Balance is an amazing way to describe meditation and even life itself. For life to even exist on earth it needs the perfect balance of temperature; not too hot, not too cold and the perfect balance of oxygen and other elements which make up our atmosphere, which is our life support system. Tilt any of these out of balance just little bit and things can fall apart very quickly, like the problems of climate change and over pollution of our planet.
Balance is a great word to describe a way of life that is healthy and going with the flow of natural forces. Everything is constantly changing nothing stays the same for long, Alan Watts suggests the best way to handle this situation is to plunge right in and enjoy the dance; moving with the constant changes whilst remaining happy, healthy and centred.
Buddha described enlightenment as the direct experience of reality unmitigated by concepts or ideas. This direct experience of reality is not some intellectual seeing of a profound truth it’s the ability to have balance and the skill to navigate the constantly changing landscape.
Just like the theory of balance doesn’t help you ride a skateboard you need to jump on and feel your way through it, spiritual practice should not be overly intellectual but instead be the lived experience of timeless truths, which requires doing not just understanding, practice not just contemplation.
So besides the obvious balance needed in riding a skateboard how do we find balance through meditation? I’m glad I asked. There are lots of ways to find perfect balance in different areas of meditation, I would like to offer a few here to help you along your way.
Balance is not just for skateboards, in Yoga learning to stand in mountain pose is vitally important, that is learning to just stand up straight with perfect symmetry and balance. Also in Tai Chi the graceful flow of movement all starts with the ability to find balance in a standing position. So too a good meditation begins with finding the perfect balance of a good meditation posture. For 6 tips for the perfect meditation posture click here
To find your centre in meditation you should not be too far forward or back, not too far left or right. To get a feel for this centre of balance, after taking your seat, rock your upper body gently around from side to side and front to back and until you settle into that place exactly in the middle. This is a great way to relax and let go of tension too and when you get used to doing this you get a feel for your centre and after a few seconds of gently rocking your body you will naturally come to rest in your centre of gravity.
The perfect posture reflects the state of mind that you are trying to accommodate in meditation: alert relaxation. You are sitting up straight which is being alert and you are at ease in your centre of gravity which is being relaxed or effortless.
One of the main things that tip our minds out of balance is attachment to some people and aversion to others. This is based on the mistaken assumption that some people bring you happiness and others bring you suffering, instead of realising that happiness comes from your state of mind and attitude toward others not from others themselves.
This is why in Buddhist meditation the first thing you do after you have found your posture is set your motivation to be kind to all sentient beings equally and to help all sentient beings be free from suffering and find happiness. This is often done in the form of a prayer called the four immeasurable truths. I can testify that this prayers helps enormously to settle your mind and put you in the most positive and loving state possible to do meditation. It is not possible to relax totally and find balance if you are harbouring a grudge toward someone. Forgiveness allows you to find the peace you deserve.
Before the four immeasurable prayer comes the recognition that all sentient beings want happiness and they all want to avoid suffering and it is in this fundamental truth that we are all the same. Yes, we are all the same. Because you feel and realise this deep in your bones a natural urge to help others arises and this is the beginning of love and compassion and also your own inner peace.
The four immeasurables to recite before every meditation session are simply:
- May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
- May all beings have happiness and the causes for happiness
- May all beings treat each other equally and fairly without prejudice
- & May all beings find the highest happiness of enlightenment as quickly as possible
The perfect balance of mind we are all searching for in meditation is relaxed alertness. This is a balance of deep relaxation and perfect concentration. Athletes have described this state as being in the ‘zone’ where they see clearly and are highly alert but they feel no pressure a sense of timelessness and ease. Athletes find this balance by discovering the stillness in movement.
It is something that has to be experienced through practice and not just understood intellectually. The traditional way to train in this state of mind is to be able to be aware through introspection, whether you are too agitated or if you are too dull or sleepy. Everyone who has meditated before has experienced these too extremes of meditation either falling asleep or just too agitated to put your thoughts down.
The remedy for either being too dull and sleepy or being too excited and agitated is alertness and relaxation respectively. If you are falling asleep or drifting into a blank dullness you need to alert yourself, wake yourself up, straighten your posture, even opening your eyes slightly and gazing at the floor, or in extreme cases getting up and walking mindfully for a couple of minutes before settling back into a sitting posture.
When you are too agitated, following every thought and too excited about things, even excited you are meditating, the remedy is relaxing yourself. Breathing deeply and slowly consciously dropping and relaxing your shoulders, relaxing other body parts including face muscles, and re-focussing on your object whether its your breath, body sensations or a mantra. Refocus, let go and relax.
The perfect balance is relaxed but not sleepy, alert but not tense. Through becoming our own meditation guide, we realise what remedy to apply and when. The key is not to over do it, adjust yourself and then refocus on your meditation and let go.
Join The Dance
Over adjusting yourself can be a problem as well, becoming an extreme throwing you off balance. Eventually we have to settle into our meditation and just accept how we are at that given moment. Finding balance here is not trying to add anything extra but also not taking anything away, this is the perfect state of acceptance of what’s happening.
Often we hear about detachment and being the witness in meditative practice but joining the dance is embodying the present moment completely not just standing back and watching it. Zen Master Suzuki suggests to own everything in the now as being yours. Not in a possessive or restrictive way but as in a total embodiment of the now, a total acceptance that everything is you. When you do not deny anything you can find your balance in the centre of the reality of the moment.
There is no easy way to describe this state, in fact it is the highest state of meditation called Samadhi meditation which is becoming one with everything. The small ego separating you from the world dissolves to reveal a flow of oneness. There is no holding back in this flow, jump right in and join the dance. See things as they are not as you would like them to be and adjust yourself to find balance.
In reality you are not as separate from the world as your senses may assume. You are the earth, the water and the air, you are the fire of motivation and the flow of the wind. By accepting everything as yourself you become sensitive to the world, become sensitive to extremes and can easily adjust yourself skilfully within the constant dance of the elements to effortlessly find your balance.
Written by Chad Foreman
Chad Foreman has been teaching meditation since 2003 and is determined to bring authentic meditation practices into the lives of millions of people. Chad is a former Buddhist monk and spent 6 years living in a retreat hut studying and practising meditation full time. He is now a fully qualified meditation teacher with the Australian Institute of Meditation and has designed a unique 21 day meditation challenge to guide people gradually from the basics of mindfulness and relaxation to profound states of awareness. Click Here to learn more about the 21 Day Meditation Challenge.