Balance. It’s a word we hear a lot about. Work-Life Balance. Fiscal Balance. Spiritual Balance. Protein-Carb-Fat Balance. And like so many of the spiritual faculties we read or hear about, balance, in any sense, can often feel rather elusive.
How does Mindfulness Promote Balance?
Through meditation practice we gain an intimate glimpse on the way the mind tends to move about. Present and calm for a breath or two, and thenpoof… a torrent of mind-stuff blows through. In a moment’s notice, we’re pushed by fear, cornered by an anxiety, deflated by a lack of confidence.
And yet, what I’ve always found to be ingenious about mindfulness is the simple manner by whichjust bringing receptive attention to something has the function of leveling the ship, or of balancing and smoothing the mind.
Analayo, in his commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta, writes: “This detached but receptive stance of ‘satipatthana’ constitutes a ‘middle path’, since it avoids the two extremes of suppression and reaction. The receptivity of sati, in the absence of both suppression and reaction, allows personal shortcomings and unjustified reactions to unfold before the watchful stance of the meditator, without being suppressed by the affective investment inherent in one’s self-image.”
So, in the very middle of whatever happens to be going on in the mind and body at any given moment, when the faculty of sati recognizes the process of thoughts or moods as such, we can and will feel ourselves step back. We objectify the experience (as my teacher Kenneth Folk likes to say). And we gain some balanced composure.
With time, we begin to understand more deeply that the very troubling, BIG issues that so frequently knock us over… these issues actually release themselves before our ‘detached and receptive’ awareness. No action required on our part. They release themselves, if allowed to be.
In a similar vein, Ajahn Amaro shares these reflections in his book, Small Boat, Great Mountain:
“[Ajahn Chah] would compare the mind and its objects to oil and water contained in the same bottle. The knowing mind is like the oil, and the sense impressions are like the water. Primarily because our minds and lives are very busy and turbulent, the oil and water get shaken up together. It thus appears that the knowing mind and its objects are all one substance. But if we let the system calm down, then the oil and the water separate out; they are essentially immiscible.
“There’s the awareness, the Buddha-mind, and the impressions of thought, the sensory world, and all other patterns of consciousness. The two naturally separate out from each other; we don’t have to do a thing to make it happen. Intrinsically, they are not mixed. They will separate themselves out if we let them.”
Originally published on March 14, 2014