Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On maintaining a sense of balance

This series of images has been an interesting adventure: I get caught up in the shapes and colors, and layer in what seems to work with what's already there, and I don't give much thought to what the image might be attempting to communicate.  "Emergence" is the word we'd use for it at Antioch, but today I'm a little stymied. 

Here's Seattle, all sunny and bright, viewed from across the water through a veil of what looks a bit like Spanish Moss, and somewhere underneath there's some sort of implosion happening...

Maybe this has to do with the sense of impending doom -- Seattle sits on a major faultline, so of course after the Earthquake in Japan we're all feeling a bit anxious.  There's all the strange weather patterns we've been seeing lately.  There's the ongoing awareness of the terrorist threat (whenever you're in the ferry line, the police are going up and down the rows of cars with bomb-sniffing dogs).  And there's the economy, which continues to drag people under: all these things have been subjects of recent conversations, though I don't tend to bring them up myself.

But this image could also be about reaction formation -- a concept I learned about yesterday.  The Wiki tells us that reaction formation is a defensive process (defense mechanism) in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration (hypertrophy) of the directly opposing tendency.  So if you're angry, or sad, or frightened, you might be smiling a lot and talking about how pleased you are with everything: a sunny facade, hiding volcanic undercurrents of anger, sadness, or fear -- hmm.  That does sound like a good description of this image; I think of that old saying, "fiddling while Rome burns."

There's a certain wisdom in staying calm in a crisis, of course.  And we are taught to keep those big emotions under wraps as much as possible so as not to disturb those around us.  So how can we walk that delicate shoreline between being aware of our emotions and potential faultlines while at the same time continuing to function?

I think this is another reminder of the blessings inherent in maintaining a regular meditation practice -- and, in particular, of the gifts of Centering Prayer.  Centering Prayer is a constant act of releasing whatever is rising to consciousness: we release the worries, the distractions, the challenges and the constant nattering of the ego and return to the center, the source, the Divine Within.  Practicing that for 20 minutes or so, every day, can make it easier to stay calm and centered during the rest of the day, whatever subterranean pressures may be building.  It's really, I think, a matter of balance.

"The goal in Centering Prayer," says Cynthia Bourgeault in her book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  "is not to stop the thoughts, but simply to develop a detached attitude toward them."  I can't -- and probably shouldn't -- lose sight of the challenges I face at the various levels of my life.  But with the help of Centering Prayer I can also stay in touch with the deeper reality that lies at the root of my being.  With the help of Centering Prayer, I can learn to strike a social balance: to stay connected with and attuned to the value and concerns of those around me without losing my own objectivity.

... At least -- that's the hope!  Judging from what this image seems to reveal, I would guess it's a bit more challenging lately to retain the sunny facade...

All of which brings to mind this wonderful classic poem by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!


Maureen said...

I enlarged the image to get a closer look at it. That subterranean aspect is definitely conveyed. Maybe it's also about calling up desires submerged, what makes us passionate, what's seeking release to bear fruition and give fulfillment.

Louise Gallagher said...

I love the photos in this series -- they speak to the mystery of life for me.