Tuesday, July 2, 2013

To Every Thing There Is A Season

lately, i've been grappling with the question of balance, of even-mindedness.  two sources have been informing my thinking: first, the art of happiness by his holiness the dalai lama and dr. howard cutler (new york: riverhead books, 1998) and bodhipaksa's blog "on practice."  while i'm not at all well-versed in buddhist teaching, it seems that balance and even-mindedness are not exactly the same thing, but i see (i hope not mistakenly) a relationship between the two ideas.

it is the concept of balance that i want to address in this post.  it seems that we often swing between extremes.  on the one hand, we often crave excitement, stimulation that gets our heart pounding.  on the other hand, when the excitement dies, there is usually a sense of disappointment, a longing to have this "rush" once more.  the craving for something that is exhilarating manifests itself in religious experience.  we have "mountaintop" experiences that leave us with a sense of "wow! at last i've found the secret to what it's all about," but these experiences don't last.  when we come down from the mountain, so to speak, we're in the real world once more.  the press of everyday responsibilities crowds out that brief period of religious ecstasy.

i worked in a church once where many of the members had participated in a retreat experience that left them craving a permanent feeling of what they had experienced during the retreat.  though those leading the retreats had cautioned the participants about expecting to re-create the retreat experience every sunday in worship, there was still a desire to do just that.  the push to take an exceptional experience and repeat it week after week tore the congregation apart.  many left to find other churches that had greater stability and less conflict.  ultimately the decimated congregation abandoned its efforts and returned to a more balanced approach that recognized the spiritual needs of all the congregation.

once we recognize that the longing to be "up" all the time results in a constant alternation between extremes of great pleasure and great suffering, we can begin to seek the balance--the middle way--that enables us to experience true happiness.  the mistaking of temporary excitement for happiness is a trap that is easy for us to fall into.  i think this relates to the sense of contentment about which i wrote last week.  when we remember that all is temporary, as the writer of ecclesiastes well knew, we can accept that viewing all experience through the lens of impermanence brings us to a deep happiness that transcends the highs and the lows, the goods and the bads, the riches and the poverty of our existence.

my prayer today is that we all find the balance that leads us to peace and happiness, a balance that avoids the extremes that lead to longing and clinging.  shalom.

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