northern_lights

Image credit Malcolm Manners available on Flickr under Creative Commons.

One of my favorite little books of poems is “Northern Lights and Midnight Sun“. It was bought by my friend in Norway many years ago. Norway is a special country on many levels. It opens you up, mirrors back who you are and inspires you to follow a transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly ;). Not even mentioning the gorgeous northern lights.

I keep reading these poems as they reflect more and more how I feel with Winter at the horizon.

***

I like the night. It’s as if night had no right to exist.
People are always harping on about the beauty of the sun and the day.
They’re a delight to the eye and soul, that’s true.
But there are hidden rooms in us the sunlight never reaches
but where only the night dare creep in.

Sigbjorn Obstfelder

***

I love the night, indeed. I adore her quietness. I love her magnetism. I feel her presence. I love the night, indeed.

The Night, the dark, the negative perhaps, is the fuel and restoration for the Day to come. We have learned to appreciate the Day and the light, but we keep forgetting how important the Lady Night is.

Night is a welcome for all the “in”s. Inward focus, intimacy and inspiration. Without the Night, the Day cannot exist. There is this never ending pendulum swing between polarities, Day and Night, action and rest, Out and In.

Day and Night have different qualities, similarly as men and women do. When Day produces energy and strives for results, Night produces form and strives for understanding.

Day has qualities of a man. There is the electric push for action, work to be done or responsibilities and duties. The spark, the pulsating energy, the outward spiral.

Night has qualities of a woman. There is this magnetic release and relief, reflection and restoration. The appreciation, dissolving and the inward spiral.

Producing and delivering is governed by Day. Nurturing and growing is governed by Night.
They co-exist in a rhythm and permeate each other.

In the rush for a day and things to be done, we forget that the quality of the Day depends on the Night.

Stop welcoming Night and your Day will suffer tremendously. Stop embracing the female qualities, and you will find yourself lost in the wrong stride. Skip the time for reflection, and you will break your leg by climbing the wrong ladder to success.

Day provides function while Night gives structure. Without structure, everything falls.

Appreciate the qualities of Night and restoration.

Embrace emotions. Welcome the dark side of you. It is still you.

Take the time to empower yourself with female qualities.

Look for the Night to nurture your body and spirit. It will ignite the Day!

 ***

I am Darkness. Darkness
that makes a thousand swaying lights
shine so painfully clearly.
I love those burning lights,
love the flame
that lies down
and trembles ecstatically before
the breath of night, I want to be
alive like that flame, but
I am darkness
that makes those lights shine.

Hans Borli

***

being_whole

 

Lines, circles and spirals

Imagine a straight line. It can be used to measure a length or a distance. It is there. It defines a boundary. It divides.

A straight line is about the number 2. Two points, the beginning and the end or moving along from the point A to the point B. It suggests a steady progress.  It is stable. It is predictable. Perhaps, it is an ideal.

Imagine a circle. It is created when you join the two end points of the straight line. It is about the number 12, as we usually divide the circle into 12 equal intervals, each 15 degrees, similarly as we have put the 12 hour measurements on the clock.

The circle is a closed and complete system. It goes around and never dies. There is an endless repetition, a change of hours, months, seasons or patterns.

There is a balance. There is a circular movement of a pendulum, a swing between polarities and everything in between. Perhaps a circle is about perfection because we capture symmetry, balance and the repetition of patterns.

Imagine a spiral. It is created when you attempt to connect the straight line into a circle but you finally don’t. The end becomes a beginning to something new, moving away from a circle. There are 13 points, at least. The 13th point is the step out of the balance and repetition. And then we may extend this spiral to grow bigger and bigger or contract it to make it smaller and smaller.  Alternatively, you may also think about a spiral in which each circle is a similar type of repetition as the one before but on a different level.

The spiral is an open system with the beginning and the end.
It is disturbing, because it is unsure where it leads to. There are new things on the way. Perhaps a spiral is a pattern of reality because we capture both the repetition and the change.

The symbols

The straight line is here a symbol of a stable life, with steady growth and progress. There is a daily routine, a sustained effort which directly translates to appropriate results. Life is perhaps boring but things are under control. The point, however, is that it doesn’t happen this way. And if it does, it is for a short while only.

The circle represents the balance between the polarities and everything in between. It is a symbol of repetition and going through the same stages. It is a symbol of life in balance between qualities and quantities, always the same. There are no or little surprises and this may be comforting for some.  There is however little learning too.

The spiral represents the change, learning and growth. Certainly, a conscious growth.  It is here a symbol of life. Not surprisingly, we find the pattern of spiral in the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as the formation of galaxies. They speak to us about growth!

What do we want to believe?

We want to believe in an illusion of a happy life, with stability and good income, perfect health, great kids, wonderful marriage, joyful friends and little problems. We want things to be predictable. We want to identify life with steady progress, reliability, moving from A to B. We want to think straight line.

It is not so.

We want to believe in the repetition of patterns, maintaining the balance between polarities, moving kindly between our needs and responsibilities, managing compromises, being patient and kind and always in control. We want to believe that when we balance things well, we live our perfect life of a circle.

It is not so.

On being whole

What we need to believe, or in fact accept, is the reality which includes the repetition of patterns for the sake of routine and order, but also unpredictability, chaos and confusion. Every day encompasses the circle of hours twice, yet every day is different. We change, from moment to moment, from day to day or from year to year. Even our solar system moves in the space, so the earth rotating around the sun doesn’t come into the same place ever again. It spirals in the space!

Spiral is about movement, change and evolution.

I think that spiral is a good symbol for life. When we are tired or lost, when we question our difficulties or events, when we dream about control and progress, let us remember that we are changing and growing. We are becoming. We are expanding in our consciousness and understanding. 

Every moment is different. Every moment is new. Every moment is to live it through. 🙂

If we take a spiral as an idea of growth, we become to understand that balance is flexible, being practiced in a moment. When we gracefully accept what comes and look at things with an eye of an enthusiastic learner, we begin to approach wholeness.

The secret is that we don’t need to change or improve or heal or suffer to become whole. We accept ourselves as a whole and start from there.

We then stop dividing and judging ourselves and others (the line approach). We then stop expecting the same movement between polarities and the control of events (the circle approach). Instead, we appreciate surprises, unpredictability and a little confusion. We learn from patterns, yet we choose to live in a moment to the best of what we can.

Confusion and chaos are welcomed as a part of life, similarly as health and diseases, births and deaths, progress and regress or work and rest. We understand that change may be difficult and scary and we are gentle with ourselves. The spiral approach is to accept and nourish ourselves and others. It is simple and effective as we both let go and go with the flow

Let us grow happily!

***

Photo courtesy John McStravick, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

We learn from others.
We have family and friends.
We have teachers, mentors, supervisors, managers or bosses.
We have colleagues, politicians, media people, musicians, and stars.

We observe. We analyze. We model. We emulate.
We compare to others.

Without perhaps noticing, we keep dancing between two worlds.
One world is defined by Similarity or Sameness.
The other world is defined by Difference.

Similarity is Interdependence, Belonging, Sharing and Being a part of a Group.
Difference is Independence, Individuality and Self.

We want to belong to a family, community or a peer group. We want to be with others, share experiences and have fun. We want to be appreciated. And we want to be loved.

At the same time we want to explore the boundaries of Self. We want to mark who we are by the way we think, we look, we walk or we talk. We want to do things in particular ways, choose our likings, make own decisions and create. Above all, we want to love.

So, we need both, Similarity and Difference, Interdependence and Independence, Individuality and Belonging, to live happily and healthy. No doubt about that.

And the middle way is about the flow between these polarities, between giving and receiving, self-focus and focus-on-others, individual thought and cooperation, being an individual and a part of a group.

***

We learn from others. We exist both as Selves and in relations to others.  And we compare.

It is impossible not to compare.

How else can we receive feedback?
How else can we measure progress to a baseline performance?
How else can we evaluate our growth?
How else can we identify the borders we want to transgress?
How else can we test new skills and practices?
How else can we determine which rules or ideas serve us or not?
How else can we define realistic goals?

We look to other people for inspiration, mentoring, help or example. Comparing to others gives us the necessary context  for growth. It also enables us to find out what is possible to achieve or whom we may choose to become. However, it gives us a partial view only. The other important view is to compare to ourselves. In a timeline. And we often forget to do that.

We forget to learn from ourselves.
We forget to measure the progress along our own journey.
We forget how much we have developed with respect to the starting point.
We forget our milestones and achievements on the way.

So, if you are tempted to review your progress, look back at who you were a month ago, one year ago, 5 years a go or 20 years ago. Any progress?

If we are not careful, it is easy to compare to others with a diminishing light, focussing on our inferiority. This may lead to thoughts of jealousy, envy, shame or guilt. And from that place, there is only a small step to unhealthy self-criticism and over-beating. If continued, we will likely pick the fruits of self-devaluation, low self-image and low self-esteem.

Now, imagine this.

Next time when you notice a big difference between yourself and others, just at the very moment you are so much tempted to think how unskilled, untalented you are or how much you suck, welcome and cherish a new thought. Do it consciously.

This thought tells you that what you are perceiving as a difference is merely a distinction.

And this distinction makes you – unique You.

You, who is welcome here, loved and appreciated.

***

Other inspirational or educational posts:

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

There is a concept of the middle way as a path of development. The followers of this path likely apply moderation to everything. They tend to avoid extremes. While this seems a reasonable way of living, there is a much more advanced approach.

Two extremes and the center

As we know everything has its opposite. As a result, we have two extremes and the center, the middle point in between. And if we carefully observe the workings of the universe we will notice that the natural rhythm is to continuously swing from one opposite to the other and back. This is the principle of rhythm. We go from a day to a night, from joy to sadness, from summer to winter, from a high-tide to a low-tide or from work to rest. There is this basic rhythm, the basic swing between the polarities.

The same understanding applies to practicing the middle way.

Counter-intuitively, the true middle way is not narrow. Oh, no no no.

The middle path is not about boring miniature movements around the middle point. On the contrary, it is a challenging path when you walk between the extremes. Traveling between the polarities does not mean, however, all polarities that exist, but only the opposites that define the space of your maturing and personal growth. And you choose to walk this path with consciousness. You keep visiting the opposites and swing consciously between them.

The paradox of the center

There is an interesting paradox of the middle way.

Our goal is to be in the middle. The middle is the center. What is the center?

Center is Integrity. Center is Peace. Center is Christ.

Being in the center is the ultimate goal. However, center is not achieved by standing still there, but by balancing between the opposites.

Center is Balance. Think about it this way. When a person walks on a tightrope, he is constantly moving his body, swaying from side to side to move forward and prevent the fall. And although his goal is to stay on the rope, i.e. keep the center, most of the time he is outside the center, being either at one side or the other. He is keeping the course of movement not by standing still but by actively balancing between the opposite sides and between up and down.

So, the balancing between the opposites is the core of the middle way. The center is continuously being reached through an active balancing.

So, the key understanding here is as follows.

  1. The middle way is a path between opposites. It is a spacious path. There is a lot of room for experience and even more for investigation. There is freedom to manoeuvre, to make mistakes and to learn.
  2. Personal experience or deep understanding of the extremes is essential for finding the true center for yourself.
    • When you loose health, you understand how valuable it is.
    • When you become poor, you begin to appreciate what wealth is.
    • When you are live in noisy environment, you begin to value solitude and silence.
    • When you are about to loose your life, you begin to live with an contagious passion.

Even when you experience the darkest sides of yourself, making deliberate errors, committing crimes or hating others, it may serve you as a powerful experience for a personal transformation towards kindness, gratitude and love.

The big challenge

There is however a big challenge when you want to follow the middle way.

Think for a moment about a pendulum swinging from side to side.  When there are no external forces, the pendulum will naturally stop at its center.

Let the pendulum be now our metaphor for life. Our ultimate goal is to know the center and to be at the center.  However, there are always external circumstances that act on us, be it consequences of our decisions (that we can hardly foresee) or events outside our control. As a result, the pendulum never stops. It is always in motion.

What is the swing?

The external forces and circumstances may override the natural rhythm of the pendulum. So, they will tend to keep you at one of the opposites, usually the less favorable one such as the permanent state of grumbling and complaining. As a result, the center you find is not the center at all. You simply have too little experience and understanding to be able to define the center well as the pendulum has an abnormal rhythm, highly biased towards one of the polarities.

E.g. if you have been unhappy and complaining for years, you may only have a vague idea about happiness. As you lack the direct experience and cannot even imagine what a true happiness is the way you define happiness is colored by the negative interpretations of your experiences. As a result, your perceived center is far from the middle point.

The how-to of the middle way

The advanced way to follow the middle path is to transcend the duality, the opposites. What does it mean? In practice

  1. You take the time to understand the principle of rhythm and its working in your life. It means that you are knowledgeable about the rhythm and cycles of changes. When you know a change is to happen, you can prepare for it in advance in order to take advantage.
  2. You know where the center is because you have chosen to experience the opposites and to understand them. You simply take the time to go through the extremes personally, learn about them from other people, or extrapolate from your own life experience.
  3. You always keep your intent to return to the center. Or, in other words, you hold the consciousness of the center. Even if the external circumstances or life challenges want to keep you stuck at one of the polarities, it is you and your consciousness that will encourage you to swing towards the other side.
  4. The middle way is achieved by your active and conscious balancing between the opposites. So, it means that you first go to one extreme and spend the necessary time there, then you follow to the other extreme. And repeat.

    For example, the advanced balancing of your work day is to work hard and with deep focus followed by a full rest. This can be implemented in any way that is convenient for you. E.g. you can choose to work hard for 50min followed by a 10-min rest and repeat it all, say 8 times a day. Or you can choose to work hard for 3h followed by a 25-min rest and repeat it 3-4 times a day. Or you can work very hard for a full day followed by a free morning the following day. Any of such approaches is efficient as long as it suits you.

Transcendence is by choice. You are in charge. Accept it.

And your middle way will become a fantastic experience.

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

pendulum_rhythm

Up and Down.
Left and Right.
Forward and Backward.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
An everlasting swing between the two opposite patterns.

Rhythm.
The basic principle that governs our lives.
Yes. Rhythm.

Not only is the existence of two opposites important, but also the act of moving between them. We can experience a flow between Day and Night, Inbreath and Outbreath, Giving and Receiving, or Rise and Fall.

Have you ever wondered why you need some rest after a hard work?
Exactly. This is the principle of rhythm.

The principle of rhythm

You cannot go against it even if you try hard. Pushing too much towards one polarity will ultimately force you to go back to the other one, whether you want it or not.This time, however, perhaps under less favorable circumstances than you would like to experience.

For instance, you can work hard for months, or even years, juggling multiple projects and responsibilities, while skilfully balancing on the edge of depletion. But when you don’t regularly incorporate the necessary rest, it will be forced upon you. You will become ill.

Have you ever wondered why politicians, sportsmen, CEOs of the companies, singers or actors rise high up to only collapse soon after?

Indeed, for any great success, there is a great failure. If there is a rise, there is a fall. And oftentimes the rise you observe at the life of others follows the falls you haven’t. Simply because they were not brought to your attention.

The principle of rhythm governs the working of our universe. You cannot simply avoid that. And neglecting this principle or pretending it does not exist, is not going to help either.  The swing is always at work.

The measure of the swing to the left is the measure of the swing to the right

Let us consider an imaginary pendulum. Since symmetry is a natural phenomenon, the pendulum swings between the two opposites in the same degree. So, the swing of a pendulum in one direction determines the swing in the opposite one. And this is metaphorically reflected on all levels of your life, including your mental states.

The higher your ambition, the bigger your challenges and failures.
The greater fear you have, the greater courage you can summon.
The more you give, the more you will receive.
The greater your experience of joy, the greater your capability of feeling sadness.
The more understanding you have, the better realization of how little it is.

And so on.

Cycles

All the phenomena we observe and participate in are governed by cycles. We function in an amazingly orchestrated mechanisms of cycles. These include cycles nested over cycles, even at a deep level. Proper timing becomes essential for making all these cycles work.

For example, we have a cycle of birth, growth, adulthood, maturity, late maturity and death. And within this cycle we may consider a cycle of 7-year development stages, but other cycles are possible as well. Then we have yearly cycles of changing seasons as well as weekly and daily cycles. In addition, there are cycles of our personal and spiritual development, work-related development or about the roles we take into the society, not even mentioning similar cycles for our family members or friends.

All these moderate and high-level cycles rely on the basic rhythm. This is the everlasting swing of ups and downs, lefts and rights, or forwards and backwards. The potent swing between polarities. (Or in an analogy that suggests itself, it is the binary number and the freedom of choice between 0 and 1 that enables us to build more and more complex structures and complicated computer programs.)

Going with the rhythm

The existence of such a rhythm suggests that the best strategy is to become conscious of it and use it intelligently in your life. The key understanding here is the act of balancing between the two sides. No matter which direction you choose and how far you go, you know that you will need to turn back and swing towards the opposite.

Going with the rhythm is the phrase here. Think of the rhythm as of a strong current in the river (of life). The most effortless way to swim in this river is to be either pushed or carried by the current instead of fighting it. This leads you towards the practice of wise men – taking an optimized action with respect to the journey – by paying attention and carefully observing the rhythm.

So instead of being led by circumstances that will accommodate the pull in the opposite direction for you, you act consciously. You are prepared.

This means that in any direction you are currently going, you have already planned and prepared for the movement in the opposite one.

You basically optimize the tasks which coincide well with the benefits of the given polarity, but you still view them from a perspective of the complete system of polarities. By paying attention you will notice the moment in which the pendulum approaches the threshold so that you may begin adopting your actions and strategies accordingly.

For instance, you maximize your work schedules and collect successes when you have a strong wind behind your back, while  you restore, energize and re-structure when the decline comes. For sure lean years will follow the fat ones.

You don’t push for success in the Down-movement or party extensively during the lean years, but you collect your learning points, reflect upon them and draw conclusions. Then you plan your strategies for the Up-movement or plant seeds for the fat years to come.

Understand first

People who fall drastically simply don’t understand this principle. They are the ignorant ones who push far beyond the limits as if they could have risen forever. Or they are the ignorant ones who sit in the depression pit while contemplating the fall as if the circumstances could have gone adversary forever. Nothing further from the truth.

When the fall is on a horizon or lean years ahead, neither the drastic experience of the fall nor famine are necessary. You can perfectly accommodate for the fall and diminish its effects to minimum simply by being prepared (beforehand) and by taking care of what is needed to be done in such times.

Swing, swing, swing

Let the swing become a conscious act of balancing in your life.

Work when you feel passionate and energetic. Rest when you are tired.
Collect your successes when on rise. Restore and energize when the decline comes.
Make your key decisions when you feel positive and joyful. Avoid them when depressed or sad.
Give willingly and receive with gratitude.
Buy stuff and get rid of stuff.
Teach what you learn. Learn what you are going to teach.

Follow the rhythm.
Prepare. Pay attention. Optimize your acts.
You will master your life by mastering the swing from one opposite to the other.

***

Photo by Misko13, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

 

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