Mental Balance

A balanced mind abides in the present moment.

To abide means to remain, continue, stay, dwell, reside.  The mind only knows now, this present moment.  There is no past or future.  Have I presented another paradox?  If the mind knows only the now then what is going on when I spend an entire day dwelling on past mistakes, losses or disappointments?  What is going on when I spend an entire night in fear and anxiety over future possibilities?  I am bringing the past and/or the future into the present moment and my mind will respond accordingly as will my body and my emotions.

When I abide in the past, whether the memories are filled with joy or trauma, my mind interprets it as happening in the present.  And if I abide in the future, whether I look forward with joyful anticipation or anxiety-filled dread, my mind thinks it is happening right now.  Aside from the physical and emotional responses that are triggered, I am totally oblivious to and missing out on the present moment.

Yes, there are times when the future or the past are appropriately part of the present.  When families get together and share laughter and joy while reminiscing, that is their present moment.  When a young family prepares for the birth of a child months ahead of its arrival, that is their present moment.  These experiences come and go and the attention returns to the beauty of the sky, paying bills on time, or preparing a meal that will be shared lovingly with the family.

The key is developing the ability to abide in the moment.  I come back to each person finding what works for them, what keeps them in the here and now.  For me, when I walk, my intention is to see, hear and enjoy my world.  I watch the sky, listen to the birds, say hi to neighbors and pet their dogs. I breathe the air and allow gratitude for my life, even when at present it is filled with challenges.

Years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh, suggested on one of his tapes to walk very slowly to the phone when it rings.  As you walk, ask yourself if you can be fully present with the person calling.  If you cannot stop what you are doing and be only with that person, do not answer the phone.  Call them later.  (Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk living in exile.  The primary focus of his loving, compassionate teaching is mindfulness.)

The way to begin is to become aware of your own mental patterns.  It is important to embrace this awareness without judgement.  Awareness allows me to accept what I have been doing to avoid the present moment.  Once I accept that I have created these patterns, I can forgive myself if necessary and begin to create new patterns of mental behavior.

For many people, this process is enhanced through counseling with a professional therapist.  I am in this group.  There have been a number of times in my life when therapy was essential to finding and maintaining a healthy mental state of being.  Others need medication in addition because they live with a chemical imbalance of some type that must be treated in order for them to be able to experience healthy thought patterns.  Remember, the physical directly impacts the mental and vice versa.

May you learn to abide in the moment as you discover the balance of body, mind and emotions that allows you to do so.  Peace, tranquility and contentment will follow and also abide with you.

 

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Emotional Balance

Emotional balance has been unfolding in my life for 50 years.  One of the biggest hurdles has been letting go of the belief that my emotions define me; that I am what I am currently feeling.  I now define emotion as: e-motion = energy in motion.  When I am experiencing a specific emotion, I realize that it is energy moving through my entire being.  It is energy that has been given a name such as happiness, sorrow, anger, etc.  Remembering this helps me release judgement about the nature of that energy.  Energy is energy; it is neither good nor bad; it just is.

As practices for the body and mind (yoga, meditation, healthy eating, exercise, fresh air, loving friends, etc.) have become consistent in my life, my emotions have become more consistent as well.  For the most part, my emotions fit what I am experiencing in the moment.  When each of my parents died, I was deeply sad and grieved.  I was also profoundly grateful that I was with them in their transitions. I was proud to be their daughter. I was also grateful for everything they had given me over the years.  So many emotions flowed during those times and I felt them all. Intense and fulfilling all at once.

In releasing judgement, I view these experiences in terms of intensity.  Seldom is overwhelming happiness described as bad, yet it is every bit as intense as sorrow and can be just as exhausting.  My granddaughter’s birth was so intensely joyful that there were times I didn’t sleep very well.  There were times when I quietly cried for happy.  Intense.

On the other end of the spectrum, I choose not to take in news about things like child abuse because the depth of anger I feel on behalf of these innocents is almost frightening to me.  But is anger always “bad?”  Not in my opinion, because there are many people who have been inspired to acts of bravery because of the anger that arises within them.  Anger and frustration with things I had allowed or created in my life have given me the courage to make very difficult changes.  Intense.

Intensity is seldom comfortable, which is why these energies are judged as bad or unhealthy.  The key, is – guess what? – balance!  It makes more sense to realize that imbalance in the emotional body creates confusion and can be destructive than to set the goal of never feeling these things.  When I feel angry, can I allow myself to be in it in a way that leads me to action, forgiveness or compassion?  If so, I will quickly return to peace and tranquility.  My actions will be appropriate to the situation and to my desire and intention to live lovingly and compassionately.  It is when I avoid and stuff or hide my feelings that my behavior becomes inappropriate and possibly destructive.

Balance is the key. Here are a few reasonable goals:  Feel without being thrown against the wall by the intensity of emotions. Be willing to sit with the discomfort in order to remember that energy in motion does not define me; it is something you are experiencing in the moment.  It will diminish, shift, transform because that is the nature of energy.  Embrace the experience for what it is:  a human experience that does not change or define your True Self, a spiritual being. Be patient and remember that it takes time and maturity to come into this awareness in every aspect of your being: physical, mental, emotional.  You don’t have to change everything at once.  You don’t have to fight yourself and judge yourself.  You do not have to be perfect.  You can be in this moment, experience it, and be all that you are.  You can unfold into True Self as naturally as a healthy tree matures and produces perfect fruit.

One of my favorite responses to myself when I explode into emotional intensity and catch myself in the midst of it is:    Well, Catherine Ann, welcome to the human race!

 

Let Life Be Easier

On the opening page of his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck says:

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

What are the illusions that have given birth to your expectations of yourself, others and life itself? Do you believe, somewhere deep inside, that “someday” everything will be perfect? Are you always waiting and hoping for what lies out in the future somewhere?

A young sage once said to me as we walked through a farmers’ market on a crisp sunny morning,

This, this is the essence of life: Do what you love doing. Do it with people you love. And let it be easy.

Sitting on a quiet beach on the Emerald Coast of the Florida panhandle, I watched the gulf waters. The water was so still it looked more like a lake. A few weeks earlier it had raged, sending huge waves crashing across the highway into the small bay behind me. In that moment I realized that water is consistently true to itself whether it is quietly lapping at the shore or ripping into that shore so deeply that it is forever changed. I could see that because water is consistently true to its own nature,  it is able to shape the continents and I was looking at a different Florida coastline.

Life is like that. It is consistently true to itself, ever-changing, relentlessly being what it is. Life ebbs and flows. At times so quiet and peaceful I want this moment to last forever. Other times it rips and tears at the fabric of my being. It dares me to resist its flow, to deny its very nature and, in the process, to deny my own and be taken down and devastated by its storms.

M. Scott Peck is right. The only way to embrace the very nature of life is to accept the reality of its true nature. When I surrender my illusions, I set myself free to ride the waves. World class surfers travel the globe, following storms and ocean surges, looking for the fiercest waves in order to ride them! I want to ride the waves of life with that kind of confidence and openness of mind and heart. Like my young sage, I want to let life be easy.

So when life is a challenge, I sit down and breathe. I breathe slowly and quietly until I remember that this is the nature of life. I am not being punished or tested. Life is what it is. I meditate and pray for guidance. I wait for the inner voice of wisdom. The challenges don’t disappear but they look different to me then. I know that, when this storm passes, the waters of my life will be calm again while I rest and restore my energy.

It won’t be the last storm so I rest in knowing that I am more adept at embracing all of life’s experiences. I seek out the quiet within when everything around me is raging. My own true nature carries me as I flow with life rather than fighting it, even when it hurts.

This moment is enough for me no matter what it contains. Blessings can be as overwhelming as challenges. Looking to some future that may never come is not the answer. This moment is all I have. Whatever this moment contains, I choose to be present in it because I can let this one moment be easy.

Balance

Here is my first blog entry from September, 2014. I thought it might be fun to revisit some of these while I am preparing for certification as a Chopra Center Educator. Enjoy my journey and may it inspire you on your own!

I was the mother of two young children when I was in my late 20’s. The importance of maintaining personal balance (physical, mental, emotional) quickly became apparent to me. My spouse was military and we were living in Goose Bay, Labrador. It was 1972 so information and resources were scarce in remote places.

Without family nearby or even easily accessible by phone, my participation in bible studies and prayer groups led me to women with more life experience. Their friendship and guidance helped me begin to discover the things that would bring me into a healthier, more balanced way of life.

Many years later I discovered hatha yoga, which surprisingly met a spiritual need that seemed to have no answer. I had read about and tried to meditate but was not able to achieve the deep, lasting results others reported. In yoga I learned that body chemistry, especially imbalances, keep the mind and emotions from settling down and this can make meditation frustrating and unfruitful.

The very essence of hatha yoga is balance. “Yoga” is similar in meaning to the word “yoke.” Draft animals often work in pairs and come into harmony and balance through the use of a yoke. When they are equally yoked, they can move as one and achieve the work set before them.  In yoga we seek that balance and harmony of body, mind, and emotions that allows us to be one with ourselves and others.

Hatha yoga defines this more specifically. “Ha” means “sun” and “tha” means “moon.”  These represent the yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) aspects of life. In hatha yoga, the physical practice (asanas or postures), combined with breathwork (pranayama) and mindfulness, bring the practioner into personal balance and harmony. When I am in harmony with myself, it is more likely that I will be in harmony with others.

For me, one of the early gifts of my practice was the quietness that began to emerge in my thoughts and feelings. I found that I could actually sit in stillness, without restlessness or circular thinking. After 15 years of searching, something was working for me!