Mindful Trail Project
We are out of balance,
Out of balance with ourselves, with others, with nature.
Why is balance so important? Because balance is our natural state.
Nature is the balance of Yin and Yang.
Yang is the male, the effort, the outgoing trip.
Yin represents the feminine, the acceptance, the return trip.
So if man lives according to natural laws, is in balance with Yin and Yang forces.
It also seems that humans have been endowed with another task:
to find the balance between the spiritual and the material worlds.
In the taoist tradition they call these: heaven and earth energies.
In tai chi practice you can embody these energies in different ways, for example by dropping the tail bone and lifting the crown, for those who know what I am talking about.
I think this is also what the Greeks represented with their temples.
The base symbolising the earth and the roof the heavens. The columns, in the middle, representing humans.
Each column like different separate individuals, but linked by the shared task of creating the connection between heaven and earth and also joined by the common above and below energies.
(photo Greece, 2010).
A good column not too earth bound, nor too heaven bound.
Too earth bound and we become attached to our body, sensual experiences and materialist possessions. Modern society is heading this way, which is plain to see (too Yang).
Too heaven bound and we loose touch with reality. Our mind becomes ungrounded like that of some New Age groups where people go on astral trips and loose touch with reality (too Yin).
For this reason, the classical depiction of the Buddha is in meditation posture with one hand on his lap and the other touching the ground.
The message is clear.
To reach the skies you have to touch the ground first. To jump, you need to bend your knees before. And you need to have a returning plan, because if you go to outer space you better have a reentry capsule.
You have to condition the body and the mind and make them pliable, grounded, and conducive to supporting the “trip”. Otherwise the risk of having “spiritual” experiences is to become manic.
This is more likely to happen if you have such experiences induces by psychoactive drugs or intense suffering.
So, where do we find the balance?
It is very simple.
By finding the right equilibrium between the Yin and Yang energies of our mind.
For this I advise you to watch the TED’s talk video, “My Stroke of Insight”, where neuroscientist
Jill Bolte Taylor describes her experience of having a stroke.
Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke affected her left hemisphere language centres, and she unwillingly experienced what can be described as shunyata, emptiness, the natural state of the mind, as described in Buddhism.
It is interesting to see that Jill Bolte Taylor did not know she had lost the use of her language
until she tried to talk or understand language.
But there was still an awareness, a “knowing” that was beyond words.
In her talk, she describes the two brain hemispheres with two very different "personalities."
The left part (serial processor, dividing, Yang), the base for logic thinking, hosts the language centres that create the constant chatter of the brain we all experience. This narration, plus an area that defines our position in space and boundaries, creates the separate sense of self we all experience. Here is also where we experience "time".
The right part (parallel processor, holistic, Yin) processes information coming from the senses and thinks in pictures. Jill Bolte-Taylor describes it as the embodied, all-including, compassionate vision of the world already at one with all there is. (Buddha Nature?) Here, in thoughtless awareness, we can experience "the now".
Maybe somewhat simplified, but this could lay down the explanation for the so called "exoteric" efforts of millions of spiritual seekers practicing meditation and looking for transcendental experiences.
Because meditation could become the "simple" act of reestablishing a balance between the activity of the two hemispheres.
It makes sense if we think about the basic meditation instructions:
Observe the mind (stay in the right hemisphere) and see when thoughts appear (recognise them as left-hemisphere chatter). Let them go, and go back to reside in thoughtless awareness (go back to right hemisphere).
If we do this for a while, we start to decondition our mind from the habitual patterns of finding thoughts much more interesting than thoughtless awareness.
It is easy to see how our modern-world thinking has become dominated, and it is now a product of the more dividing intelligence of left hemisphere that continuously superimposes itself on the more inclusive right part.
So to find the balance, at this point in time, we have to practice spending more time on the right side of the brain.
Different spiritual traditions have used different approaches to bring back the balance.
Some traditions use visualisations. Thinking in pictures takes you to the right hemisphere.
The Tibetans work a lot through intellectual investigation and logics in order to reduce the afflictions (kleshas) that keep you on the left.
Although a nice idea, and with its applications, it can also become a trap, because more knowledge or ideas can become another ideal to purse or dogma to follow. A project for the future, which is left bran activity.
Western therapy works at this level as well.
But for me, the most powerful spiritual teaching are those that take you directly there, to shunyata.
Zen and Dzochen Buddhism, or teachers like Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta Maharaj, or Eckhart Tolle, take you directly there, to reside in your “true nature"of the thoughtless awareness.
In tai chi we work by finding the balance between the Yin and Yang, through applying the right balance of energy and relaxation.
This is exemplified in the Taoist concept of “Wei Wu Wei” (to do, not to do).
When response is required, you can not do something, but you can not not do something.
In other words you need intention but not will power.
You have to apply intensity, but then you have to let go and become comfortable with not-knowing.
First you act on the horizontal plane, the material, of the forms, to bring intensity (shamatha, concentration, Yang), then you let go and you let yourself be taken down into the vertical plane (vipassana, insight, Yin).
This is the exoteric meaning of the cross.
To represent the joining of the material and the spiritual.
The meeting point of the two lines is where the magic happens.
What happens “there” is for “you” to discover.