has always been a constantly unfolding flow, including this particular segment that has always been our home.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com.