I assume I was like most children; I couldn’t wait to become a grown-up. As a little girl, I viewed the adults in my life with a sense of awe and reverence. They seemed so wise, poised to supply an answer to my every question. It appeared they had figured everything out, effortlessly. I placed them firmly on meticulously crafted pedestals, convinced of their perfection and indomitability.
From that vantage point of innocence, my parents, as my main models, led lives that seemed so interesting, full, and even a bit glamorous. My father, a neurosurgeon, had a mysterious and fascinating career. I marveled that he spent his days “poking around” inside people’s heads. Work kept him away from home a lot, and he was often called out in the middle of the night to, in my mind, save the lives of the countless masses. He was my hero.
In addition to expertly caring for me, my two sisters, and brother, my mother had an active life as a Real Estate Agent, and a dedicated volunteer in a number of civic and charitable organizations, after having worked for many years as a labor and delivery nurse. She expertly ran our household and graciously planned and presided over the many parties and functions my parents hosted for friends and colleagues alike. I admired her confidence, grace and skill. She was an icon, a force to be reckoned with.
As the youngest of four, by three years, my siblings always got to do things before me. I had a bevy of older cousins, as well, who seemed so cool in their bell-bottoms, listening to rock and roll music, talking about things I didn’t understand. “You’re too young…” or “Not until you’re older…” were constant refrains ringing in my ears. I was often left out of activities in which the older ones got to partake. They were my idols, and I envied them their freedom and experience.
When I was 13, the sudden death of my best friend, Jackie, created a deep sense of loss. I was left with a void nothing could fill. The grownups in my life were helpless. There simply were no answers this time… none that could possibly ease my pain. The illusion of my safe, happy world had shattered.
My friend’s passing, and my inability to make sense of it, triggered in me a need to flee, but at that age I really had nowhere to go. “Hurry up and wait…” became the mantra of my
youth. There was a deep yearning I couldn’t satisfy, something gnawed at me like a dog worrying a grizzled bone. I couldn’t wait to be older, to be an adult. I firmly believed once I
reached that Shangri-La, all of the doors would open before me, and all the answers to life’s mysteries would be revealed.
Several months after Jackie died my hair began to turn white, a “shock” appeared, like a widows peak, centered at my forehead . I was horrified. I also got braces that year, on my
birthday, of all days, just as I was starting my freshman year in high school! I wanted to be anyone but who I was, and anywhere but where I was.
While in high school, I often lied about my age and the details of my life to people I met. I had a friend in college who nicknamed me “Turbo,” because I was always racing to get somewhere, convinced that right here wasn’t good enough. As the U2 song proclaims, I was “running to stand still…” and heading nowhere fast.
During my teens and twenties my life was directionless, and I desperately wanted to “belong,” though I didn’t know where. Uncomfortable in my skin, with little sense of who I truly was, I turned to destructive behaviors that, at the time, seemed to fill the void. I greatly lacked inner stability, which, had I any, might have grounded me sufficiently in one place long enough to figure out what it was I really wanted and needed to be a whole, happy, healthy human being.
As I passed the usual benchmarks that might otherwise have bestowed a feeling I had reached this hallowed place we call adulthood, any sense I had finally become a grown-up still eluded me. My lack of direction in college, and the time I spent focusing my energies on less than academic pursuits, in no way conferred that rite of passage.
Completing a course of graduate studies in Design and Technical Theatre provided me the mooring I needed, and as I began my career as a Costume Designer, I finally felt as though I had found my place in the world. The foundation was laid, but at 26, MFA in hand, I was far from feeling mature.
When I married the following year, I was petrified, as I walked down the isle with my father. Choking back tears, unsure I wasn’t making a huge mistake, I felt like a frightened little girl, not wanting to let go of her daddy’s hand, afraid to venture into the unknown.
The birth of my son brought me closer to my goal of "arriving." There came a level of responsibility, associated with being a parent, I had not previously known. Yet, in many ways, it felt awkward and foreign, at first a very uneasy fit. My Sagittarius ascendant was not prepared for relinquishing the "freedom" to which I had grown accustomed, and likely
significantly influenced my decision to wait until I was thirty four to have my first child.
Ensconced in a new home in Connecticut, caring for an infant, and commuting to New York City to pursue my Design career, had I arrived, finally? Quite the contrary; in many ways, I still felt as insecure as I did when I was twenty.
It wasn’t until six years later, now raising two young children, and working part-time teaching and designing at a local college, as my marriage was crumbling around me, that I began to catch the first glimpse of what it felt like to be a grown-up. The fabric of my life was unraveling. I was terrified, knowing, for the first time in my life, I would be called upon to support myself and my children, and I was completely unsure I had the wherewithal to do it. Yet, in the midst of all the chaos, I felt more alive and fully present than I ever had before.
My soul had been slowly dying in a marriage that had ceased to nourish or fulfill me, so I went in search of something that would. My husband and I separated and I moved into my own apartment. I took what little savings I had, and went back to school to become a Yoga Instructor. I crawled into my chrysalis, and two years later, having completed advanced yoga certification, I emerged transformed.
At the same time, I was also undergoing an intense course of therapy. These experiences, and the subsequent years spent in mediation to dissolve the marriage and create a parenting plan that put our children’s needs first, initiated a healing process. I was forced to plumb the depths of my pain, to wade through the muck and mire, and finally unearth the roots of my dis-ease. It was an arduous journey, but, ultimately, the most rewarding and enlightening work I have ever done. And the process continues still….
Now, at 52, still a work in progress, I am finally beginning to feel like an adult, like I am truly becoming a grown-up. So what does this really mean? I think the operative word here is “grown.” It means I have grown to understand and accept all my past experiences were essential to bring me to the place I am right now. It means I have finally grown comfortable in my skin, and there is nowhere else I would rather be. It means I have grown to truly love the life I am living and the person I am becoming.
As my intention is to live more fully in the moment, I know the present is no longer held hostage by the past, and the future will manifest as a reflection of the gratitude I have for all that has come before, and for all that continually blesses me.
I now recognize adulthood is not a final destination. Life is a continual process of becoming. Being a grown-up is an honor bestowed upon one who has come to the awareness that life is a path continually revealing itself, when we remain open to its gifts and lessons. This knowledge, ultimately, provides a sense of equanimity, a peace and grace that can only be found when we stop running and stand still in the presence of the raw beauty our whole, unadulterated life lays before us.
Balance. Everybody is seeking it, but where do we find it? We are continually encouraged to strive for balance in our lives, as though it were something we needed to catch, like an elusive prey, always ducking out of sight, just as we get within reach.
In the familiar child's game "Tag", if I'm the last person to say "Not it!", my aim is to immediately catch another, so I'm not 'it' any more.
What happens when we are it? Everyone else runs away. When we chase after them, they run faster, like maniacs, trying not to get caught. That's the nature of the game, right?
Well, imagine for a moment I were it, and, instead of setting off in chase, I just lay down on the ground. Fairly quickly you would notice I had stopped pursuing, and you would stop running. You might, from a safe distance, look at the others and shrug, saying, "What's up with her? Hey, are you all right?"
If I lie there, long and still enough, eventually you would come closer, warily at first, but you would come. One of you might be so concerned I was ill or injured you would bend down to check my vitals. And then, I'd nab you! Ha, you're IT! You might think that's cheating...or is it?
At one time or another, you may have set your sights on someone you wanted to date. You played it cool, dropping subtle hints here and there, waiting patiently to see if you had piqued the interest of your intended, allowing him or her to come to you.
Some of us, however, were not patient enough to use that strategy in the game of love, and we laid chase in hot pursuit of our heart's desire. I don't know about you, but whenever I employed that tactic, inevitably, my crush went running in the opposite direction.
So you see, when we run after or pursue something, the implication is it's something we lack. Inevitably, when we enter "chase mode," what ever it is we are after runs away. That is the nature of predator and prey. Whether in the game of tag or love, when we become the aggressor, our quarry, or our goal high-tails it for the hills.
In the game of life, if balance is our goal, it is not something we can pursue. We have to be a little "creative with the rules," a little bit cunning, even counter-intuitive. Instead of aggressively chasing after balance, we must do the opposite. We stop playing the game, give up the fight, and surrender, because truthfully balance is not something "out there" we must attain or achieve. It is, rather, something within. It's our natural state of being.
In order to experience balance in our lives, we must be willing to give up our need to succeed, to win at all costs, to 'have it all', and instead slow down and focus within. When we do, we realize the events, experiences and relationships that make up our external environment are always a reflection of what is happening within. The outer mirrors how close to or far from center we are in any moment. At center, we are fully aligned on the vertical axis of Spirit, with the Higher Self, our I AM PRESENCE.
Since everything is constantly in motion, balance is a very relative term. We continually adjust, correct, hone and fine-tune. Homeostasis, where we maintain a relatively stable and constant condition in the body, is only possible as a result of multiple systems continually regulating and adjusting to internal and external variables, such as temperature and moisture.
Balance is not stasis; quite the contrary, it is an ever-changing, fluid process of checking in, listening to what is, and adjusting accordingly to what we discover. We are not seeking or looking for balance; we are continually creating it, in relation to where we are in any given moment.
So what throws us out of balance? If it is our natural state, the only thing that can upset the delicate condition of equilibrium is action, in one form or another. This is karma. Within every action are the seeds of its effect. Action merely means setting energy into motion.
Though we may first imagine something like picking up a glass or writing an email, when we think of taking an action, it may be as subtle as a thought, or saying a few words. Every action begins as a thought. So every thought or word serves as a catalyst that sets change in motion, chains of events we might never have imagined.
You may say, "Well if I don't think, speak or act how can I achieve anything, or get anything done. If the shark stops swimming it dies, right!?" Action in and of itself will not knock us off-balance. It is, however, when that action manifests in the extreme, or we stray far from center, that we lose our equilibrium.
So what is extreme? When we find ourselves at one of the two ends, or at the farthest limit of anything, we are out on the extreme. We are either burning up, or freezing cold, ecstatic with joy, or in a dark pit of despair.
We don't have to be pushed all the way to the limit, teetering on the edge of the abyss in order to feel the effects of imbalance, although a moment of crisis like a physical illness, or an emotional breakdown are sure-fire ways to get our attention.
Though these conditions may seem to blind-side us out of nowhere, what actually happens is they gradually, imperceptibly creep up on us, until we detect one or more physical, mental, emotional or spiritual "symptoms", and we cannot live in denial any longer. And then we ask ourselves how did I get here?
The body and mind are very adaptable. We can grow accustomed to states that are dysfunctional, or detrimental to our greater wellbeing, particularly if we continually deny what we are feeling or experiencing. "I don't have enough time to tend to this right now. I've got too much to do to eat right, get enough sleep, move my body regularly, meditate, speak to my boss about my excessive work load! Who has time to have a meaningful conversation with their child, partner, or spouse!" There are myriad justifications for and distractions from the signs and signals our body, mind, and soul continually send us shouting "Wake up! The time for change is now."
The current economic engine, and the media that fuels it, encourage this constant state of activity couched as 'productivity". Our contemporary western culture glorifies a frenetic lifestyle, and often demonizes stillness as unproductive, or a sign of laziness. When we are overly consumed by our busyness, by the distractions of daily life, we likely neglect the crucial process of restoration essential to the greater wellbeing of body, mind and spirit.
Many, who have consciously embarked on the spiritual path, erroneously believe the most efficient path to enlightenment is through the subtle door of the mind, and if we ever expect to reach it, we must disassociate ourselves from the grosser, material form of the body.
The ancients knew this could not be farther from the truth, and embodied that knowledge in such physical practices as Yoga, and Qi Gong. They understood these forms were essential to the seeker's process of developing and honing awareness. They came to these disciplines daily to maintain optimal conditions in the physical body necessary to support them on their journey inward. They understood, practiced and taught, like the Master Jesus, "the body is a temple." It is the home of Spirit, the vehicle for the soul, not merely a bag of gristle and bones.
Yoga and Qi Gong share the concept that energy is the vital force that makes up and moves everything in the universe. The Yogis call it Prana; the Buddhists name it Qi. Hatha Yoga and Qi Gong allow us to develop, harness and direct this Life Force through movement and breathing practices, which are essential for balancing body, mind and spirit, and lay the foundations for advanced states of meditation that eventually lead to the transcendence of our material consciousness, when one merges with the All That Is, in the deepest states of Samadhi bliss, in "the peace that passeth all understanding."
Dr. Reginald A. Ray, a Professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University says, "My experience suggests that our problem is very simple. We are attempting to practice meditation and to follow a spiritual path in a disembodied state, and this is inevitably doomed to failure... the full benefits and fruition of meditation cannot be experienced or enjoyed when we are not grounded in our bodies... there is no other way to do so."
The image of the candle has been used for centuries to explain the nature of the symbiotic relationship of Yin and Yang. The solid, substantial, heavy wax is Yin, which we might envision representing the physical body, and the insubstantial, bright, hot, upward moving, flame, the Yang, symbolizes the mind.
When we bring the body and mind together in balance, through mindfulness practices, we create the forces of heat to burn off impurities in the body, and light to illuminate the mind, so we may fully merge with the Divine Essence of our being. The symbiotic nature of matter and energy, of body and mind, makes them inseparable, and equally essential for illumination.
The body is wholly as vital an aspect as the mind to our returning awareness that we are individual souls in the unified Consciousness of The One. BKS Iyengar, one of the first Yogis credited with introducing the physical practice of Hatha Yoga to the West says, "It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity." The Buddhist saint Saraha said, "In my wanderings, I have visited shrines and other places of pilgrimage, but I have not seen another shrine as blissful as my body." Dr. Ray goes on to say; "We need to realize that our body is not a beginning point, not a jumping off point to something else. Rather, the body is itself the pathway to realization, and, at its deepest level, the embodiment of enlightenment itself. To know the body is to meet the awakened state." This is aligned with a remark made by Trungpa Rinpoche: "There is no division between the spirituality of the mind and the spirituality of the body; they are both the same...."
The Yin Yang symbol is fairly ubiquitous. In the ancient, complex system of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is symbolic of the ever-unfolding universal continuum. We may believe these two qualities are extreme opposites, like the body and the mind. Yet, within the dynamic dance of life, polarity is at the core of our universe. This multi-dimensional, electro-magnetic matrix is a symbiotic system; each constituent part exists in relation to and because of the other. That is why the symbol is structured as it is. The poles of this integrated whole are always characterized relative to one another. As with the tidal play of the moon, or the inhalation and exhalation of breath, our state of equilibrium is the result of these continuous, oscillating cycles flowing one into the other.
Yang means: "lighter than." It represents what is at the surface, rising, dispersed, external, and exposed. Its relationship to Yin, which means "darker than," is always relative. Yin describes what is at the core, sinking, condensed, internal, and hidden. According to this ancient wisdom tradition, balance or optimal health is about having easy access to both of these qualities. A balanced and free flow of movement in both mind and body provide the necessary conditions for the illumination of spirit.
Yin appears within Yang and vice versa, as represented by the smaller circle of the opposite color held within it. Yang flows into Yin, as Yin merges with Yang. Everything in the universe is energy in perpetual motion. Nature is cyclic, and all things contain their opposite. The effect is always present in the cause. Cause is inseparable from effect; contains and inevitably reveals the other in an eternal cycle of involution and evolution.
What we ingest into the mind will inevitably affect the body, just as what we take in as food affects the function of our physical form. If there is dis-ease in the mind, or emotional dysfunction, these will ultimately manifest as imbalance, in the form of physical symptoms in the body.
Most people are riding the "Tilt-O-Whirl" of life on the outer edge of the circle, going, going, going, and then crashing, only to get back on and do it again and again. The force at the outer edge is such that if we were not strapped in tightly, we would get thrown off into the bushes. To create a balanced existence we must come to the center, with one foot in Yin and one in Yang. We must remember the symbiotic nature of body and mind, and nurture each with equal attention.
The structure of our everyday lives requires we harmonize the inner processes of nurturing the Self, which are qualified as YIN, with the YANG, manifesting as our outer world pursuit. Intuition and the efficient and appropriate use of energy, the "wise sage", are YIN qualities, whereas YANG energy manifests as 'the warrior', who thrives on the thrill of the hunt, the struggle, and "victory of battle". However, if we are too conservative with our energy we become stagnant, and if we continually run, go, and do, we eventually crash and burn.
Those routine daily activities that keep us “on the go” throughout our day, considered YANG in nature, are powered by our internal engine, which is fueled with QI, the Vital Life Force Energy, stored in the dantian, encompassing the region of the intestines, the 'gut brain'. At days' end, when we return home, after exerting ourselves in the various tasks on our to-do list (YANG in nature), to "chill", "lay low", rest, and sleep, (YIN in nature), we have the opportunity to replenish the well of QI that fuels us for another day in the world. We can also create opportunity throughout the day to restore through meditation, deep, slow conscious breathing, or such practices as Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Yoga.
When we chase after "success," or the "American Dream", when we over-indulge in food, work or sex, or over-do with our distraction of choice, we deplete this storehouse of essential vital energy. We could imagine the dantian is like our energetic savings account. We also have an energetic checking account, from which we continually draw to fuel our daily activities. At night when we sleep we have the opportunity to replenish the savings account. However, many of us do not get sufficient hours of sleep, or we sleep fitfully, perhaps waking during the night challenged to return to sleep. We may lie tossing, turning, planning and scheming, spinning on some encounter from earlier in the day, or micromanaging the next day's events. This is by no means restorative.
So if we are going all day, and then still going all night, we will soon be running on empty. Eventually the checking account runs dry, and we must tap into the energetic savings account. But if we have not been mindful to make regularly scheduled deposits, the bank repossess our car, forecloses on our home, and then we are left immobilized and at the mercy of the elements.
When we neglect our body and mind we experience blockage in the flow of our resources, Qi, Blood and Moisture, and we begin to experience the breakdown of organ systems, which manifest in physical, mental and emotional symptoms.
How can we focus on our spiritual practice when the body, mind and emotions are out of balance and screaming at us for restoration? We can quit the game, slow down, surrender, and stop solely directing our energies outward. We must make an effort to turn inward and realign. As we let go of the past, and cease projecting into the future, we will come into the present moment. As we still the mind, focusing our awareness in the body, within the rhythmic cycles of breath, we bring them into balance and open the space for a merging with soul.
Katrin Naumann, MFA, E-RYT, QGT, VH
Bring body, mind and spirit into balance with daily practice of Yoga and Qi Gong, for optimal health and wellbeing. Learn more about Yoga & Qi Gong Classes, by visiting Inner Balance Life Works at http://www.innerbalancelifeworks.com.
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.