Two Secrets to a Balanced Life
Is there a person on Earth that does not, at times, experience tension? Yet, we are always in search for calm and peace.
Excellence in everything we do, whether it is personal, social, political, scientific, romantic or professional, is always defined by finding the right balance and harmony, the right symmetry between diverse forces.
Yet, try as we might, tranquility defies us. Who does not struggle, for instance, from the conflict between home life and career? Between your personal standards and the demands of the marketplace? Between the need to survive and the yearning for transcendence? Who has not in some ways compromised their idealism due to the peer and social pressure? In one way or another, we all suffer from various conflicts in our lives. Often these struggles lead to anxiety and other forms of emotional debilitation.
What would we do to eliminate anxiety in our lives, let alone discover the secret to finding balance in all our endeavors?
All tension results from the friction of dual forces rubbing against each other. If there were only one force in our lives there would be no possibility for anxiety. Imbalance by definition means two things that are in a state of disparity with each other. Agitation is a result of being in one place when you aspire to be in another.
Seemingly only two solutions are possible to resolve the tension of life: Either you cease aspiring, hence no more anxiety. Or you resign yourself to the fact that you will also be anxious about things that you cannot acquire.
There is however a third solution. And this lies in understanding that the conflicts in our lives are rooted in forces that are inherently in harmony with each other, yet at some point and for some reason their fusion was ruptured, and they turned against each other.
The secret of balance is, then, about discovering the rhythm that lies within the different forces in our lives. Like a dance, life is about cadence – learning how to navigate the vicissitudes, the rise and fall of the waves.
The ancient mystics teach it to us this way.
All of existence vibrates with pulsating energy. When we learn to recognize it, this energy manifests itself all around us – in light and sound, in your heartbeat and your breath, in your dreams and in your realism, in your tension and your resolve.
The secret of this balance is called “ROTZO AND SHUV”: Tension and resolution, yearning and returning, speaking and listening, exhaling and inhaling, contraction and expansion, action and reaction.
In order to create balance between two states of being – the present state and the one you aspire to – rotzo and shuv serve as a dual, to an fro movement: First you reach and yearn to something greater, then you return and internalize it.
All energy is generated through this dual movement: Like a pumping heart, the contraction is then followed by an expansion that propels the blood to flow through the body. Like an archer drawing back his bow in order to thrust the arrow forward.
The tension in our lives is, then, really a necessary step that propels us to reach a greater place. Our challenge in this process is twofold: 1) To ensure that the tension is healthy, one that is part of a growing process rather than obsessive and demoralizing. 2) To ensure that the tension is measured, tempered and followed by resolution. Once we internalize, we then experience a new rotzo, a yearning to reach yet a higher level, with the inevitable amount of tension this yearning will cause, and then to internalize this new level as well.
And so we climb from one state to a higher one. Rotzo and shuv are the two steps – the dual movement – that allows us to aspire and integrate.
Manifestations of this dual movement abound everywhere. Light, for instance, is an energy that consists of both wave and particle. Modern physics is just beginning to discover that which mystics were always aware of: All of existence consists of a pulsating dance of energy.
Please refer to the articles I wrote last year, The Physics of Chanukah and Chanukah Lite, which explore the dual nature of sound and light, the parallels between physics, psychology and mysticism – all applied in our personal relationships.
The first step in achieving balance is by beginning to recognize and identify the dual forces of particle and wave, rotzo and shuv, in everything around and within us.
The second step is to begin aligning ourselves to the inner rhythm of life.
At birth our bodies and souls are aligned. Like a hand in a glove, a newborn child, like untouched snow, reflects a seamless flow between matter and spirit (body and soul). Witness the symmetric breath of a young child, the perfect heaves of his/her chest as s/he inhales and exhales. But as we grow older and toxins fill our lives (and our lungs), the balance begins to waver, until they reach a state of utter dissonance.
This conflict manifests itself in the perpetual struggle of our lives between spirit and matter – between self-preservation and transcendence, selfishness and selflessness, between the animal soul and the Divine soul.
Indeed, the Kabbalah teaches us that the cosmic order of creation and existence parallels that of a child’s development, in which the first stages maintain a “smooth” balance between “light” and “container,” between energy and matter, wave and particle, rotzo and shuv. As the process evolves, the two forces begin to experience tension and dissonance, until they “explode” in what is known as “shevirat hakeilim” (breaking of the containers). The work that follows is called “tikkun” – the essential mission of our lives: to repair the rift between matter and spirit, and realign them into the seamless whole that they truly are.
This is also the central theme of the story of the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, in this week’s Torah portion. The twins represent the two forces of matter (body) and energy (spirit), particle and wave, rotzo and shuv. The battle between them reflects the existing tension between these two poles. But inherently they are twins – in need of and complementing each other. And ultimately, they will reconcile and achieve complete integration (see The Plot Thickens).
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As an exercise, create two columns on a piece of paper. In the first column list examples of “rotzo” in you life – experiences that cause you anxiety and tension. In the second, list experiences that bring you peace. What aspects of your life are “particle-like” in nature, limited to a specific time and space, and which ones are “wave-like” and all encompassing.
Next, identify an area (or areas) in your life where these two forces act in harmony with each other. Not as two entities, but as one continuous flow, like the throb of the heart, the rhythm of the breath, where the heart’s contraction and expansion and the lung’s exhale and inhale are but two steps of one movement, two notes in one musical composition.
It’s always easier to begin with examples of this rhythm in our professional lives – in music or the arts, in business or science, or in any other of our systems that be. The reason for this is because we are more detached and objective about these areas in our lives then the more personal and psychological ones, where we will encounter emotional resistance to getting beyond our anxieties and fears.
Once we begin to recognize patterns of the pulsating dance within life around us, we can then recognize by contrast the areas in our lives where the imbalance still prevails. This helps us apply the same principle of rhythm and symmetry to the more tenuous areas in which we encounter emotional resistance.
For next week’s workshop, try the following: Choose an area or system in which you have expertise and identify how its success is dependent on the dual movement of rotzo and shuv. Define how this dual “wave” movement creates balance. Identify its parallels with the dual movement in other systems. It may help to review the articles I mentioned earlier, The Physics of Chanukah and Chanukah Lite for a breakdown on some of the parallels.