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Every time I sit on my bike and IÆm ready to turn the key, I think how wild it is that IÆm going for a ride on a vehicle with only two wheels. Sure I understand the physics (as much as our human minds are capable of doing so) of the gyroscopic effect of a fast spinning wheel and the power of centrifugal force. But I still donÆt take it for granted for some reason; itÆs too bizarre. I can go back thirty-five years or so when my neighbor Karen, a big, ten-year-old Swedish blonde, ætaughtÆ me, a five-year-old, how to ride a bicycle. Her technique (nothing against the Swedes) was to prop me on the big old Huffy with balloon tires while I held the handlebars with all my strength and centered my feet on the pedals. Next, sheÆd give me a running shove from the top of the driveway of our apartment complex, and IÆd be on my way. It all seemed straightforward enough. The faster IÆd pedal the smoother the ride. I remember I liked the feeling of the breeze in my face even back then. I felt freefree from the adults, free from all the siblings at home, free like a bird. This sensation lasted all of fifteen seconds before I realized I wasnÆt free from certain laws of physics, and I smashed squarely into the garage door. Karen hadnÆt taught me about brakes yet.
Balance goes beyond the ability to not topple over. I see so many people seeking balance who are caught in the duality trapviewing life as an either/or predicamentfalling over or not falling over. I liken it to my initial bike-riding experience. I learned the essence of the Ride lies in balancing the multitude of factors that you face in life. The duality traphow many times do we see only two alternatives to a situation? Winning or losing, good or bad, black or white.
This is the appeal of superficially understanding yin and yang. The tai chi symbol, the symbol of the Taoists, depicts black and white as two opposing forces or aspects or dynamics in any system. One of my favorite and beloved teachers, the ninty-two-year-old Master Duan Zhi Liang of Beijing, hates even looking at this symbol because of what it leads people to think. As a Chinese Qigong healer [pronounced chee gung, itÆs an ancient exercise and healing systemG. G.] and martial arts expert, Master DuanÆs true gift is flexibility, both physical and mental, so limits of any kind really set him off. He always speaks of the æperceivedÆ limitation that people construct and how that keeps them from living and enjoying life. Because of this perception that most people hold of limits, they get the wrong idea of lifeÆs essence from the yin yang symbol. Everything is in a state of flux and chaos, Master Duan would remind me. Gaining balance within this chaos means accepting that nothing is only what it seems. Things are never just æblack and white.Æ The tendency of human nature though is to simplify and assume comprehension. This is most magnified in the scientific didactic outlook on life. To see two opposing forces at odds with each other is to feed a dualistic paradigm that can dramatically limit your growth and outlook on life.
The Tao Te Ching, the twenty-five-hundred-year-old book attributed to ChinaÆs ancient sage Lao Tsu, is one of the key texts of Taoism. Taoism lies at the core of most Chinese philosophical concepts. It states that from the One comes the great tai chi, yin and yang, the dark and the light. From this concept sprouts the symbol depicting everything from the Taoist religion and the Korean flag to the surfer subculture. The important aspect to notice on the true depiction of this symbol is the black dot within the white area and the white dot within the black area. I thank my teacher and Taoist friend, Master Wan Su Jian, for introducing me to Master Li at the Shi Fan Yuan temple up in the mountains of Hebei province in China. Master LiÆs fluency in the edicts, history and principles of Taoism make him a valuable teacher in the area of yin and yang. He explains that a seed of dark always exists within the white, and a seed of white always exists within the dark. Viewing life in this way, we can free ourselves from the duality trapseeing only two sides fighting for superiorityand begin to move toward a much more fluid interpretation of the universe as we know it. When we recognize the imbedded nature of light within dark, and vice versa, lines of demarcation disappear. More options open in our life. Everything takes on its essential nature of dynamismas opposed to the static of either/orand we can feel the infinite nature of existence. To me, infinite refers to possibilities. We canÆt intellectually comprehend infinity, but we can know freedom and that comes with removing the boundaries that define the limits that bind us. Balance lets us see this freedom.
I weave my way down Topanga Canyon, letting the gears of my bike put enough drag on my speed so I can surf down the curves like a bird in flight. I live on top of a mountain in these hills just south of Malibu, and itÆs one of the great gifts in my life. Easing onto Pacific Coast Highway as the Canyon opens up to the ocean gives me a rush every time . . . the first time I felt it here was over twenty years ago. Mountains and oceanearth and waterthe Chinese consider this balanced relationship good æfeng shui,Æ a good interrelationship between existing elements. When elementsseen by the Chinese as dynamic players and not just static objectsare in a harmonious relationship, a good flow of Qi is facilitated.
Qi (pronounced chee) is the word the Chinese use to describe energy in its many manifestations from bioelectric vitality within our bodies to eco-natural movement all around us. Keep this Qi moving, keep it in balance through movement and deep breathing, and health in all its forms is promoted. In the traditional Chinese medical model, pain and disease comes from blocked Qi flow within your body. Get a clog in your gas line and itÆs no different for your bike. A motorcycle is a good mirror for seeing what goes on inside me. IÆve always seen life as a mirror in this way: What you see in others and in things around you is a pretty clear reflection of whatÆs going on inside you. Since this is usually a lousy stance to take, most people donÆt agree with me, but consider a few things . . .
Did you ever wake up in the morning feeling rotten and the first thing you do is slam your toe against the dresser trying to find your lost left sock as you spill coffee on the only clean pair of jeans you have? Then you get on the freeway and nobody is using turn signals that day and youÆre late for a meeting you donÆt even want to go to.
Now, what about the morning you wake up exhilarated and in love with everything, you look in the mirror and actually think you look halfway decent, savor your breakfast and find five bucks in your pocket. You get on the road and before you know it, youÆre at work, someone opens the door for you, everyone gives you a smile, and you cruise through the day like the script was written for you for a change. Hmmm . . . call it chance? I donÆt think so, though it sure is an easy way out of responsibility. If you donÆt accept that the world, and what happens around you, reflects your thoughts and your moods, then you donÆt have to take any responsibility for the world, your actions or your attitude. IsnÆt that nice?
Responsibility can be looked at as the æability to respond.Æ My first real teacher of Eastern spirituality, Thane Walker, pounded that into my rebellious eighteen-year-old head when I went to study with him for a couple of years in Hawaii. If life mirrors our inner workings, our hope is to pursue a balance, a conscious resonance between reflections of our outer and inner worlds. As a ChÆan (Zen) Buddhist Master with a respect for the Tao, but who was also trained in Western medicine, Thane taught that this balance is the key to living a full and healthy life. The world is our mirror, our barometer that gives us the reading on our balance, or imbalance as the case may be. If things are lousy, it might be time to stop blaming and begin to take responsibility. ItÆs time to ærespondÆ to the signs around you.
With this viewpoint, balance begins to take on a new framework that expands from the ægolden meanÆ directive of Greco-Roman philosophy. This was a principle that spoke of avoiding excess and living in moderation. The new and metaphysical approach focuses on remaining conscious of how we go æout of balanceÆ as we explore our limits. ItÆs part of being alive to push the envelope, this is how we grow. Sometimes by mistakes and sometimes by sheer willpower. The Tao teaches that it really doesnÆt matter how something happened, just that it happened. The trick is to stay awake and aware as much as you can while itÆs happening. If you get really wasted from partying a little too much, it might be hard to stay awake, but you get the idea. Even pushing your limits in that way doesnÆt seem too destructive when you know that youÆre doing it. I only see the danger signs in people when they continually are æout of whack,Æ out of balance and have no clue that they are teetering and preparing to crash.
The way of balance is to stay conscious and responsible for your adventures into the extreme and know what it takes to counterweight the experience. This may be a funny and commonsense way to look at things, but itÆs wild to see how foreign this is for many people. Seeking balance might mean taking a week or two off from heavy partying. What about taking quiet time to reflect and center yourself when the world just gets to be too much? I watch my friends forget this and wait until they get to that point where they begin to hate the world . . . and maybe themselves in the process. The goal is to balance your view of reality. This view either places your identity within your æego sphereÆ or within your æworld-you-view sphere.Æ
Another way to see this is to start becoming conscious of the times you perceive yourself as a single person against the world. Then, watch for the times you see yourself as an integral energy working together with everyone and everything around you. By finding the balance between these perceptions, I think we truly start to live. To be free and spiritual at home but bent and tense at work is a painful disintegration. I watch countless people spending half their life being one way and half their life being the other. We can be so context driven, acting one way in front of family and another way with friends, and another way at work. This is what drives us nuts. We intuitively know itÆs out of balance, but we justify it as the æway it is.Æ I think thatÆs a cop-out. ItÆs just another way we lie to ourselves to avoid facing our fears and frustrations.
ThereÆs something about being alone on a bike, cruising down the road in the silence of a loud engine and pounding wind. In these moments, everything can seem perfect. We are elevated from the pressures of life, removed from the responsibilities. No one and nothing can touch us. You begin to wonder why the ride ever has to end, why you have to return to things the way they are. You wonder why the rest of your life canÆt be like this. Everyone who has something that takes them away from the apparent mundane can relate to this sensation. In those moments of frustration, we feel like there isnÆt any sense to life; there isnÆt any balance between the stolen minutes of peace and the chaos of the everyday. In these very moments, I learn most about the balancing act.
Why should your time riding be so coveted? Yeah, I know the obvious, and no oneÆs going to take that private time from me. But why canÆt I take more of that buzz, more of what happens to my spirit in those moments of reverie and awareness, and infuse it into the rest of my routine? To find this is the essence of balance. It is to know that the ride doesnÆt stop when you get off the bike.
Balance is about remaining centered. Centered in that place that is our true self. ItÆs about remaining conscious and aware when we are playing roles. In this game of life, roles are crucial to our existence and can be fun when we stay awake while weÆre in them. When we see we arenÆt the ærolesÆ but the one assuming them, everything changes. When we maintain balance as we shift back and forth, with both eyes open, we honor our individualityan important part of the Ridewhile being wholly integrated as æroleÆ and ærole-player.Æ This is the beginning of the MasterÆs Game, the path of the Sage.
¬1998. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Tao of the Ride by Garri Garripoli. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.