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Re-balancing ourselves on life’s roundabout

Magnolia blooming in spring
Have you ever spun round and round, arms out-stretched, like a spinning top, or whizzed round on a roundabout – then tried to walk in a straight line?
It’s a wonderfully wibbly-wobbly experience – the world seems to keep spinning around us, even though we’ve stopped. And in the confusion we flounder around, maybe bump into things and probably end up collapsed on the floor – possibly crumpled up in tears of laughter. It’s great fun as a game.

The problem comes when everyday life is like that, whirling from one thing to another, our thoughts and emotions confused and out of kilter. We bump into people’s feelings with clumsily-spoken words, crash through their aspirations and shatter our dreams, ending up in a crumpled heap – but the tears may not come from laughter.

We have just celebrated the spring equinox – when day and night are equal: a perfect opportunity to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and re-balance our lives.
Making the time to do this is, I believe, becoming even more important now, as panicking companies and government bodies shed too many staff in a dash to cut costs. As more and more people lose their jobs, those still in work are ending up over-worked. What long-term social and economic damage this will do has yet to be seen, but in the meantime we have to find ways to minimise the potential psychological harm. Even if the policy decisions are out of our hands, the way we respond to them is not.

Siddhartha Gautama learned long ago that the extremes of all-devouring consumerism and tight-fisted austerity did not lead to deep, lasting happiness.
He came from a wealthy family and enjoyed every luxury but, on seeing people suffering sickness, old age and death, decided he must find a way to free us from suffering. He explored various religious teachings and later became an ascetic, but ended up too weak to help anyone, including himself. Then, sat on a river bank, he overheard a man teaching a boy how to play a musical instrument: “If you wind the string too tight, it will break; too loose, and there will be no music.” This opened his eyes to what became called the Middle Way of non-extremism and led to his eventual awakening as a buddha.

It is because of balance that we are here at all – not static, unmoving and unmoveable, but dynamic balance: the orbit of the earth around the sun. It is the perfect – but slightly shifting – balance of our home circling the centre of the solar system that allows life (as we define it) to flourish.

If the universe is infinite, there is no centre. Or, to put it another way, the centre can be wherever we place it. Indeed, the centre of our universe is generally wherever we think it is: wherever we put our mind, our life will surely follow.

If we see our lives as like miniature solar systems, we will recognise that there are times when we are whirling around on one or other emotional ‘planet’ (whether we are caught up in Martian anger or the over-confidence of expansive Jupiter). That’s when we are off-centre and when we need to re-balance and bring ourselves back to our solar heart. The ‘planets’ will still whirl around us, but we are no longer being spun round with them.

One way I have found to do this is to sit. Just sit. For 10 minutes. In a chair, back straight, feet firmly planted on the floor, rooted to the earth, hands relaxed in my lap. Breathing in, breathing out. Letting the thoughts and feelings circle around my mind without mentally landing on any of them.

It seems to make it much easier, on life’s roundabout, to walk in a straight line without toppling over. Sometimes, at least.


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