“At the still point of the turning world … there the dance is”
– T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets
Think about a time when you were most in the zone, most in flow – not only with some central object of concentration, but with the whole wide world around you. Calibrated, open, present.
And this person said this, and a tree over there shimmered in just this way, and you opened your mouth and the right words came out, and it was like you were born for exactly this moment. And the mystery of ordinary human reality was suddenly vivid in you, vivid but also … too plain to say. Too natural to remark upon, for life, after all, is just – well, just what it is.
I had one of these experiences recently, recently and unexpectedly. I walked up the narrow stairs into a club and the music was good and friends were around and suddenly … how to explain? Everything went mystical and ordinary at the same time.
The Seven Factors of Awakening
Buddhists talk about the seven “Factors of Awakening,” qualities of mind and heart that when activated and in balance drop us into a still point, a place of total availability and poise and responsiveness. The name sounds grandiose, but the factors exist in all of us all of the time, we need only recognize them.
So: “awareness,” to begin with, simple presence and knowing. And through this, “investigation” – the thinking mind, wanting to explore each new detail, a gentle forward movement that leads to “energy,” the next factor, and “enjoyment,” the next. But “tranquility” is also there – for what is the rush? – and “concentration,” to direct the flow, and finally, the crown jewel of mental qualities, beautiful frictionless “equanimity,” to ensure all things are included.
Another Buddhist list – dry, a bit boring. But lived – it feels like being awake in a new way.
But What Does That Mean?
Well, to use the club example, it felt like mind, body and world all sort of lined up, and with this was a heightened awareness of space and self and situation.
From the inside: And then she said this, and the attention was there, along with curiosity and care, meeting her open shining face, and someone else laughed and the energy moved that way, riding on an easy sense of what is appropriate. And words came out and the body turned and the coherence of the music – organizing the atmosphere – the timing of the bodies dancing, eyes closed turning, not knowing, trusting where the energy wants to go now, a thousand effortless adjustments and everyone else making their adjustments too. And through it all, an unshakable sense of intimacy, and connectivity, and – yes – of balance. Whatever you want to call it, we’ve all been here.
A Month in Balance
Balance is our theme this month. Strange pressure-cooker of the holidays, expected to relate, to consume, to conform to holiday cheer. What does it mean to show up with this still point in mind and in body? Show up to our work parties and our relatives, our responsibilities and our activism? All through December we’ll explore in slightly different ways how to find and hold and express our living center.
Also: beware the eggnog – it gives one gas.