It took until Wednesday to return to center. One minute I am peacefully gazing out on blue waters, warm sun and a gentle breeze caressing my face and the next I am thrown into the chaos of international airports, delayed flights, missed connections and pre-dawn check-ins to less than desirable hotels all at the behest of ticket agents that range from more than accommodating to angrily not one bit helpful. Experiencing these extremes within a twenty-four-hour period is more than the body is meant to take, I was thinking. Center is a relative thing, of course, and less elusive when the shifts traverse a shorter distance from it before turning back on themselves in the opposite direction. The back-and-forth movement of a typical day crosses the center point many times, rarely still for more than a moment. We call this place of stasis ‘balance’ and we strive for it continuously, ignoring the reality that it barely exists in comparison to the rest.
Today is the vernal equinox – this morning actually, at 11:33 a.m. It is that time of year when day and night are purported to be in perfect balance, equal amounts of each in the twenty-four-hour cycle that is our days. And there are stories about this state of perfect equilibrium which suggest that you can balance an egg at this precise moment – and only this moment, according to some accounts due to the gravitational pull being equal in all directions. Back in February I decided to test the myth. I took a dozen eggs out of the refrigerator. All the guidance for this exercise advises that you place your egg on a cloth surface so that if it falls and rolls it won’t be lost in the process, making an eggy mess. I spread my dishtowel on the counter. It took the better part of the dozen to accomplish my goal of myth-busting, so I can’t attribute my success to the towel beneath the egg. But there it was, as evidenced in the slide you saw earlier, standing on its wider end quite comfortably, at least a month before the equinox!
It turns out that I am not the first to bust the myth. It is actually pretty common knowledge that with a little effort you can balance an egg most any time of the year. And I learned some things about the equinox in this endeavor. On both of the equinoxes the sun is exactly above the equator, passing directly east and west at twelve-hour intervals creating this idea of equality. Then I read that there is not an equal amount of daylight and night experienced, but that day is, in reality, a little longer. Because our atmosphere causes light to refract or to bend, we see the sun a couple of minutes before it rises over the horizon. The same thing happens when it sets. On top of that I learned that the distance between the autumnal and spring equinoxes is shorter than that of the spring to fall because our orbit is not a circle, but an ellipse – like an egg - and our spinning is not uniform or fixed in space. This movement – the precession of the equinox – is a wobbling motion around the earth’s axis caused by differential gravitational forces of the sun and the moon. So much for our ideas about balance and equilibrium and perfect centers!
With the sun having come halfway from its lowest path in the sky to its highest we have this notion that all inhabitants of the earth are experiencing this phenomenon of equal proportions and take it as a reminder of our commonality as one humanity on this vast plane. We attribute importance to this idea of the oneness of all people’s – that we are grounded in this one simple truth of our existence as beings on this planet and that from that knowledge we can move forward in ways that honor each other regardless of differences. And I don’t want to devalue this concept, but I also want us to be mindful of the differences and hold them up as valid, too. Because there are far more of these than the one commonality, moving left and right, up and down, in all directions out from this center point, crossing over it throughout time, just as our earth does in its elliptical dance around the sun. When we get stuck on centering everything and everyone we leave little room for the beauty of diversity our living and thinking and ways of being in the world.
It seems to me that we have defined normal as this state of balance, when in reality, the normal lies in the journey out and back and out again. When we consider normal to be stasis, we give power to inaction over movement. Having just returned from vacation it occurs to me that I have given more weight to that rather quiet state of rest – that this is what I am striving for, when in truth it is an extreme based in somewhat magical thinking about what life should be. It’s nice, but it’s not normal.
Those of us who meditate know this in between state to be fleeting at best. The goal is not to get there and stay there, but instead to return there from wherever our minds take us. And take us they will! But the imbalance we experience forces readjustments and gives us opportunities to learn new ways of responding to life’s evolution. When our minimum expectation is perfection, defined as balance, we are sure to be dissatisfied in the long run! Our culture though, seems to pull us in this direction as opposed to acknowledging the natural shifts that allow us to create and recreate our lives and our world. We end up seeing ourselves and our world as less than ideal when the ideal just needs a fresh look. Movement, shifting, turning, wobbling – all of it gives life to our living. Entering into the dance is where its at, even if we are sometimes less than graceful, which we will inevitably be.
In considering the extremes of my final day away I began to think about how out of proportion our world has become. Our planet is on a regular path even with its imbalances. The path of humanity though, strikes me as having leaned so far in one direction that when it crosses back over center the place where it passes is not equidistant from its outermost point. It feels like we are spinning a bit out of control at times, changing our overall trajectory in ways that are disconcerting, painful to watch, harmful to each other and to our planet, giving rise to anxiousness and its accompanying sense of urgency. Maybe this is just that tendency to awaken us and draw us back into cycles that do not stray so far, to balance our eggs and begin again in response. I am drawn to imagining what next is being asked of me in order to keep the seesaw rocking back and forth in equal proportion. Is there too much difference in the weights on either side of the equation? Is too much or too little power being exerted on one end or the other? Is this a metaphor for human relations? Of course, it is!
We have spent a lot of time in the past two years talking about returning to normal and creating a new normal and I wonder what we mean by normal when we say those things. It is possible, likely even, that each of us has a different notion of what that is. We have been pulled to extremes – so much loss of life in this pandemic and so much creativity and goodness in response; our heightened awareness of racial inequities that have been in existence in our culture for so long and the efforts to understand our history and our roles in order to bring healing; the misuse of power in overtaking nations and peoples with seemingly little regard for life and the outpouring of resources to counter such callousness and wrong. It is exhausting to keep pulling so hard in order to keep us on a path of love and life.
I am often in favor of doing little things to bring some modicum of healing to our human condition. They add up and are more realistic in scope. They make a difference somehow, somewhere and lend a sense of satisfaction that keeps me from giving up. This is the time of year when I begin to think about my garden. Wendell Berry, in our reading this morning, composts the prior season’s refuse, that which is no longer of use to him, pours out his heart and covers it over, that a rich mulch might form and nourish what comes next. My garden is small in scope, but supplements what is more easily purchased. It gets my hands into the soil and connects me with our earth home. I thought we might engage in a little exercise ourselves here at the Meeting House that could serve to rebalance the path, so I gathered an assortment of seeds – vegetables, flowers, and herbs. I want to invite each of you to take a packet today and to plant it in your yard or on your patio in a pot or on your windowsill if that’s what you have. I want to invite you to nurture that plant or two or more through to harvest time and then to share that bounty with someone who has need – maybe a local food pantry or a neighbor who could use a kind gesture. And all the while I want us to think about the dance of balancing our journey as it makes its wobbly way through the universe, to think about the dance as normal even as we relish the centered moments of rest.
On this day of mythical understandings may we find comfort in the stillness and the movement both.
Blessed be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, March 20, 2022