Practice of the Week
"Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some." (Robert Fulghum)Adapted from Susan Manker-Seale, "Balance," in Scott Alexander, Editor, Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life
"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony." (Thomas Merton)
"Do you sometimes wonder whether your life is in balance? It is easy to know if you lead a balanced life because if you do then: you enjoy every moment and every second; you can cope with any difficulties; you can be happy without any reason to be happy; you can be yourself and love the person you are." (Anastasiya Goers)
We do not have to fit ourselves to someone's prescribed discipline in order to feel we are being spiritual. Spirituality is with us always, and our individual situations will define the tools we choose to use, if we take the time to listen to ourselves and know our joys and yearnings, whether for quiet or a walk in beauty, for exercise or music, for sunsets or sunrises, for strenuous activity or the hand in ours, for the glance of a child, for effort or work that is meaningful, for the creative task or the work of community, or for the moments of appreciation which are available to us anytime and anywhere.
My daily spiritual practice is to balance. A major part of that practice involves balancing the busy, taking-for-granted moments of the day with moments to pause and appreciate what is before me in my life. I probably wouldn't even have considered this a spiritual practice, except that I've been learning to redefine the meaning of what is spiritual, and to ponder for myself what is important in my faith. If we have family and work, integrating a traditional spiritual practice into our daily lives is a real challenge. Try meditating with a baby in the next room!
I know there are others more disciplined than I, but I have had years when I was able to be disciplined. I used to keep a journal in early college, but rarely write that way anymore. I was taught to meditate one summer when I was out of balance in my life. For a year I meditated twice each day, to great benefit of spirit. But slowly, I let it slide, and am trying to get myself to make room for it once again. I studied aikido for a year and a half, but moved, and my new teacher didn't blend the physical with the spiritual in the way my original teacher had. I am a poet, have written poetry for most of my life, learning from the insights I discover through such a process, yet never in a regular exercise. The latest practice I engaged in was to walk for twenty minutes three times a week, for both my physical and my mental health, and I kept that up for two years until I went back to teaching full-time. Last year I moved to Tucson, and have spent a year wondering when I would get back to walking, or would I join a Zen meditation group, or what. Even though I haven't kept up these practices regularly, I have learned from them, been shaped by them. They are tools, not ends. They help us learn to slow down, to pay attention, to focus, or to empty.
We can practice spirituality in our daily lives, in our daily activities, by remembering to pause, pay attention, and feel appreciation for what is before us. Paying attention means using all of our senses in being in the world and in the moment. Stop a moment. Feel the chair in which you are sitting. Notice the temperature around you. Listen for the sounds of your background symphony. Breathe. Appreciate the colors of your clothes, your skin, the sky, or the ceiling. Focus on appreciating the peace out of which you have found the time to read these words. Remember the feeling of oneness with creation, and try to bring that back into being. This practice only takes a few moments and is not bound by place or time or ritual.
Out of our busyness, we are called back into balance, back into ourselves and the silence of present being. But it is not just back into ourselves to which we are called; it is also to the awareness of the continuous presence of the environment around us and within us. We are called to remember our relationships and our dependencies. We are called to once again feel the oneness which sustains our being in balance with creation, and to do so with wonder and appreciation.
There are times, I will admit, when it is harder to recall that sense of presence and connection. When that happens, I usually realize that I've gotten somewhat out of touch with my body, and so I spend a little more time putting myself behind my eyes, so to speak. I don't just see; I see broadly, to the edges of my sockets, my brows and lashes. I put myself back into my hands and arms, feel my feet and the length of my body. I find my heartbeat, and my breath. As I become aware once again of the vessel which is me, the sense of awareness of presence grows, expands into the space around me, connecting me to all that I see and hear and touch and feel and taste. Balance returns.
The world is full of wonder, if we but stop and pay attention. It is there, waiting to feed us, even in very difficult situations. The day is made up of moments, and each moment can be an eternity of peace to those experiencing pain or grief. They are like blessings, and we count them, one by one throughout the day. They help us keep our balance.
Pause for those moments every so often to listen and to look, to feel and to smell, to taste and to appreciate, to feel thankful for the beauty which is around us even in the smallest grains of red dirt and in the grandest blue of sky. The mundane world is a source of deep spirituality. Notice it, appreciate it, for you are it and it is you.
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Rev. Susan Manker-Seale has served UU congregations in San Rafael, CA (1986-88), Glendale, AZ (1989-95), Tucson, AZ (1996-2010), and Flagstaff, AZ (2012-14).
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Describe a time when you did something that created a strong sense of balance in your life. (What did you do? What did balancing feel like for you?) Then take a self-assessment: How balanced would you say you are right now? How do you feel about that?
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Previous Practice of the Week: "Protect Your Brain"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"