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HOLY GROUNDJanuary 22, 2014
How do we go from burnout to blessing? How do we maintain the elusive balance that can give us a genuine pace of grace? A breath of peace whenever we need it, time for beauty, for prayer and reflection, for play, for free time with family and friends. There is an epidemic of overdoing that has spread throughout the world in the past decades. There has been a kind of urbanization of private life -- the chaos and thrum, the noise and rushing of a big city penetrating even the smallest town or island. It seems we have identified busyness as the meaning and purpose of life. "Are you busy?" people ask each other, as if that is the measure of a valuable life.
I have been reflecting for many years on the idea that virtues, if carried to excess, can become vices or sins, in the sense of being off the mark. Too much kindness to a tyrant or a thief without accountability, tells them to continue as before. Too much assertiveness without tact can be hurtful when telling people your truth.
To stand on our holy ground, in a place of certitude and confidence, requires us to discern the growth virtues that balance our strengths, the teachable moments that the patterns of our life keep bringing before us. Here are a few steps:
1. Identify your strength or core virtues.
Name five virtues which you have naturally or by practice, developed well. These are the virtues you can rely on in yourself and they come when you need them.
2. Reflect on what happens when you take them too far.
One might say you can never love too much, but love can morph into possessiveness, obsession or jealousy, whether love of an individual or an idea. Genuine love requires balancing virtues such as detachment and independence. Contrary to the idealized western version of romance, personal love doesn't mean two people merging into one. To be whole, we need both intimacy and solitude. Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: "... once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as whole before an immense sky."
When you think about it, even the virtue of Unity, so badly needed in our world today, can become excessive, if it turns into people-pleasing, or peace at any price. It must be balanced with Justice for each individual and Assertiveness as well. Unity does not mean conformity. It is a coming together in our diverse ways, respecting our differences while focusing on our common purpose, but not demanding rigid compliance. It is agreeing on guiding principles and faithfully abiding by boundaries set by the group.
3. Identify the growth virtues you need to cultivate in order to balance each of your strength virtues.
A colleague recently consulted me about this, and realized he needed to balance his strength virtue of Idealism - big dreams, big vision - with Self-discipline. As Stuart Schroeder of Canada Corrections Chaplaincy once told me, "The difference between the dream and the vision is the work plan."
One of the imbalances I have experienced and also witness in many others is Compassion and Caring for others at the expense of self-care. What happens is that we drain ourselves dry for a cause or a person we love, and continue trying to give care when we are operating on empty. This can turn into compassion fatigue, exhaustion, depression or resentment -- not at all what we had in mind. So we need the Assertiveness to set boundaries around our self-care, our own rest, our own Joy, activities that restore us, and Trust that it is not all up to us. This requires us to detach from control which too often accompanies care and go with the flow, balancing our need to give and our need to receive, our need to care and our need to retreat. It isn't really all up to us anyway!
4. Begin to consciously practice balancing the virtues you have identified.
One of the most classic examples of balancing virtues is Forgiveness and Justice. I heard His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak of how we can forgive as long as we promise to be guardians of Justice so that an offense doesn't keep happening. We must protect ourselves by walking a clear path of Justice. This is spiritually best not only for the victim but for the perpetrator. Setting clear boundaries around our own emotional, physical and spiritual safety is essential. It is a way to make amends to ourselves for allowing people to drain our energy or violate us in some way. It is as simple and powerful as making a personal commitment to ourselves and then keeping it.
As we experience the dynamic balance of virtues, we can feel the solidity -- the Certitude -- of standing on our holy ground, living by our deepest truth.