I was on the yoga mat the other day, and began to think–something I often do as I get into my meditative state. There are many teachings that come from the practice of yoga, but one of the biggest ones for me is balance. Not the ‘don’t fall over’ kind of balance (well there’s that too); what I’m talking about here, is balance in life practice. It’s one of the many teachings I take from the yoga mat into my daily life.
This teaching of balance is also a key part of the First Nations/Native spirituality I now follow, and is a key aspect in many of the cultural and spiritual practices of the many First Nations of North America. A familiar representation of this is the medicine wheel. While the positions of the four colours may vary according to nation, tradition, or individual teaching, the colours themselves don’t vary much–usually they’re red, white, black, and yellow. They can represent many things, but for the purposes of my discussion here, I’ll keep to the teachings of balancing the four main aspects of life as represented within the medicine wheel: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional. Some other things I’ve been taught that they represent include: the four human races, the four seasons, and the four stages of life.There are two additional colours which are sometimes associated, and switched in: blue and green. What the four main colours represents differs depending on whose teachings you’re receiving. As I’ve learned, there is not one ‘right’ way; there are many ways, and all are right–this in itself is a radical departure for me from the straitjacket of Christian Science that I was bound up in for so many years.
Balance in life
As I’ve been taught, there are four main aspects to life: physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. To live in complete harmony one must daily balance each of these aspects of life in their daily activities. For instance, taking a walk, a bike ride, or working out in the gym can take care of the physical side; learning something new, or figuring out a tough problem can take care of the mental; meditation can take care of the spiritual; and enjoying time with a loved one the emotional. Many activities can combine to address more than one, or even all four aspects of life. Some sacred ceremonies address all four. A hike in the woods for me can take care of all four. The important thing is to balance them. Equally important is to not stress out if you don’t. Very few people balance everything each and every day. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does so all the time, and I know several people whose walk in life and spiritual practice I and others admire greatly. Nobody is perfect. Anyone who claims to be is lying. The important thing is to strive each and every day to achieve that balance.
The corrosion of an unbalanced life
As I look back on my time as a Christian Scientist, and what emphasis Christian Science placed on different aspects of life, I realize that I was living a life that was extremely unbalanced. Christian Science was definitely a mind bender, so you could say that it was heavily weighted on the mental side, but not in a beneficial way. It created an endless conflict for me between what I perceived to be real day in and day out with my physical senses and what Christian Science taught me was real–something esoteric, and unseen.
Christian Science puts an extreme emphasis on the spiritual and mental sides, while largely ignoring the physical and (in my experience) destroying the emotional. In fact, according to Christian Science theology as I understood it, the ‘spiritual’ was all there is, and your mental bandwidth was consumed with intellectualizing that. In Christian Science theology, the physical side doesn’t even exist! None of the physical world we see and experience exists. Rather, it is an illusion and we’re woefully blind to some unseen spiritual ‘realm’, if you will, that we’re actually living in. It is a utopian realm where disease, evil, death, sin, and all that bad stuff doesn’t happen. I wish it really did exist, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t. But, Christian Scientists will spend a lifetime and a lot of mental energy trying to see and experience this supposed ‘reality’, all the while surrounded by the hard-to-deny reality of this world and universe we live in. Believe me, it can be a mentally exhausting way to live.
This lack of balance, to me, is very corrosive. I can’t help but wonder if this is a large part of the reason why some Christian Scientists can sometimes be downright nasty people to deal with (which is one big reason why I write this blog anonymously). They don’t take criticism of their faith or church at all well, and will often sacrifice anything, including their own lives, at the altar of their faith. They are also extremely critical of anyone who doesn’t measure up to their standards of what a ‘good’ Christian Scientist should be. Christian Scientists can be extremely passive aggressive in their behaviour especially to one another. They will be all smiles and syrupy happiness in your presence, but when the back is turned, the sharp opinions come out; things like, “oh, [so and so’s] thought isn’t quite right, that’s why he isn’t seeing healing,” or, “did you hear the horrible inflection Ms. Smith read with on Sunday? Why did we vote for her as Reader?” If you disagree with a Christian Scientist, especially on a point of faith or theology, they’re likely to consider you under the influence of malicious animal magnetism or mortal mind, or some other such hocus pocus.
As I look back especially on my latter time in Christian Science, I see the corrosive effects it had on me. I was unhappy and felt extremely trapped in the life I had at the time, but I didn’t see an easy, or even viable way out. To make the change I knew deep down I had to make, was to repudiate the bedrock faith I had grown up with and practised all of my life. My career, and many of my friendships were predicated on that faith.
It took the untimely deaths of my parents to lift the veil from my eyes and make me realize the fallacy of the belief system I had been holding to all of my life. The material gifts they left me enabled me to leave my job and start a new life. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful to them, even though it took their deaths to turn my own life around and wake me up to what is real and what is false.
My balance, my life
Life circumstances steered me to the more balanced life I lead now. Is it perfect? No, but it is a thousand times better than the life I had. I am much more aware of the need to seek balance in my life, and strive to achieve it as much as possible. The key is that I always try. Some days I succeed, most, I do not. But, I don’t beat myself up over it. I don’t fear some dire consequence for not succeeding in this balance, or as I once feared as a Christian Scientist, some dire consequence because I didn’t do my ‘Lesson’ or ‘protective work’. On the days that I achieve balance in all four aspects of life, or come close, I feel great; on days where there is an extreme imbalance, sometimes I won’t feel so great. But, if I don’t, I’m not going to die or become seriously ill. Over the long term, however, an unbalanced life could lead to physical or mental consequences (we all know that if one doesn’t exercise, you’ll suffer physical consequences), but the key is to simply identify the imbalance and work to correct it early on, and it really isn’t all that hard to do.
This is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, and it works for me. Others find their own path. Just because this path works for me doesn’t mean it works for everyone, and even different people who follow the teachings I’ve discussed here will each have their own unique experiences with it. It’s so important to realize that there is no one right way. The medicine wheel teaching is universal, and requires no reading of special books or excerpts from any special books, just knowledge from those who follow this practice. Yes, there are books and workbooks on the subject, and there are people who teach whole seminars on it, but you don’t need to go through all of that. Just identify things you can do in your life that stimulate each of these four aspects. It’s easy.