Can you remember those precious moments in your life when you felt so ecstatically whole and in balance that it brought tears to your eyes? The great poet Kabir once wrote:
"Between the conscious and unconscious, the mind has put up a swing; all earth creatures, even supernovas, sway between these two trees, and it never winds down. Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also the wheeling sun and moon; ages go by, and it goes on. Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire and the secret one is slowly growing a body. Kabir saw this for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life."
At rare and precious times in each of our lives, we catch a glimpse of the exquisite balance we call "grace." If you are an athlete, you might describe this experience as being in "the zone." For others, such an event is regarded as a "peak experience." And for those with a more spiritual orientation, such rapturous moments of unity and wholeness may be reverently regarded as "moments of grace" or as "spontaneous communion with the sacred Source" -- by whatever name you call it. These are times when balance is realized in its fullness across all dimensions of our being.
Kabir saw this for fifteen seconds, and each of us in our own ways -- in the rare and precious moments in our lives -- have also caught a glimpse of unity and wholeness beyond description. In one of our favorite accounts, Mary Austin remembers:
"I must have been five or six when this experience happened to me. It was a summer morning, and the child I was had walked down through the orchard alone and come out on the brow of a sloping hill where there was grass and a wind blowing and one tall tree reaching into the infinite immensities of blueness. Quite suddenly, after a moment of quietness there, earth and sky and tree and wind-blown grass and the child in the midst of them came alive together with a pulsating light of consciousness. To this day I can recall the swift inclusive awareness of each for the whole -- I in them and they in me and all of us enclosed in a warm lucent bubble of livingness. I remember the child looking everywhere for the source of this happy wonder, and at last she questioned: 'God?' because that was the only awesome word she knew. And then, deep inside, like the murmurous ring of a bell, she heard the answer: God, God."
Can you remember a time when your tiny bubble of self cracked open, dissolved or expanded, when your inner and outer worlds touched, communicated and unified? Can you remember the exquisite moments of love, peace and wholeness, when boundaries dissolved, and you beheld yourself and your world as radiant and alive with a sacred Presence?
- What stands out to you when you recall them?
- What qualities of being were most alive for you then?
- What inner or outer factors seem to make you receptive to this sublime balance?
- What inner or outer factors seem to reduce your availability to such grace?
- How have these timeless moments lived on for you or influenced how you have chosen to live your life?
- How did those experiences influence how you relate to other people or other living creatures?
Grace is found in both intense peace and activity. Polls tell us that a third of us -- your friends, family and coworkers -- have had a profound or life-altering religious or mystical experience. In reality, this unnamable mystery is as close to us as water is to waves. Even if we don't talk about it, even if we don't have the vocabulary to discuss it, there have been moments in most of our lives when, for a timeless moment, the fabric of the story we tell ourselves dissolved to reveal that, in truth, we are both particle and wave, wave and ocean.
As Saul demonstrated on the road to Damascus, and as countless others have experienced giving birth, playing sports, in nature, in love, or driving down the road on the way to work, we are utterly unable to protect ourselves from spontaneous moments of grace.
Often when we lecture on this topic, we will sometimes conduct an informal poll. We'll ask, How many of you have experienced moments of grace when you were alone? How many have touched or shared such a moment with another person? With an animal? How many have experienced such exquisite balance in a moment of safety or peace? How many in moments of danger or intensity? How many of you have experienced a moment of profound balance while in nature? How many while at work? How many when you were very young? And how many when you were older? Our poll has made it crystal clear that any time, any place, with the next step, or the next breath, we may tumble out of the chaos and confusion and into the spiritual balance of grace.
In these precious and timeless moments, it is as though a key is turned, unlocking and opening a quality of being and experience that is both profoundly familiar, and wondrously liberating. Something inside of us releases, lets go, and says "yes" in its belonging to the mystery. These moments of grace have much to teach us about the true nature of balance. We learn about living more effortlessly, with a sense of flow and a joy that at times may be profoundly peaceful, though often intense beyond imagination. What emerges is an exhilarating sense that whatever this larger reality is, it is here in its wholeness with us in every moment.
What is unusual is not these moments of grace themselves -- we are multidimensional beings, who live mostly unaware of the totality of ourselves. What is unusual is that we seem to live in a culture that, until recently, has been very shy about speaking openly of experiences that lie beyond the stifling confines of our status quo reality.
Yet, as the stress and pressures in our busy lives increase, and more and more people are feeling unbalanced, in ill health or out of control, and as we watch our children and parents growing older, these instances are signposts reminding us of our deep belonging, and the sense of profound inner peace that is only a breath away.
Moments of grace deepen our faith that it truly is possible to live in balance with the spirit of wholeness that is the source of all life. And they strengthen our aspiration to live our lives in a way that are likely to bring more balance into our turbulent world.
As Brother David Steindl-Rast reminds us, "To those among us who have entered into this mystery through faith it need not be explained; to others it cannot be explained ... but to the extent to which we have given room in our hearts to gratitude, we all have a share in this reality, by whatever name we may call it ... All that matters is that we enter into that passage of gratitude and sacrifice, the passage which leads us to integrity within ourselves, to concord with one another and to union with the very source of life."
When we touch times of profound balance we are given a glimpse of who and how we are at the core of our being. Even if only glimpsed for a few seconds, they may guide and inspire a lifetime that seeks to bring wholeness alive. "Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire, and the secret one is slowly growing a body." When we find ourselves in balance and see this, like Kabir, it makes us a servant for life.