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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Yin/Yang as Contrast

In my last entry I referred to dark/light as an example of Yin/Yang. The first thing that comes to mind when I think in these terms is black and white photography. This is one of my favorite artistic mediums. The edges are much more apparent than they are in color photography. More is left to the imagination because of the lack of other colors. The shadows or dark areas give definition and clarity to the light. Rather than working against the light, the dark supports the light, making it shine brighter.

In belief systems grounded in judgement, light and dark are seen as good and bad. The terms positive and negative carry connotations of judgement, even though scientifically these terms denote opposite sides needed to create a balance of function (as in the two ends of a battery + and -). When we automatically judge something as negative or bad, we deny ourselves the understanding that balance requires two sides to act as counter-weights for one another.

Emotions are judged harshly if they have been labeled as negative. Fear is deemed negative in the Western mind and yet, in Eastern philosophy, it is seen as one of the Master Teachers. Legitimate fear can save your life. Unrealistic fear can paralyze you. Learning from your fear can increase your self-awareness and nurture your spiritual growth. Sitting with an intense and uncomfortable emotion brings insight and often healing. Sit quietly and ask “Fear, what have you come to show me?” Then listen with an open mind and heart for the answer.

I have shifted the way I language emotions because even extreme happiness can stress the body and the mind, creating imbalance. I now assess (rather than judge) my emotions in terms of intensity. I am currently experiencing wonderful times with my family and the intensity of joy and fulfillment feels overwhelming at times. If I were grieving, it would be tempting to fight against the experience rather than embrace it. In both cases, it is a matter of the intensity of the emotions I am experiencing. As the intensity rises so does the sense of being overwhelmed. In both situations, the answer is to embrace the experience and be aware of what I need to remain balanced physically, mentally and emotionally. Imbalance in either direction (joy or sorrow) can, over time, lead to exhaustion and illness.

I am passionate about life. Human beings experience life through their senses and that includes emotions. When I am out in nature, I stop and drink in the visual wonder of it all. I take deep breaths and smell what is around me. I close my eyes and listen. I pay attention to the memories and/or emotions that these sentient stimulants evoke in me. I want it all.

At the same time, I seek balance so that my responses (physical, mental, emotional) do not toss me around or throw me against the walls of my life. Been there; done that. It is exhilarating to soar (yang) and necessary for my health to come back to earth (yin) and walk in balance.