Women growing older with grace and gusto

Where do you need to find balance?

photo credit: the fixer

It’s the Equinox. Day and night of equal length. In the North, we’re celebrating Spring, in the South, Autumn.

The planet, and our lives, are always in motion. Sometimes this feels too hectic, sometimes too slow.

How do we find the balance?


There’s an old story about balance and transformation:

An eager disciple wants to know the secret of transforming his life. He hears of a wise old hermit who dwells in a cave high up on the mountainside.

The disciple climbs the mountain. It takes him hours of strenuous effort. Finally he reaches the cave and sees the old woman sitting in meditation, her eyes closed.

After a few more hours, the old woman opens her eyes. The disciple asks tremblingly if he can learn the secret of a transformed life. The hermit takes up a stick and writes one word in the earth in front of her: awareness.

‘Yes’, says the disciple, ‘I know that’s important, but how can I live a more balanced and transformed life? What is the secret?’ The old woman brushes out the word she has written and writes two more in its place: awareness, awareness.

‘But’, says the disciple, ‘how can this be the secret?’ The old woman looks at him and says ‘There are three secrets to transformation: awareness, awareness and awareness.’

The disciple staggers back down the mountain, hot and tired, and on the way he does indeed becomes aware: of his feeling of irritation with that damn hermit!

He begins to bring this awareness into his daily life and becomes increasingly aware of his reactions, his feelings, his thoughts, his actions. And once the habit of awareness is ingrained in him, he is able to be aware also of his love for himself and others, and of his love for the world and the sacred. And then he is able to meet himself and others in full compassion and awareness.


Living a balanced life seems to me a big part of transforming our lives. If we ate ice-cream at every meal or lettuce at every meal, we’d definitely be unbalanced. The same with our actions, our thoughts and our emotions.

And the only way to test our balance is to do the mental equivalent of sticking our arms out: to practice awareness.

It doesn’t need a huge amount of mental space, and it gets to be a habit quite quickly. Just check in with yourself lightly and often. What are you feeling, what are you thinking, what are you about to do or avoid doing? Be especially aware of any feeling of dread of defiance in the pit of your stomach: you know the feeling I mean. Be aware of feelings of heaviness or lightness. Be aware of joy and sorrow. Be aware of attacks of stubbornness and reluctance.

Paralysis by analysis

The trick is not to dive down into your feelings, thoughts and actions and analyse what they might mean until you’re heartily sick of them.

The trick is simply to practice awareness. Everything else, including beautiful balance in your life, will follow.

(Disclaimer: I’m still a student on this path, but this is a very helpful one!)

Which parts of your life deserve illuminating with awareness?

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4 Responses to Where do you need to find balance?

  1. Wonderful insights here and helpfully provocative!! Thanks, Tess. In answer to the question, what deserves illuminating with more awareness, I’d say everyday, seemingly unimportant experience: waiting for a bus, buying groceries, putting a bandaid on a scrape, doing the wash.

    It’s interesting that the seeker in the story wants ultimate truth to be more secretive. If it is so easily available, so simple, so immediately at hand, then why doesn’t everyone know it? It is said that the great masters never traffic in difficult to obtain commodities, and yet their teachings are rare and exceedingly valuable. The closest thing we might have to that irony manifest in our culture is in the arts, not the great masterpieces but the crafts, especially pottery. Or if literary, haiku poetry — three lines with just a few easily imaginable expressions and there we are, enlightenment at hand. But there is a special balance in the form too — a single subject, an everyday action, a simple result — you couldn’t get any more down to earth, more stable or balanced than Basho’s classic poem =

    An ancient pond —
    a frog jumps in —
    the sound of the water !!

    awareness, awareness, awareness

    • Sarah, I think you’re spot on with the human desire that we have to kind of crack a secret code, or there’s no worth in what we’ve gained.
      And yes, those moments in the ordinary, and crafts. These all feel very important to me.

  2. Ah. I just had a conversation with my husband and a friend last night about awareness. The friend thought awareness to be very important. I thought that it’s not enough by itself, that if awareness does not prompt compassionate behavior, then we should work on changing the behavior first. I’ve seen research stating that attitudes and emotions often follow behaviors, rather than the converse, which tends to be the accepted wisdom.

    When I do practice awareness (I’m a student at this, like you) — I do tend to behave more compassionately toward others. I also believe, though, that of the two things, kind behavior is more important than inner awareness.

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