Yin and yang, dark and light, soft and hard, cold and hot, female and male. Working with these opposing characteristics everyday makes the world go round and mat practice interesting. We harness their balance to create an effect. And of what worth is one without the foil of the other? There can be no appreciation for light without the contrast of what is dark. Of what value would chiaroscuro be without contrasts?
How light is a feather without comparing it to the heaviness of, for example, a brick? Unless a pound of feathers is equal to a pound of bricks, then a pound is a pound is a pound. Let’s take a look at dragons, for example. Smaug, the dragon in the hobbit, is a western born dragon. By that, I mean, he was conceptualized by someone from the West. Smaug was grasping, greedy, exceedingly proud and exceedingly destructive; a total manic gold-hoarder. Eastern dragons, on the other hand, are usually regarded as benevolent beings, bringing rain to parched land, teaching man the arts. The eastern dragon usually guards a pearl . Just one pearl, not a hoard of pearls. A creature much revered for its wisdom and elusiveness . Same creatures, but polar opposites.
Cultures are like that, as well.
In my line of work, I have met a lot of people from different countries. For some cultures, smiles are few and far between, sometimes they are even considered a sign of weakness . Being brusque to the point of being rude and firm is the norm. It takes some getting used to, but I have to try to understand, since I was born and raised in a city of smiles. I smiled at someone once who misunderstood it for disrespect. Since I cannot vow never to smile again, I simply and sincerely apologized.
It is the same with eye contact. In some places, a direct eye contact indicates you are open to conversation, in other places, direct eye contact is considered an affront and could get you into trouble. So many differences and opposites that it could drive a body to hermit-dom.
We try to establish a balance of these opposites to allow us to be ourselves yet operate in a world that might not be as understanding as our birthplace culture.
It is a delicate on-going process in our day to day existence. I tend to liken the situation to a tightrope walker, wherein the tightrope is the life you want to live, and it is the tightrope walker’s job to stay balanced and focused so he can reach the other end safely. He uses his arms, his feet and his body to keep himself on that rope. Whenever he becomes unbalanced, he compensates by moving his arms or feet. But his center of gravity must, at all times, be within his control while on the rope.
It looks easy when you are just watching him do it, but when you try it yourself, you fall after 2-3 seconds. When we watch other people’s lives, it is easy to think “I can do that!” But when the time comes for us to live it, we falter and wonder how they can do it.
Once, a long time ago, while I was out in the field doing some grassroots peace education, I met a very stern and unyielding man. He had grown stern and unyielding from the hardships of farming and poverty. He never cracked jokes, and every attempt at humor me and my friends made fell flat. He was guarded, suspicious and angry. But he was interested collaborating with an education program that would benefit the residents in his area.
And, his eyes softened every time he saw his grandchildren.
Just that. Right there and then, I knew. He wasn’t doing this for himself. He was too old, too set in his ways, too brusque, too angry. He was doing this collaboration for his grandchildren. And it was all there, in just one soft look from one hard and angry man. All the hard work made it all worthwhile, for all of us who were involved in the project. Since he could not do what I can and I could not do what he can, we had to find a way to finish the job without losing his identity nor losing mine.
Sometimes, there is no middle ground, and we have problems reconciling two opposing ends . So it becomes a balancing act of understanding where the other person is coming from and what we can do from our stand point, too. All this trouble, going back and forth, working on working harmoniously together to finish a project must be seasoned liberally with a sense of humor and a willingness to try something new or strange.
We had problems, sometimes, because neither one of us was willing to concede decisions to the other. There were times when one of us had to walk away and take a time out. I realized I could never fully understand being in his shoes, and he bluntly told me, he couldn’t imagine himself to ever be in my position, as well. But we both had the community’s best interest at heart, and neither one of us was going to leave any unfinished business behind. That we were both very stubborn was obvious. We also had to keep the integrity of the project intact despite our differences.
For about 18 months we were seesawing with working it all out, that when we finally came to a mutually satisfying plan of action and an even better execution, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment, relief, joy and fulfillment at the closing celebration.
When all was done, and it was time for me to leave, in the end, seeing that man’s smile was my own secret reward.
(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)