|Updating Your Navigation Style
Know how to easily adjust your life’s courseBalancing is like a trick you learn to do. After the last newsletter-blog I sent out, in which I suggested that Zen has helped in so many ways to balance my life, and I presented a new study on mindfulness in the workplace. There were many people who commented on the last blog, “It sounds like life is perfect for you.” And of course, there were a few who basically said, “It can’t be that easy!”
My response to that is best expressed in a scene from the movie Days of Thunder. Harry, the mechanic, after watching Nascar-winner Rowdy race around the track, says, “You’re the one’s lookin’ good.” Rowdy leans up against his car with a sigh of relief and says, “Ithasn’t been easy, Harry, I’ll guaran-damn-tee ya.”
I really think that reflects a primary Zen secret to the trick of balancing. It’s just not easy. Even just being mindful for five minutes is not easy.
There’s no doubt that the years of Zen training have helped me to focus, and have brought balance into my life. And what really is focus? It’s when you can concentrate your energy in a direction without being distracted by procrastination, self-defeating behavior like victim mentality, fears of success or loss, rejection, or even fear of ending up alone.
Did I have any of these problems or fears? Absolutely. In fact, several! It’s a well recognized truth that just because you’ve meditated for twenty or thirty years doesn’t mean you’re problem-free. In order to get rid of a problem, you need to work on it, sometimes on two levels—internally and externally—using, for instance, systematic desensitization.
Did I overcome my problems? Yes and no. Depending on how deep the fear is buried in the grey matter of your neuro-associative cortex, you can learn to control it, but sometimes you never completely get over it. But that’s OK…it works! The nitty-gritty of the Zen trick is to understand that you need to be able to disassociate awareness enough to observe the problem, accept it, and then proceed to modify it by changing the pattern. It’s well known that Barbra Streisand consistently experiences stage fright before her concerts, yet can still perform amazingly well and comfortably. She focuses past the fear! (I’m going to step out of the box and say she’s probably over it by now, though.)
Which brings me to balance—a hard one to achieve. Most people think balance is working like crazy and then taking a week off twice a year and spending time with the children at Christmas. Maybe that’s what the American dream wants you to think, but it’s far from the truth.
Do I ever get out of balance? Absolutely. Much more when I was younger than now. And what difference has the Zen training made? I’ve discovered an interesting phenomenon: when you become more focused, you become more in tune with yourself and those around you. As I said in the last blog the trick is moving from egocentric to allocentric.
What does this help you achieve? Well, it’s like going from rusty old navigation equipment to installing the latest high-tech digital equipment. Simply put, you see more clearly and more intuitively because it gives you a broader range of scope through which to observe what’s happening all around you…and most importantly, in you! It’s like looking at a friend and seeing what they don’t see in themselves.
What this means is that balance begins to come naturally to you. If you eat too much over the weekend, you naturally increase exercising and reduce calories over the next few days. I weigh myself almost every day, not because I’m a fanatic on weight control, but because the scale is my extended navigation equipment. I know if I’m up or down two pounds, then I can change course. And it’s hard to feel if you gained 2 pounds, that’s only 1.11% of my body weight. Yet, for me, it’s getting easier to feel it. I just don’t want to get too far off course because it affects my blood pressure and energy in general and it is really hard to get back. But, we are never in perfect balance.
And it’s like this with everything, because the Universe brings balance, but is not in perfect balance. If the Universe were in perfect balance, it would exist as it did before the Big Bang, when there was one particle of matter for every particle of anti-matter, and the two cancelled each other out; hence, nothing but perfect energy. Now, the Universe is slightly out of balance—there is slightly more matter than anti-matter. And that’s how we’re alive. Literally speaking, this slight out-of-balance is life! We would not exist otherwise.
So is the Universe, so are you. It’s natural to get out of balance. So when it happens, like if you work too much and get stressed, then listen to yourself when your neck starts hurting, or stomach issues occur, or you get sick easily, or argue quickly, and so on. Then, after you observe this, accept it…and change it. And I don’t mean you now need to quit your job or run off to Tahiti; I mean look at your life. Pay attention. That’s what Zen training is teaching you to do. Be mindful of yourself and others.
Check your diet. Is it off? Check your exercise. Is it off or non-existent? We need to exercise as humans in some form, if we’re physically and medically able to do so. It’s a quick way to re-balance the body and mind. Then check your relationships, family, hobbies, relaxation time, and other aspects of your life. Do you have time to take a few minutes in the middle of the day to stop and look out the window at the sky or a tree and marvel at your spirituality? It’s rejuvenating!
The secret of the Zen trick, as I have discovered, is that balance occurs in a 24-hour cycle. This is the key! More than this, and we go out of balance. But remember not perfect balance, just what is balance for you. If you’re mindful, you will see that when you get out of balance, within two days you begin to feel something different. You can, at this point, correct it by shifting things around slightly to readjust the deficiency, whatever it may be.
And again, that’s what Zen training does, and that’s what has helped me most of my adult life. You actually end up achieving and doing more without trying because you function closer to your peak performance. When you have to try too hard, something is out of balance, and you need to look at it and change direction.
When we get too far out of balance, it’s really hard to get back on track, and takes five times the effort and energy. That’s why I like the ‘navigation equipment’ metaphor—with bad equipment you can get way off course, and it take lots of energy to get back; but with high-tech sensitive equipment, if you get slightly off course, it takes only slight adjustments to bring you back. And that is true Zen balance, it is constantly adjusting course. And that’s why, if you feel you’re off course, you may need to get better navigation equipment. Or update your operating system by using Zen training to see clearer in the moment. Then, you too can make immediate small course changes, instead of large ones.
Paul Harrison AIA
Architect, Author, Creator of the Zen Advantage Program