Finding integrated meaning in our lives

Posts tagged ‘harmony’

Kindness: the 70% solution

I was learning the principles of qigong, a traditional Chinese energy practice, when my teacher told me about the 70% principle.  “In qigong,” he said, ” we only take our movements to about 70% of capacity.”  What a radical notion!  I was used to yoga, where I would enjoy that stretch and the feeling in my body that would tell me when I was at 98%, maybe even 100%, and sometimes, well, maybe even 101%.  That exciting feeling that I was taking my musculature into new territory, new levels of flexibility.  What was 70% going to do for me?

A principle of qigong is to take your movement to 70% of capacity

In time, I learned that the 70% principle was one of the most powerful elements of qigong, and it has done more for me that I could have imagined.  By only taking my movement to 70% of capacity, I was able to focus my entire attention on the internal energetic activities taking place in my body when I made a movement, and I was able to do it for as long as I wanted.  Because I wasn’t stretching my body, it didn’t tire out and complain.  It didn’t risk overstretching and causing injury.

But most important of all was the realization that the 70% principle offered kindness to my body.  It caused my body to relax and enjoy each movement.  It caused each fiber in my muscles to gently become part of the movement rather than fighting it.  It taught gentleness to my inner being.  It turned resistance into harmony.

It didn’t take too long before I began to apply the 70% principle outside qigong to other parts of my life.  Working too hard on a chapter of my book and beginning to wear out?  Just take it to 70% of my capacity, then stop for a while.  Trying to make a point in a heated discussion with a friend?  Just get to 70% of the point, then relax and let your friend take it from there.  Trying to achieve certain goals in personal growth?  Don’t aim for the entire goal, just for 70% of it.

It began to dawn on me that this 70% principle was even more radical than I had realized.  Hell, it was more radical than communism!  If our entire society started to work on the 70% principle, our whole global capitalist economy would fall apart.  I came originally from the business world, where I was used to the cliché of 110%.  When you wanted to impress your boss that you were trying really hard, you’d tell him “I’m going to give it 110%.”  In the business world, 100% isn’t even good enough.

Stock crash: if applied to our global capitalist economy, the 70% principle would be more radical than communism

Imagine if the CEO of a public company got on the phone and told investors, “This year our company is going to try to achieve just 70% of our performance standards.”  The stock would crash and the CEO would be out of there before the day was out.  And imagine if a whole country just put in 70% of their effort into their gross domestic production.  They would get out-competed by other countries and disaster would arise.

Now imagine if the entire world worked at 70% of capacity.  Well, all of a sudden, everything would be different.  Our unsustainable drive towards global catastrophe would begin to change direction.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would start falling.  People would have more time to spend with their families, to consider those other aspects of their lives which are forever getting left behind.

The 70% principle would save our world, if it were applied across the board.

But since that’s not going to happen any time soon, how can we apply the 70% principle to ourselves?  How can we be kind to ourselves in all aspects of our lives?

Here’s an example.  I was at a meditation retreat, and one of the retreatants had a question for the teacher that reflects a common experience.  “I know that I’m meant to direct my wandering mind back to my breath,” she said, “but how hard should I try to do that?  If I don’t try hard enough, I feel I’m just wasting my meditation.  But when I try too hard, it becomes stressful.”

“Seventy percent!” I wanted to answer back.  But it wasn’t my place, so I just sat there and heard the teacher give an answer that left everyone unsatisfied.

There are so many aspects of life where the 70% principle works.  Once you start applying it for yourself, you’ll find the applications are endless.  As time has gone on, I’ve realized why it works so well, which I’ve summarized as follows:

70% is kindness; 100% is unsustainable; 50% is half-assed.

70% is sustainable and yet it keeps getting you towards where you want to go at a reasonable pace.  It’s like the speed you’d go at if you’re running a marathon.  If you went at 100%, you’d never get to the end.  You could go at 50% of your capacity, but then you’d never really feel you were accomplishing anything.  Or you could go at 70%, and get to the finish line, sweaty and proud, without any injuries.  Life is a little bit like that marathon.   Personally, I want this particular marathon to last as long as possible, and for me, 70% is the principle I use to try to ensure that happens.

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Why this blog is called Love and Harmony

I’ve called this blog Love and Harmony because  I have come to realize that Love and Harmony are the two ultimate principles of human life that subsume all others.  I believe that living a life according to the ultimate principles of Love and Harmony can lead you to a place of spiritual fulfillment and physical health, happiness and longevity.  Let me try to explain why.

You are not just your mind.  You are not just your body.  You are a mind/body organism, and what your mind/body organism truly desires is a sense of abiding happiness and health, for as long as it can enjoy that blessed experience.

I believe that the ultimate well-being of your organism can be best achieved through pursuing a path of Love and Harmony.

So at this point, it might be helpful to describe more precisely what I mean by Love and Harmony.

Let’s begin with Love.  I’m not talking about the kind of love that sells all those Hallmark cards (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that kind of love and it does fit into the overall definition.)  I’m not even talking about that beautiful selfless love that a mother or father might hold for their child, even though that also has a well-deserved place in the definition.

I’m talking about loving your self.  Loving your self unconditionally.

“But wait a minute,” I hear you saying.  “How can that be so good?  Isn’t that being selfish?  Self-centered?  I thought we were meant to love others, not ourselves.”

It all begins with loving your self.  And loving your self unconditionally.  Not loving yourself because of something you achieved.  Not loving yourself because you look good, or because you did something that made you popular.  Not even loving yourself because you are a good, ethical, honorable person.  Those are all conditions of love.  One day you might achieve those conditions.  Another day you might not.  And if your love of your self is conditional, then as soon as you don’t live up to your own standards, then there goes your love.

Loving your self unconditionally means realizing that every single part of you – the “good,” the “bad,” the “strong,” the “weak,” are all parts of your organism that have arisen because at some point in your life, that was what you – as an organism – needed to be in order to survive and to try to thrive.  That doesn’t mean it’s OK to become complacent or self-satisfied about who you are.  That’s where intention plays a big part – but that’s a subject for another blog post.

Loving yourself unconditionally permits the barriers within yourself to disappear.

It’s only when you love your self unconditionally that the barriers within your self disappear.  Those are the blockages that normally prevent the energy flows of your love from gushing fully.  And when that love flows within you unblocked, it creates a hormonal context in your brain/mind that permits the love to overflow from your self and to be offered freely to all beings around you.  Then, before you know it, without even trying, you are able to feel that same unconditional love for those around you.  You’re able to see that their conditioned behaviors – those things that normally drive you crazy about them – are also the very best that their organism has arrived at in its own lifelong struggle for health and happiness.  And when you see the limitations they’ve arrived at, you are able to offer unforced and authentic compassion for their struggles and their efforts.

This is a love that is defined by connectivity.  It is a love that arises when you are truly connected within your self, and that permits you to connect with the intrinsic being of others around you.  It is a love that – by dissolving the barriers of your self – permits you to feel your natural connectedness with all other beings, with the natural world around you, with every living entity that surrounds you.

This is a love which is the source of meaning.  Because meaning is derived from connectivity.  In fact, as I shall discuss in a future blog post, it’s not overstating the case to say that love is meaning.  And that universal or unconditional love is the meaning of the universe.

But in this post, I’m just trying to stick with definitions.  There will be plenty of other opportunities to explain some of these statements – which might appear at first a little far-fetched – in a lot more detail.  It’s time, now, to turn to Harmony.

There are several traditions that point to unconditional love as the ultimate and most important principle of a spiritual life.  But that is only half the story.  Because our lives – and the lives of all entities in this world – consist of more than love.  They also consist of Energy.

Love and Energy are the two ultimate constituents of the universe.  If love derives from connectivity, then energy is the stuff that the love connects.  You can’t have connectivity unless it is connecting something.  Just like sound waves can’t travel in a vacuum because they have no air in which to create their waves, so love needs energy in order to manifest itself.  When I say Energy, I’m referring to energy as Einstein described it when he wrote his famous equation that e=mc2.  Energy is a function of matter.  Energy and matter are inseparable.  Energy is what we are all composed of.  You, me, the sun, that rock, the water, the air, and everything else.  Every atom, every molecule.

And there is a certain type of energy flow that has self-organized into life.  Each cell within our bodies is a self-organized mass of swirling energy that maintains itself using a natural form of intelligence known as animate intelligence.  And each one of those billions of cells connects with others, to form organs, blood flow, a nervous system, and all the other miraculous complexities that coalesce to make you and me into the mind/body organism known as a human being.

Starlings flocking: an example of the self-organized creativity that is the basis for all life on the earth.

When I’m talking about Harmony, I’m talking about the harmonizing of these unbelievably complex, exquisite, self-sustaining, resilient, flexible and miraculous energy flows that keep us all alive.  They are, in fact, part of a system of self-sustaining energy flows that keep everything else alive too.  It’s an astonishing process that’s been going on now for about four billion years in this beautiful cradle we call the Earth.  And when you and I die, those energy flows will keep going.  For billions of years more.

When I’m talking about Harmony, I’m talking about harmony within that mind-boggling complex system called your own mind/body organism.  And harmony between your organism and all those other organisms – both human and non-human – around you.

And it’s important to understand that Harmony doesn’t necessarily mean calm serenity.  Harmonizing these energy flows means permitting your own organism to respond to its own internal drives and to the inputs it receives from the outside world in the manner that is most beneficial at that moment in time for your organism.  If you’re in the middle of a game of tennis, harmony might mean smashing the ball with all your power into the court of your opponent.  If you’re driving on a freeway and someone starts pulling into your lane by accident, harmony might involve an immediate adrenaline rush followed by swerving slightly to avoid an accident.  If you’re dancing with your friends on a Saturday night, harmony might mean letting your body go wild in ecstasy.  And if you’re having a heated argument with your spouse who just said something really unfair to you, harmony might mean letting your anger express itself forcefully, as long as it done with skill and compassion.

But harmony can, of course, also mean calm, measured, internal modulation of energy.  And it’s something that can be learned.  Something that our civilization tends to ignore, but which other traditional cultures have developed techniques for managing and optimizing.  In particular, the Chinese tradition has evolved practices over thousands of years to get in touch with that internal energy and to harmonize its flows.

So how do Love and Harmony relate to each other?  Here’s one way to think about it.  In other non-human organisms, harmony is the natural state of affairs.  But we humans have a way of letting our thoughts, worries and mind-constructions disrupt that harmony.  Fortunately for us, we also have a unique capability to love, arising from our minds’ unique capacity for self-awareness.  When that unconditional love is applied to energy, harmony has the potential to arise.  But our bodies are made up of layers upon layers of energetic and muscular blockages that have accreted within us through all the years of our conditioned existence.  And that’s why Love alone – even if it’s unconditional – is not enough to recreate those harmonious energy flows.  We need to learn harmonious action and unlearn a lot of disharmony first.

And for our mind/body organisms to be truly happy and fulfilled, they need both the Love and the Harmony.  Achieving one without the other is certainly a good start.  It’s nothing to sniff at.  But for a fully integrated, long and happy life, filled with meaning and health, you need both.  Love and Harmony.  And that’s what this blog is about.

[Next post: Intention – the beginning of the spiritual path]

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