Have you ever tried doing a headstand, handstand or just stood on one leg and found it challenging to balance? Now close your eyes and try that. Wobbly? Balance is something we all strive for, and from an ayurvedic and yogic perspective it is about the understanding that balance is really a practice in present moment awareness.
Recently I was walking along the famed seawall path by Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada. A stunning vista off English Bay reminded me of the peace and awe that nature brings. I was immersed in this thought when I looked out over the beach and saw a silhouette of statuesque birds perching ever so still on the rocks. On a closer glance I realized they were stones and noticed a man intently stacking them to create these masterpieces of balance – balancing them so impossibly that the mind insisted they were glued. I walked down off the wall onto the beach and was inspired to learn how such miraculous balance could be achieved.
The Zen Master of Rock Balancing
This master of balance on the beach was John Shaver and he shared some profound thoughts on life, focus, present state awareness and yoga on the rocks.
I asked John why he chose to perfect this particular art of balancing stones and what his message was. He told me that when he was a little boy he had seen an old man doing a similar kind of thing; he was told that it was to remind people that anything is possible - something that so many seem to have forgotten. John kept trying his hand at rock balancing and could not achieve this for a long time but he never gave up. He became practiced in the art of focus and just being in the moment.
Listening to John and reflecting on his words made me think that this whole thing about striving for balance is a bit of a contradiction. We don't really strive for balance or try to control anything in the moment.
“I kind of equate it to melting into it so you're not a thing anymore you're just of the moment. If you focus on any one thing at any time and then lose attention or have knowledge that something else is there and you are distracted, then inevitably something drops on your foot,” he said.
For us yogis on the mat it may not be a rock on our foot but we may topple over in tree pose or burn our ghee on the stove or totally miss the important message in a story a friend may be sharing with us.
The Mystery Revealed
John makes these cairns into birds. In the distance they really do look like birds but when people get closer they realize they are balanced rocks and observers often think they are glued. When they reach John, the mystery is revealed and they look on with amazement.
“This balance is attained from deep focus and inner clarity but I don't know what the limit is - the plateau - I don't think there is one personally. I think it's just a never-ending wonderful feeling of being in moments and moments and moments for eternity. Approach everything with an open mind but with a knowledge that everything will balance if you just allow it to instead of trying to make it happen.You know what I mean?" he asked.
I think we all know what John means and here’s the truth: We cannot fake presence. We either are present or we are not. It is a practice that becomes deeper with time and with focus and with that we can attain such peaceful rock stacking, posture balancing, ghee making, and deep listening.
You’ll Die One Day
John told me he creates these bird-like balancing rocks to remind people who they are. He says it could be complex with many stones balanced one on top of the other or it could be just one simple balancing stone.
“When you start to understand that this stone you are drawn to represents who you are, you also have to understand that this stone could fall at any moment for any reason.”
And then John added quite nonchalantly, “And you'll die one day.”
Wow, we know this but when we hear those words it’s rather jarring. He tells people this so they understand that right now is the most important moment of their life.
The water was lapping on the beach and everything just seemed like it was completely perfect as it should be in the moment. As I thanked John for sharing his experience with present moment awareness, he described an evening ritual where he lights about 150 candles all around the stones and plays soft jazz on the radio. He reminds me that this is always dependent on the tides, the wind and the weather, always dictated by how nature moves.
And then almost as if talking directly to his family of rocks, John quietly whispered, “You can’t control all of this; you can only be in the moment.”
Glynnis Osher, BA, CAP (Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner) is a passionate teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner specializing in lifestyle practices, aromatherapy, nutrition and Indian head massage. Glynnis is founder of The Mystic Masala Ayurvedic Aromatherapy and Thousand Petal Lotus Indian Head Massage in Vancouver, BC. Glynnis inspires her students and clients to discover their own unique healing path through the sensual wisdom and beauty of aromatic Ayurveda.
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