During this time of the Vernal Equinox, I have been reflecting on balance. The Equinoxes are moments of perfect balance between light and dark. They are the only times of the year when the whole Earth and all her people experience the same amount of light and dark. From the poles to the equator, everywhere there is balance and unity.
When I look around at our society, there seems to be so little balance. Everywhere I turn there are extremes and polarization. I see the extreme wealth of some, and the extreme poverty of others. Here in the United States, the gap between the very, very wealthy and the very, very poor is growing and growing. Around the world, that gap is even greater.
I see people struggling with a commitment to work and a commitment to rest, self-care, and family, in a world that gives confusing and competing messages about what our priorities ought to be. I see a society that tells us all, but especially women, to be extremely thin, while also bombarding us with foods that are designed to be impossible to stop eating. Did you know that Ben & Jerry’s and Weight Watchers are now both owned by the same international corporation?
Politically, we seem caught between the extremes as well. On nearly every political issue, our society is getting more and more extreme and polarized, and our ability to come to any kind of balance, consensus, or even compromise seems to get weaker and weaker every day.
One of the political struggles is between the goal of individual freedom and the goal of common good. We can see this struggle now in the conversation about how to respond to gun violence. I know that the struggle between the worth and the rights of the individual and the building of the common good is sometimes a struggle within congregations as well.
Into all this bewildering and frustrating polarity, into this landscape of competing extremes, comes the moment of the equinox, calling us back to a place of balance. At this time of balance, I am reminded of the origins of the Buddhist way. Having experienced extreme wealth, and having been sheltered from awareness of suffering of all kinds Siddhartha, who would become the Buddha, suddenly saw poverty, disease, and death. This shocked him, and he left his life as a prince in order to find enlightenment. For years, he tried to find enlightenment by the other extreme, eating almost nothing and denying himself every comfort and pleasure. When this also failed to bring him what he sought, he tried a new way. He began eating again, and eventually, he sat under a Bodhi tree in meditation until he achieved enlightenment. When he began teaching, he told his followers that theirs was a middle way. One of the things this means is that it was a way in between extreme asceticism and extreme indulgence.
Buddhism is not the only religion that can call us back to a place of balance. There are practices and traditions in many faiths that can help us in our quest to find a life of balance. I encourage you to find the resources in your own tradition that will help you as you look for ways to bring balance to your own life.
We need both light and darkness; we need a world where everyone has enough and no one has too much; we need both work and family and rest; we need both freedom and community. In this time of polarization and extremes, we need a middle way. We need a way of balance.
At this time of the balance of light and dark, may we be inspired and encouraged to find the balance in our own lives, and to help to restore balance in our world.
Rev. Erica Baron is pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington