Growing Out of Balance

The Neopagan blogosphere tends to place emphasis on notions of “balance” as we near or cross an equinox in the year. Similarly, the spiritual and occult community at large have a tendency to speak in terms of achieving some sort of “balance” between Light and Dark, divine and human, or whatever other dichotomies they happen to acknowledge. Even when speaking about the natural world, we have developed a language of “ecological balance”. This talk all has its place, but we too easily let it mislead us, causing us suffering where it need not.

Here’s the thing: there is no balance in Nature. There is no magic number of grizzly bears and salmon, or ants to aphids to daisies, which will keep everything neat and tidy and allow the whole world to live in peace. If such equilibrium existed, it would have been found by now — not necessarily by us, but by the whole big game of the universe. Earth is one hell of a testing ground, and that balance has almost certainly never existed here. As badly as humans are messing things up in this and the past century or so, other mass extinction events and the like attest to the fact that even without us life would have perpetual challenges of one sort or another. None of this is to justify our failure to learn lessons and find a less destructive place in the world, but even our present trouble makes my major point.

If there is no balance to be found, what are we working toward? Every individual must, of course, work that out for themselves. Your answer will almost certainly not look like mine. Even if we both say something like “spiritual liberation”, we will have to unpack what we mean by that and it may not sound at all alike once the tea is drunk!

When we talk about balance, the real error is falling into a stagnation mindset. The reason why balance doesn’t exist is simply because it can’t for any length of time; as soon as a portion of any system is “balanced”, some other factor will throw it off. Rather than balance, we should be looking for some combination of adaptability and fortitude. The world is dynamic; so should we be. Per the last paragraph, that will have to look different for each of us — and that’s a good thing!

In terms of spiritual or magical practice, the concept of balance does have its place. Franz Bardon, for example, emphasizes a state of “elemental equilibrium” in his first book, Initiation Into Hermetics. This is an excellent pursuit for the beginner, which unfolds into a series of practices collectively expanding and deepening the practitioner’s toolkit and experiences which serve well into later magical exercises. But what Bardon (or perhaps his translators and commentators) do not always make clear enough is just the fact that elemental equilibrium is not a state one achieves but an ongoing dynamic process which we discuss as if it were a state to keep the intention clear in our heads. The elemental equilibrium exercises become part of one’s daily practice, or else merge into other practices which go further. That process of equilibration is not for its own sake; it is only to give oneself as firm a foundation as possible to build higher. But keep in mind that foundations need to be repaired, reinforced, even rebuilt from time to time.

You may at some time need to go to an extreme. Conventional wisdom has it that this could only ever be temporary, seeking to come back to balance in the center after going to one extreme or another to solve a problem. But that may not be the case. It’s entirely possible that instead of going far only to moderate, you will instead force circumstances to meet you at your position and so establish the new “normal” afar off from its original “balance point”. Granted, it is ordinarily desirable to avoid a situation in which one has to throw wide to one side or another; it is painful to go to extremes. But if we are adaptable and resilient, we make a new outpost wherever we must and keep going.

This goes to show that there is no “balanced normal state” from which we depart and to which we aim to return; there is no “original sin” which keeps us from Heaven. That doesn’t mean that equipoise does not exist — but equipoise is of the mind aligning with its own inherent nature. It is, in conventional English, an attitude of choice which becomes more and more natural as we deepen our experience of it. Equipoise is inherently dynamic. It is a way of responding (or not) to the situation as it unfolds, with spontaneity rather than crystallized habits. Our ordinary talk of “nature’s balance” is lazy thinking, leading often to dreams of a time when nothing needs to change anymore. No such time will come in this world. As magicians and Tantrikas, we do not seek such a time and place, but to gradually attain to the insight and power of equipoise within the activity itself, to experience the Divine as the nondual essence of the changing world, and to live the Peace, Freedom, and Happiness which comes of that experience.

As the Autumnal Equinox passes us by and we fall away once again from the lovely balance of light and dark, flowing ever more deeply toward the dark and cold of Winter, let’s enjoy the pivot point and allow it to remind us that change is baked in. Whether we perceive time as linear, cyclical, or helical, it is certainly not stagnant.

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