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Balance, Brokenness, Equanimity



Is he sick? May he be as gladly sick as well,

as gladly well as sick. Is his friend coming to die?
He will renounce him in the name of God. Is an eye
plucked out of him? He will renounce it in the name of God.

Meister Eckhart


Everyday life is a balancing act. We balance our time with work, family, friends, solitude, enjoyment and leisure. We balance the needs of the mind, the spirit, and the body. We balance our money and what we spend on. We balance what we give and receive, what we love and hate, what we think and do. Even something as natural as walking is a game of balance: each step forward means a foot plunging down on the ground, supporting the force and weight of the body, while the other foot is in suspension before it takes the weight and force anew, in another--counter--act of balancing.

To balance initially and for the most part means to weigh. In the Middle Ages, the word was first the name of that apparatus called bilanx ("bis" twice or two + "lanx" a dish or scale) which had two pans, which is the figure of Libra and what blindfolded Lady Justice carries. To find out the weight of a thing, it is placed on a pan opposite to a determined weight and if they are in symmetry, then weight of the thing is known. Imaginably, it was used for practical purposes such as in weighing coins or gold--hence the Latin libra meant "one pound"--or in precise fields as science, architecture, etc. But it can also stand as a metaphor for the human being's act of making all things equal, of finding an equilibrium in a self of which, according to Kant, "no straight thing can ever be made."

The problem of the human person, unlike Nature, the stars, and the universe, is that it alone has the ability to disturb the balance of things. With its free will, intellect and capability, he can exert weight on things which can then upset the fragile harmony in things (e.g. "global warming," "free trade," "political power," etc.). You and I are beings that search for that lost equilibrium, the inner harmony which Plato said was the goal of all philosophizing, which would then translate to the outer peace and tranquility in nature and the world.

Yet all that is mere philosophical talk and jargon. For what I experience fundamentally is a sense of fragmentation and bifurcation of my self. Yet that is still jargon. Let me try it again: all I experience is being broken. I do not anymore recall when it happened or why it happened, but ever since that fall, I have yet to pick up the pieces. ("Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...") Like good China shattered on the floor, I am a thousand fine pieces that look all the same and that can never be pieced together even if I had all the time in the world or the patience of a god. Being shattered is being scattered; thrown here and there, occupying that space and this time, never knowing how to go back to that original past, or better, that original--because primordial--moment.

And because that is not the point. Living, much like progress, has to move on with the march of time. Even though you may look back to a glorious past when you were whole, like Orpheus, what is important is you walk on. Moving forward, it is hoped that you are able to pick up the pieces you find and can carry along the way; but the point is, again, that you do not waste time looking for pieces that may not be there anymore, or struggling to carry a part of you that must be left behind already. Shattered as you are, completing the past puzzle may not do you good; for let's say you do get all the pieces together in some distant future after all that hard work and endless tears, would you be content in building a whole which came from the past--a whole which is stuck in that past? It may be complete, to be sure; but it will never be whole again. It may be equal to your previous self, but it will not be in balance with your new self.

I've long since stopped picking up the pieces and looking back to that past. I am no longer like the angel of history who flies forward with its back to the future and facing the past. I have decided to walk on, not merely out of resentment or a repudiation of that past, but I have found that there is no other way. And that no-way is a new way.

God, I hate how I write right now. I sound like a priest.

What I am really trying to say, however, is that when I had lost all balance and had been broken and shattered, I realized that that is the new I. There is no point, however impossible at first, for the nostalgia of completeness or the hope of a new whole. Tarry on with this broken body. Undergo the metamorphosis. Weep if you must, but there comes a point when all those tears shall be transfigured into tears of laughter. Carry the rock again--as if you've never carried it a thousand times before.

The best thing about losing balance and being broken is this: you can never fall again as you can never be broken again. You cannot fall anymore if you're already in a fetal position on the ground. You can no longer pulverize some more what is already fine grain. You can no longer hurt me anymore. You can no longer take anything from me because I gave you everything already.

That, in itself, is a new balance: an unbalanced-balance. That in itself, is a new whole: an incomplete whole. From where I stand, nothing moves me anymore, nothing can shake the ground below my feet. Indifference? Yes. But also the tranquility and serenity which comes from the wisdom of finally learning what it means to let things be (Gelassenheit).

The German mystic and philosopher Meister Eckhart said that one of the fruits of detachment (abegescheidenheit) and releasement (gelazenheit) is equanimity (gelicheit). After letting go and letting things be, one experiences "impassibility" (inability to suffer pain) and sees the world as "homogenous" and "equal." In other words, nothing fazes the detached and released man anymore. "Like a lamb," he says, "which is lead to the slaughter, he does not open his mouth." Or like Christ who did not defend himself against Pilate (Mat. 27:13-14). And this indifference springs not from a mere strength of will (Stoic apatheia) but from an experience of the equality of all things: all beings have no value--"are nothing."

For to be perturbed or have emotions come from our bestowing values upon beings, e.g. importance, worth, richness, etc. For the released man, it is not merely that everything is vain or valueless, but more importantly, everything has equal value. And because of the equanimity of value in all things, one cannot choose one over the other as they are all the same--like God who does not play favorites. As Eckhart says, "The highest angel, the mind, and the gnat have an equal model in God." Difference is only for those who are yet to be detached; but for the man who is one with God in the "breakthrough of the soul," all beings are nothing and everything, that is, identical.

This is why nothing fazes me anymore. This is why I no longer decide on things. This is why, dare I say the word, I am finally happy. But my doctor has another opinion on the matter and another word for it. He says I am euthymic. It means "mental peace."


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