On Balance

In early morning, mind and body fold themselves gingerly into the only meditative position they can cope with at this time in life and slide carefully into a breathing meditation. The physical position taken is precarious, ache inducing and anything but balanced, the mind equally precarious and seemingly intractable, ever inclined to wander, over the hills and far away.

When sitting, I sometimes think wistfully of the long limbed creature in her vibrant forties who scrambled easily up steep hillsides, down treacherous gorges and across soggy beaver dams in search of something, she knew not what. That younger woman was always searching for something, the sunlight falling across a wild orchid in the bog, the wind whistling through a crevice, the sound of a stream beyond the hill, a moment of radiant stillness at the top of a cliff. When younger self was engaged in these undertakings, she was in balance, and she knew it not.

Things are different now, for I am older, more brittle in my bones, less elastic in sinews and more ossified in physique. Perhaps I spilled coffee on the counter in the kitchen this morning at first light or dropped a mug and shattered it on the tile floor. This afternoon, my stiff fingers may be unable to grasp paint brush, camera or inkstone firmly, and my physical metabolism protests vigorously when I try to compel it to do anything at all beyond just sitting like a stone. For the most part, one ignores the creaks and protests of her aging organism and goes merrily on her way, only giving way a little, and only when absolutely necessary.

Balance is an elusive entity glimpsed now and then, but she always seems to be disappearing around the next corner in a graceful swirl of silken garments and tinkling bells. Sometimes I think I can hear her laughing at me as she moves away, amused by the longing of this eldering and somewhat sentient being for clarity, grace, balance and equilibrium. Let her laugh, for I am dancing onward and enjoying the journey all the way. Roots down, branches up, and off we go...

The artless suspension of the trout in its watery medium, the effortless grace of a fallen leaf resting in the patient arms of a sleepy tree in late October, the smooth stones resting easy by the beaver pond and its calm waters — these are the essence of a wild, true and natural balance. Each and every trout, leaf, stone and restless being in the great wide world is already in balance, and there is no need to pile up the stones of one's existence into an inukshuk, a trail mark or a cairn. One can grow and bloom wherever she is planted, and I have been planted in some very strange places in the last sixty years or so. As for sitting like a chunk of rock, well, I am all for that — for sitting like a mountain, a boulder, a weathered glacial erratic or a chunk of volcano, and for thinking like one too.

Whenever and wherever I enter the landscape in a spirit of openness and reciprocity, I am at home and in perfect balance, but I am always forgetting that elemental truth. Perhaps in one of these lifetimes, I shall get my act together and be able to remember. In the interim, I often think of Linda Hogan's words (from her exquisite volume of essays Dwellings) as I am pottering along, and there is a large measure of comfort in them.

"I think of the people who came before me and how they knew the placement of stars in the sky, watching the moving sun long and hard enough to witness how a certain angle of light touched a stone only once a year. Without written records, they knew the gods of every night, the small, fine details of the world around them and of immensity above.

It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Tonight, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and Listen. You are the result of the love of thousands."