Presented March 4th, 2018
Driving around the Peel Region, I see a surprising number of hawks. The hawks spend time up on the light poles watching the grass along the highway for signs of a meal. The day feels brighter whenever I see one perched, or soaring over the road, they are such beautiful birds.
I long for the power of flight when I see a hawk soaring in the blue sky. And not just because the hawk never has to deal with rush hour.
I think that if I could get my life working just right, if my life was in perfect balance, I too, could fly like the bright hawk.
There is a lot of discussion in our culture about finding work-life balance. The importance of work-life balance, or the futility of work-life balance, depending on what google search you do.
And work-life balance is both important and somewhat futile, at least in the sense of finding some perfect balance that would allow you to soar like a hawk through your blue sky life.
I don’t think balance in human life is about balancing like a scale – enough meaningful work on one side, just the right amount of loving relationships on the other. The balancing scale of work and family implies that giving to one takes from the other, leading us into an endless up and down tension.
Balance is bigger than this because we are bigger than this.
We are more than a work person and a family person.
We are complicated systems that find meaning in work, loving relationships, being a parent, physical activity, hobbies, experiences and on and on.
For each of us there are the things we have to do and the things we love to do. Each of us has different things that give our life purpose and meaning.
So we aren’t trying to balance a set of scales, it’s a more complex balancing act, to find the balance between all that matters to us. It’s tricky, and it is very easy to end up out of balance.
Extreme acts can be necessary to bring ourselves into balance. We might be so out of alignment that all we can do is cat parachutes – quit our jobs, leave a relationship, make a major move. I don’t recommend cat parachuting – it’s an extreme response when things are badly out of whack – but sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed to rebalance our system.
I think of balance, not as symmetry, but as an act of alignment. It’s a way of trying to find our centre, to find the stillpoint that allows us to carry all that matters to us.
Before I speak more about what balance might look like in our own lives, I want to touch on why we are thinking about the concept of balance this month. I’m going to expand on my introduction to the theme resources, so some of you may have heard this before.
I believe an understanding of balance is fundamental to a Unitarian Universalist way of being in the world. As people of the chalice, we seek balance, not redemption, not enlightenment.
As Unitarian Universalists we choose to stand on the earth, within the greater mystery of the ever unfolding universe, honouring both the material and the spiritual. We offer a middle way, an emerging balance theology.
This balance orientation is an ancient perspective but new to contemporary western culture. World religions scholar J.D. Windland places religions into three categories – Middle Eastern, Indian, and Balance.
The Middle Eastern are the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They focus on the one God.
The one reality faiths which originated in India, such as Hindusim, Buddhism, and Sikhism, focus on the self and emphasize the unity or oneness of all.
Balance traditions have a focus on the universe. They originated in China, with Daoism and Shintoism, but also occur in indigenous cultures through out the world.
In a balance tradition there is a striving for harmony with self, society, and nature. Balance traditions affirm humanity and the world. Canadian Unitarian Universalism holds an emerging balance theology in addition to the liberal Christian and liberal humanist theologies that are our legacy.
There is a focus on the here and now, valuing the earth as much as the mystery, acknowledging the connections between beings. Balance traditions begin from an awareness of wholeness, that we are whole, as we are, that we are part of the greater whole of humanity, and beyond humans, part of the earth.
We are not in a personal relationship with a deity, but in relationship with all living things. This is where UUism resonates with indigenous teachings. Beginning from an awareness of wholeness, a religious tradition of balance asks people to seek balance in their own lives, to live with integrity and in right relationship.
Balance, in this UU way of understanding, is about living with integrity. It’s about finding a way to live that honours all that matters to you, from the ones you love to your passion for marvel comic books to your work.
This is the work of a lifetime, it is a practice, not a goal to be acheived.
And when we find ourselves living with integrity, in that beautiful alignment, we just might feel like a hawk soaring in the cloudless blue sky.
And sometimes we are parachuting cats in and hoping for the best.
Balance is a practice.
As people of the chalice, as a whole we are not in a personal relationship with a deity, although some of us are enriched by that experience, but we see ourselves in relationship with all living things.
At times however, we do need the help of a Balance Goddess.
Luckily there is one. And she’s Canadian.
Lara Jacobs lives in Montreal and came to fame as the Balance Goddess in Circque de Soleil’s show Amaluna.
If you were on facebook last night you may have watched a short video showing highlights of Lara’s show. In the theme resources, on the Especially for Families page there is a video of a full performance by Lara.
The balance goddess begins with a feather and then ribs of palm trees to create a perfectly balanced mobile. It hangs together through gravity.
It’s mesmerizing. The feather on a small rib, on a larger rib each delicately balancing on the next.
Lara breathes and balances and breathes and balances, in full concentration. Each move is done slowly and carefully.
In the end she creates this magnificent piece of art – a mobile of wood ribs that hangs beautifully together, in balance, swaying softly.
We might want to seek balance in this way, piecing our life together out of all the pieces that matter, some small, some large, but each essential.
Lara herself says that her act demonstrates how each little piece in the mobile has the same importance. The big is not more important than the small, each piece plays its role, even the light little feather.
At the end of the performance – spoilers – Lara reaches up and removes the feather. It all falls down.
Balance is a practice, not a goal.
Balance isn’t something we achieve everyday, but is a slow piecing together, one that collapses often and is rebuilt. And indeed the pieces we build with shift over time. We discard one piece for another every time we rebuild, constantly refining ourselves and what matters to us.
I like this sense of balance – making sure everything that matters to you is a part of your life.
It’s not just about making time for work, for family, for exercise, and so on. It’s about having a life of integrity, one that expresses your values and provides you a sense of meaning.
We may feel out of balance, not because some big thing is missing, but because something essential is missing. Some small bit of meaning that matters to you but isn’t present.
I think – I hope – our lives are a little sturdier than the mobiles created by Lara. One element missing doesn’t mean our lives collapse. But when something key is missing, we can feel out of alignment. We can struggle to sort out why things don’t feel quite right even when all the big things in our life seem fine.
When the thing that is missing is one of the big ribs, we notice and it’s obvious to those around us. An illness, a loss. But when it is something small, it can be more difficult to see exactly what isn’t where it should be.
We may feel out of balance when we aren’t honest about what we really value. We claim work is so important when all we really want to do is snowboard.
To live with integrity means to be honest about your choices, to accept the limitations as well as freedoms they impose. And to be honest with those around you.
When we may not be clear about what matters, when something small but essential is missing, we need to pay attention. That’s when we need to slow down and take some time to understand ourselves.
Lara says that her performance as a Balance Goddess offers some perspective for people. “We live in a very fast world. Everything needs to happen fast and people have no patience for anything anymore. There are a million things going on at once and everyone is always trying to top each other.
But when you really listen to your needs, I think we could all need less: less technology, less noise, less glimmer and glamour, and should just appreciate the more simple, touching, and meaningful…. This is what my act offers.”
In this month to come, I invite you to consider all the pieces of life that matter to you. How are you doing balancing it all?
Is it holding together or are you picking up the pieces from the floor? Is something small but essential missing? Are you honest with yourself about what you value? Are you living with integrity?
As Unitarian Universalists we seek balance.
My hope is that we can help each other into balance in the days to come.
So Say We All.