"Nurture the spirit, be sparing with energy,
As though holding a full bowl." Sun Bu-er
This saying of Sun Bu-er, a Taoist Master(ess?) in the 12th century, reminds me of the Buddhist concept of equanimity, about which I have posted before.
I think of equanimity as being about balance: Sun Bu-er advises me to balance my energy as though holding (balancing so as not to spill) a full bowl. And when we live with chronic pain, or even are going through a particularly difficult time emotionally or spiritually, balance is key to staying healthy and not making pain worse through suffering.
(I make a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is what happens to us as part of life; we have no control over it. Suffering is that which we layer on top of pain; fear, distress, upset, anger, feeling victimized, etc. It is a choice; we have control over how we regard our pain.)
Instead of layering suffering over our pain, we can allow pain to transform our ability to be conscious, alive to the Now; read this post for more about this.
The balancing that Sun Bu-er and Diane Mariechild (Open Mind -- Women's Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful) are writing about has to do with energy. Our response to pain may be to push through it, denying its reality. This is a good strategy for sudden, non-recurring pain like a stubbed toe, but it is not a remedy for chronic pain, which requires our ability to name it and see clearly how it feels and how it affects us so that we can go on to good management practices. On the other end of that scale is the strategy of giving in completely to the pain. Again, this is often helpful when the pain is acute and won't last; it can also be the only thing to do when the pain is really terrible. But for chronic pain, giving in completely is the kind of imbalance that leads to depression and despair.
Each of us has our own formula for balancing our energy, like pacing during a workout or a distance race. We find that balance by trial and error. There's no other way than to let that pendulum swing back and forth from one extreme to the other until we find where it swings gently from a mid-point, arcing enough to allow us some freedom of choice but not so much that we bounce to one extreme or the other.
Diane Mariechild gives us the example of a fine dancer: "She is sparing with energy, using just as much effort as needed for each movement, no more and no less...We can put this wisdom into practice by making our bodies strong, flexible and balanced through a movement practice such as yoga or tai chi."
For myself I have learned that the exercises I do for my back (I have two degenerating discs in my lower back) have given me flexibility and stamina that I did not have before. I also do the exercises as though they are yoga: with mindfulness.
Mariechild talks about emotional energy as well as physical energy; I'll address that in my next post.
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