Balance and The Utility of Absolutes: Part I
I have pondered the utility of absolutes, i.e., good/bad; right/wrong; true/false. In a sort of visual description these absolutes reflect polar opposites. It seems that the adoption of either results in imbalance. Would you care to address this observation?
The above was a question posed to me, and not one easy to answer in a straightforward manner. Let me go for it anyway. I just hope readers don’t abandon me to blather alone in the mental wilderness of my own meandering complications. As challenging as that is, in other words, I am making a note to keep it simple.
I imagine this is one of those questions one expects to hear in a circle of stuffy old men stroking long white beards as they recline amidst the marble columns of Plato’s Academy. Just imagine that for a moment. The hurumphing of old farts dominates the scene- a figure of speech by the way. It is not conducive to the current discourse to expend mental energy imagining an aging puff of gas thoughtfully say: “hurumph!”.
Suffice it to say that the revered lovers of wisdom in our imagined circle of accomplished argumentation are certain they have all the bases covered. They will possess their certainty with a straight face even as they quote Socrates- their reluctant idol- in proclaiming “the only certainty is that we know nothing”.
A few of the more insightful in their midst must surely comprehend the paradox: sharp intellects contrasting soft rears endlessly shifting on hard marble recliners for the ever-elusive comfort zone. If they are especially mindful, our wise men might notice the seed of revelation concealed in the conundrum of discomfort that a well-placed pillow could appease with ease.
Still with me? Let’s blow the exaggerated caricature of that imaginary Academy. Let’s put our mind’s eye to better use and find ourselves relaxing on a nice sandy beach. We are reclining comfortably with our favorite drink, sitting back to listen to the soothing sound of the tropical surf for a spell. Not a care in the world.
Those wizened philosophers of yesteryear made it a point to recline in comfort when pondering the mysteries of nebulous mentation. That soft and supple pillow under the rump was an absolute necessity for the demands of higher discourse. It virtually- no pun intended- guaranteed the finely honed blade-like intellect these philosophers brandished with the expert grace of hardened veterans of legendary battles.
Facing questions like this can create a cold and brittle mood when the acuity of the intellect is emphasized more than what makes relaxing and comfortable sense. I want to point out, however, that where the body is comfortable and relaxed, ideas can balance on the razor’s edge of a vibrant mind. This is balance, and it is not a given.
Sustaining a sharp intellect without rest is stressful and can cause fatigue and burnout. Sustaining perpetual relaxation, on the other hand, can dull both mind and body leaving the spirit flaccid and the heart as slothful as the physical frame.
Balance is, therefore, a treasure that is not just cultivated between opposing absolutes. It is a valued state earned by the act of confronting forces engaged in a struggle with us. In this case our balance lies in the integration of a relaxed body with a sharp mind. Part of the value of this state lies in the high stakes of the struggles we face with it. If we submit to the will of what opposes us the core of our experience of self and world is thrust into a corner of conception, backed into it to be bound by the programmed conclusions resulting from our alleged “defeat”.
In other words, we can become victims of possession by various forms of the meme: “unless I am a winner, I am a loser”. One version is the variant: “unless I am right, I am wrong”. We may think our struggle is with something tangible, like a force of nature or a human oppressor, but we are physically relaxed in the world of ideas. Therein what is challenged is our sense of self and what is meaningful to it.
In that sense balance means throwing out the either/or and choosing to learn from the engagement. Experience is the coin of purchase in this process, and balance involves its best investment. In my book that is worth pondering.
The metaphor that led to all this pontificating, however, is two-fold. Balance comes from understanding both aspects of it. The second aspect contrasts the image of the sharp-minded philosopher with flaccid body with the reverse arrangement. This time, we can imagine finding ourselves among a group of athletes climbing a mountain, struggling against the elements to gain the victory of standing at a pinnacle of nature’s majesty.
As we climb, we realize that the warrior stance of a mental blade-wielder is the last thing we need. Instead, circumstance asks that the mind relax, and its intellectual blade stand aside for a deeper visceral intuition to enter to scene.
In doing so the mind may find itself “in the zone” where the body is one with the nature it seeks to pit against its own limitations. This mind-zone is zen-like in its mystery and paradoxical luminous silence. It is also part of the appeal of extreme physical struggles that to the average plodder seem more like examples of human lunacy than achievements.
Make no mistake, the mind is not dull. It is not dead, nor is it vacuous. It is infinitely deep, yawning into its own mystery of pre-conceptual calm. It is the ocean without waves to distract from sensing its true depths. And when the body is challenged, and forced to plumb its own potentials of resourcefulness, the mind steps back and falls over the precipice of residual assumption into the fathomless expanse of its own nature. Paradoxically, when that happens, the body becomes stronger and more capable. This is balance as well.