Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Sacred Balance

A few years ago, amid the calamitous rush of a crowded mall I stumbled across an island of utter and focused peace: three Tibetan monks, dressed in their characteristic orange togs, were crouched on the mall floor, quietly and diligently creating a mandala. The noise and clatter of the mall melted away as I realized that I was witnessing something sacred.

The monks were essentially creating a sandpainting in the form of a circle that often represents the Universe. The word “mandala” loosely means “circle” and comes from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. It represents wholeness and can be interpreted as a model for the organizational structure of life itself—a cosmic diagram that reminds us of how we are all related to the infinite and an existence that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.
As a biologist I could see the universality of this shape in everything from our planet Earth to the atom. Wherever a centre is found radiating outward and inward, there is wholeness—a mandala; from the celestial circles we call earth, sun and moon to our conceptual circles of friends, family and community. In fact, the psychologist, Carl Jung, saw the mandala as a “representation of the unconscious self” and called it “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.” According to the Tibetan Buddhists the mandala consists of five “excellencies”: teacher; message; audience; site; and time.
As I watched the monks painstakingly create the intricate and brightly colored pattern on the floor using small tubes and rubbing another metal object against the tube’s notched surface to create a tiny flow of grains, I was struck by a realization. I knew that at the end of the day, to symbolize impermanence, the monks would brush the sand together, destroying the intricate pattern they’d just spent hours to create. So, why create, if only to destroy? What does the mandala have to do with balance, you ask? Indeed with sacred balance? Patience, reader…Let me tell you another story…

In his stellar four-part TV series called “Sacred Balance” scientist and broadcaster, Dr. David Suzuki made a startling discovery when he had his heart tested with Dr. Ari Goldberger, Cardiologist at Harvard. When Goldberger mapped Suzuki’s healthy heart tracing to musical notes, what he revealed was that the healthy heart actually finds its own shifting harmony. What emerged was a dancing symphony of complex variability. When Goldberger contrasted the healthy heart tracing with one of a patient who had suffered heart failure, the tuneful variability collapsed into a monotonic repetitious drone.

Said Goldberger, “Health represents a remarkable balance between excessive order on the one hand—things being over-structured—and complete randomness on the other, where there’s physiological anarchy. Healthy systems like to be there; they don’t sit still. They’re always fidgeting. They’re ready for everything.”

I find that as a scientist, environmental consultant, educator, writer, and community member I am always balancing science with art, or science with spirituality…and finding balance in the strangest of places.

We all knowingly or unknowingly strive for balance in our daily lives—that sacred but sometimes messy place where yin and yang joyfully collide: a place and time where the heavenward strain for perfection is tempered with the ponderous scent of soil and dirt… where dark and light blend in a chiaroscuro of infinite possibility…We strive for balance because it is wholeness—the mandala—and wholeness brings us peace, joy and understanding. So, why do so few of us achieve it? I think that is because, ironically, balance incorporates paradox, which is difficult for us to embrace. Balance is complex; it requires creativity, innovation, and an open mind. Because balance is always shifting and redefining itself.

Serge, one of my characters in another upcoming book of mine, “Splintered Universe” has this to say about it: “…somewhere between the infinities of inner and outer universe, these diverses would meet. And at this violent interface you would experience the clash of two worlds boiling with grotesque unimaginable phenomena and seething with paradox: black holes, quasars; intuition, déjà vu, clairvoyance… order in chaos…darkness at the heart of all beauty…a mathematician with faith …the strength of surrender…dying to live…loving your enemy…hurting someone you love….”

Says Suzuki of the sand mandala: “We are the raw material of reality; matter transformed to life. Form comes from nothing and returns there, like the elements that move through the living world, making and unmaking life.”

Black sounds: behind which there abide, in tenderest intimacy, the volcanoes, the ants, the zephyrs, and the enormous night straining its waist against the Milky Way.”
--Federico Garcia Lorca

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Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Another thought-provoking post, Nina. In so many ways, there has to be balance between forces, whether they be nature, life and all around us.

Nina Munteanu said...

I so agree, Jean-Luc...It's finding that personal balance in our daily lives that seems to be the challenge. We are so much affected by the popular flavour of our surroundings, the opinions of our community, the pressures of our peers and the seduction of consumer is difficult to seperate these from one's true self, motives and dreams...

Diane Dehler said...

This is a very beautiful and moving post. -the idea of pursuing a mandala will follow me into my dreams tonight.

Nina Munteanu said...

Thank you, Princess... That is a wonderful thought... I too will do this tonight, because tonight I sleep the sleep before a wonderful meeting with the Dalai Lama... a meeting on Altruism and Compassion in Economics. I know I will learn a lot and pray for divine wisdom to visit me.
Your friend,