The Tightrope of Human Experience – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my article ……

So the large-scale interpretation of service is not what’s important here.  Making your life one of service doesn’t mean contributing lots of time and money to charitable endeavors. I’m talking about a change of mindset. Deepak Chopra, in his book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” suggests that if we go from thinking “What’s in it for me,” to “How can I help,” your attitude changes immensely. Maybe it’s just making a cup of tea for someone who’s had a bad day.  The pressure is off because the ego, for that moment, is no longer concerned with itself. The pitfall here, of course, is to expect something in return for your kindness, like recognition or repayment of some kind.  If that happens then you are acting from ego and not from your true self. If you really want to help you have to do it without any agenda. You need to delete, “What’s in it for me” from your language. When you can do that, you relax and flow more easily with life. Only then will a sense of equilibrium be established.

Also, the time has come to do away with the notion of “Every man for himself.” This idea doesn’t fly anymore. “What do you mean?” you may ask, “I have to look out for myself.” What I mean is the only reason we feel we have to look out for ourselves is because that is what everyone else is doing.  We are not on a sinking ship without enough lifeboats, although life may sometimes feel that way. Yes, we must do what is best for ourselves. But when we think only of ourselves we become selfish and narcissistic. “Every man for himself,” is first cousin to, “What’s in it for me.” It is the ego reacting out of fear, clamoring not just for attention, but also for the things it thinks it needs. Unfortunately, fear is what motivates many people’s lives.  We may often feel like we are indeed on that sinking ship without a lifeboat. Or up on that tightrope by ourselves. And if you think about it, this feeling of helplessness, this fear of loss, prevents us from achieving equilibrium because we are only doing what is best for ourselves and not, as John Nash suggested, doing what is best for ourselves and for everyone else. Remember, the ego is never satisfied – and it is never not fearful. In the fulfillment of one desire lies the seed of another. And so it goes….No equilibrium. No easy flow with life.

Physicists have confirmed that the nature of matter cannot be found in objects but in energetic interconnections. Remember this quote from Albert Einstein, “A human being is a part of a whole…. (but) he experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” There’s no escaping it – we are all in this life together to a much greater extent than we ever imagined.

Let’s get back to that cup of tea. Einstein recognized that it is easy to do something nice for those we love. But how about doing something nice for someone we don’t like? Someone we perceive as our enemy.  We should be grateful for those people because they are our greatest teachers. What we don’t like about someone is usually something we don’t like about ourselves. They are our mirrors and we should take a good long look. When you can get past your ego, which lives in fear (or pride, which is just another form of fear) then you are able to connect with the other person in an honest and real way.

If we really looked at Nash’s theory and took Einstein’s advice we could all exist in a state of peace within movement, which of course, is equilibrium. There would be a natural and uncomplicated flow to our lives, not unlike those organisms and molecules. The point here is that we are not alone. Even with our alleged differences we should be able to find comfort in the knowledge that we do not have to walk that tightrope by ourselves. And that should enable each one of us to overcome our petty likes and dislikes to embrace even those from whom we withhold our affection… and our help. To look into another’s eyes is to see oneself. It’s not just you up there on that tightrope. I’m up there too. And I could use your help getting to the other side.

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The Tightrope of Human Experience – Part 1

Below is the first part of an article I wrote that was published in the February 2008 issue of the ‘Aquarius,’ a holistic publication in Atlanta. Part 2 will follow in my next post…..

When I like a movie, I can watch it over and over again. I just watched, again, A Beautiful Mind, a great film, albeit a romanticized version of mathematical genius John Nash’s life.  This time, however, I began to wonder about his theory of equilibrium, which won him the Nobel Prize. Simply put, it suggests that it is only through cooperation can the best results be obtained.  We see this applied all the time in sports. All the players must work together using a single strategy. Everyone on the team wants to win the game so everyone on the team is doing what is best not only for himself but for the team.  Winning, therefore, is a group effort. Every time an actor or director wins an award they always give credit to the people with whom they worked. They all know that they couldn’t have done it by themselves.

And we don’t have to be concerned about any type of material gain to put this idea to work in our lives. While taking a yoga workshop with John Friend some years ago, he asked us to silently offer our practice that day to that person who was helpful with our being able to attend, i.e., the husband who was babysitting the kids, the boss who was paying you enough so you could pay for the classes you wished to take, etc.  I liked that. It made me feel special.  It made the workshop experience feel special. And the husband got to spend quality time with his kids and the boss got a happier employee. It was a reminder that we are not alone in our journey through life.  Maintaining or attaining equilibrium, by John Nash’s definition, is not a solitary task. It is accomplished by considering how your actions impact others.

The mantra of the past couple of generations has been, “How do I balance work and family?” This is an ongoing dilemma for people with no shortage of advice being doled out by the experts. There have been plenty of books published with easy-to-follow steps as well as segments on the evening news telling us what we need to do to achieve this ever-elusive notion of balance. But like most words these days, the word ‘balance’ has become so overused that it no longer carries much meaning. To me, balance implies aloneness. Think about it. If we are supposed to maintain balance in our lives it appears that it is up to us to do the balancing. No one can help you balance an apple on your head.  The tightrope walker is alone up there on the wire. Whether or not he makes it to the other side is up to him. But these days, if you listen to the ‘experts’ they admit that achieving balance is not something we can do by ourselves. We have finally been given permission to rely on the kindness of others. Achieving a balanced life is a group effort. So let’s replace the word balance with equilibrium.

There’s another reason to consider replacing the word ‘balance.’ To me, balance is static – equilibrium, on the other hand, is dynamic. Equilibrium implies balance, yes, but there is movement in the balance, suggesting there is a flow to life that is natural and uncomplicated. In biology and chemistry, the term equilibrium (and there are many types) implies that all the organisms and molecules are evolving, reacting – doing their thing whatever that might be – effortlessly. Isn’t that what we all want in our lives – to flow naturally and effortlessly through our days? Those organisms and molecules don’t do what they do by themselves. They need each other. And so do we.

When I was a senior in high school, I was chosen along with three other seniors to deliver a speech at one of our ceremonies. We were assigned our topics and I was given the topic of “service.”  I was a little disappointed. I wanted one of the other topics, though I have to say I don’t remember anymore what those other topics were. And I don’t remember much about my speech except that I was very nervous and spoke way too fast. I do know, however, that my idea of service has radically changed since I was that high school student. Back then I equated ‘service’ with  ‘volunteering for charity.’  I seem to remember speaking about how it is up to all of us to help those who were less fortunate. I regarded service as a separate, unconnected piece of life. Something we should make time for in our busy schedules. What I didn’t understand then was that our lives should be about nothing else. And lately, I’ve begun to realize that service is the key to achieving equilibrium.