Balance and Starting Again

Hello my fellow human Beings:

There are two key elements of a meditation practice that we should continuously key in mind:

  1. Balance (equanimity); and
  2. Starting again (without judgement or admonition).

In a talk she gave as part of her series of teachings with Roshi Joan Halifax at the Upaya Zen Center in 2011, renowned loving-kindness meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg describes balance as a nurturing connection to the present moment. She said:

“Sometimes people think well, if I get a death-grip on the breath, my mind won’t wander, and actually, …, it wanders more. Classical balance is usually talked about as between tranquility and energy. We need some presence, …, wholeheartedness, engagement, but we also need to be relaxed, and more at ease, feeling that this is a natural thing to be doing. … like holding something very fragile, very precious, like …an object made of glass in my hand. If I were to grab it too tightly, it would shatter and break. But if I just got lazy and negligent, my hand would fall open and it would fall off and break. So I just cradle it, I stay in touch with it or cherish it. This is how we are with one breath.”

This is a great visual image of how we need to find the right balance in being mindful in our meditation practice. We neither grasp too tightly to the breath, nor get too lazy and let it slip away breaking our concentration.  Instead, we are gently aware of our breath’s presence and we stay connected to it in a nurturing and mindful way in the here and now.

This element of our meditation practice is helpful in our daily lives as well. By strengthening our ability to be equanimous with ourselves and our breath in our meditation practice, we are building our balance muscle to stay composed and steady no matter what situations we are faced with in life. In this way, we learn to live a more even-keeled life, rather than having a roller-coaster ride existence.

Balance, it does the mind, and body good.

The second, and perhaps the more vital element, of our meditation practice, is starting again without judgement or admonition. Being able to be aware of our mistakes, letting go of them and beginning again without blame and shame is fundamental to advancing in our meditation practice and to advancing in the practice of living an abundant life.

In her article, The Fractal Moment: An Invitation to Begin Again on, Sharon Salzberg sums up this second element of our meditation practice well when she writes:

“In actuality, meditation is simple, but not easy: you rest your attention on something like the breath in order to stay present, and, as thoughts carry you away, you begin again an incalculable number of times. That is why meditation is a practice. It is the practice of training one’s attention that makes meditation so powerful.

Conditioning tells us that if we would only berate ourselves enough, blame ourselves enough, and consider ourselves failures enough, we’d accomplish a lot more. In truth, those habits usually leave us exhausted and demoralized. …

When thoughts drift during the micro world of meditation, we learn that there is no benefit to be gained from berating ourselves, or from wishing fervently that we had been focused on our chosen object (say the breath) the entire time. We strengthen our minds and our meditation practice each time we recognize these distractions, let go, and begin again. Because it is a fractal of life, meditation is a dynamic practice, one that involves cultivating the art of self-compassion, of learning to relate to ourselves in a new and more forgiving way.

The invitation to begin again (and again and again) that meditation affords is an invitation for the practice of self-compassion – to heal through letting go rather than harming ourselves with cycles of self-doubt, judgment, and criticism. Beginning again is a powerful form of resilience training.”

We are reminded that to begin again we must do so without judgment. If we blame and judge ourselves when we falter, we lose out on growing in our practice for as long as we continue to judge ourselves. Once we stop the self-judgement and instead show ourselves self-compassion and forgiveness, we can start to grow once more.

To begin again, we must forgive ourselves for mistakes we have made and let go of the falters, so that we can start the process over without self-judgment and self-criticism.

Self-compassion is an essential ingredient in our meditation recipe book.

Learning to let go and begin again with compassion is both the challenge and the training.

So I encourage you this week, to find time daily to be still, to connect with your breath and to remember to find balance and begin again, repeating over and over with a gentle awareness, a nurturing touch and a compassionate embrace.

Each of us will falter as we walk on the path, but if we can learn to be equanimous and begin again with forgiveness, then we will take steps towards living an abundant life.