Lama Samten states: “health is a matter of balance, involving the mind, the emotions, the physical body and the environment. These four factors are interdependent: if the mind is not in a balanced state this affects the emotions, which in turn affect the body. On the other hand if there is imbalance in the environment this disturbs the physical body, the emotions and finally the mind.”1
On a physical level, in ancient and alternative medicine, the focus is on balance. Illness is seen as the disturbance of natural balance, and health when this is reestablished. Blood pressure needs to be just right, not too low or too high. The same with our body temperature, the rate of our heart beat, our breathing, the intake of food, fluids, and the excretion of waste. Being healthy lies in the middle, it’s the middle way between extremes.
On an emotional level, we are in balance when we find the middle ground between being lost in our feelings on one side and shutting them off on the other. Feelings move through us like waves. It cannot be healthy to suppress them. Yet being swept away by them is not the solution either. How can I be in touch with my feelings and ride them, as the surfer rides the waves?
On the mind level, we also need to find the middle ground. We find healthy confidence and self-esteem between the extremes of arrogance and putting ourselves down. Chögyam Trungpa talks about “tenderness” that we develop towards ourselves, as we approach this balance:
“Developing tenderness towards yourself allows you to see both your problems and your potential accurately. You don’t feel that you have to ignore your problems or exaggerate your potential. That kind of gentleness towards yourself and appreciation of yourself is very necessary. It provides the ground for helping yourself and others.”2
We can realize that nothing is achieved by being hard and cruel with ourselves. We tend to treat others the way we treat ourselves.
The environment has its own in-built balance. One of the most rewarding activities is to observe nature, how it creates and regenerates itself if undisturbed. As humans, we have no other option but to have an impact on the environment we live in. We need to cultivate the land so that we can produce food. Again we have two extremes: we can either not do anything and leave nature undisturbed or we can exploit it with no consideration of the long-term effect.
By destroying the environment through thoughtless actions, we are actually undermining the basis of our existence. Short sighted actions, where long term consequences have not been considered, have already created imbalance in nature, with all its consequences, like erosion, desertification of huge areas, natural catastrophies. We need to learn to ask, what are the implications of my action? We need to gain a bigger perspective than just an individual short term goal.
Luckily, concepts like permaculture, that work with the natural forces and not against them, are becoming more widespread. They provide a middle way between the two extremes.
“Permaculture is both a philosophy and a practical approach to land use. It takes natural systems as a model, draws on many disciplines, and involves consciously designing landscapes which are productive, efficient and ecological sustainable.” 3
Contact to nature is important in our times when we are in danger of becoming more and more alienated, when we live more and more artificial lives. Despite – maybe because – of our technical development, we find the world in a chaotic state:
“We do not readily perceive the world slipping into Chaos from day to day because a simulated world is continually being counter-created, which often makes it seem as if a new world is in the making. Indeed it is, a world best described by the current term virtual reality.”4
With the advancement of computer technology and the widespread use of the internet, we seem to live more and more in a substitute reality. People meet in chatrooms that are no longer physical rooms, letters are written that you no longer can hold in your hands. The media, television in particular, take up vast amounts of our spare time and interfere with human connections.
We are overfed images and our senses close more and more down, as we no longer need to make an effort to develop our imagination. Again, the danger is to become one-sided. A balanced way is to make good use of the technology available without becoming its prey.
Artistic activities that stimulate our imagination and feed our soul, personal conversations with our partner and friends, visits in nature, stimulating reading, all help us to stay in touch with a tangible reality.
A balanced lifestyle helps us to find health on all levels. It is the middle ground between extremes in all areas of life.
1 Dharmachakra, Auckland, March 2001
2 Chögyam Trungpa; Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior; Boston, 1988, p. 36
3 Rosemary Morrow; Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture; Australia, 1993
4 Robert Sardello; Love and the Soul, Creating a Future for Earth; New York, 1995, p. 129.
Copyright © 08/2001 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #14, Aug2001