Thursday, April 14, 2016

Walking with my father, across these gentle Perthshire hills...balance in life.

"Walking with my father, across these gentle Perthshire hills..." The words are from a lovely song by Dougie MacLean. A couple of days ago, Joan and I were out walking, not in the Perthshire hills, but in the Angus Glens. My dad wasn't walking with us on this outing. He's been gone for twenty years now...but he wasn't far away. I could feel his presence. He would have enjoyed the day very much. We walked many miles together when I was growing up. Mostly he would talk...about nature, about the stars, about the need to spend time outside. He would tell tall tales that I actually believed...well mostly. He and my mum believed in balance, and they demonstrated it with the way they lived. Nothing gives greater balance in life than the effort of making a connection with nature. But, of course, there's more to it.

Balance is really an evenness of mind. It's a feeling of equilibrium, of mental poise. It's a place of harmony and wonder. Balance keeps us steady, and safeguards us from being overwhelmed when life's "rocks and roots" boldly threaten to trip us up.

Balance, over rough terrain, is surer when we use hiking poles. They increase stability and ease of travel. They distribute the weight of the body, lessening pressure on vulnerable ankles, knees, hips, and back.

In life, the mental poise, the equilibrium, that we all seek comes when we pay careful attention to all the factors that contribute to balance. The body requires sound nutrition, adequate hydration, sufficient rest, and plenty of exercise. The mind needs stimulation, and every opportunity to be challenged by openness to new ideas and perspectives, and fresh ways of thinking. The spirit needs to think beyond self, and find meaning in altruistic and compassionate living.

We also need to be aware of the situations that cause us a sense of imbalance and be willing to take the steps that we know will restore balance. The willingness to be "burned twice (or more) by the same flame" is strangely common amongst we humans.

I have learned that there are at least three things that help us achieve a sense of balance in life.

The first is accepting and being comfortable with change, and not being afraid of the uncertainty that comes with change. There is no doubt that uncertainty is unsettling. But change, after all, is proof positive we are alive. Everything and everyone changes. Our thoughts change, our perspectives change, our relationships change, our understanding of the world changes as we gain wisdom and experience. But change opens doors to growth. And growth reveals a banquet table of new possibilities. There is nowhere to run from change, and in trying, we simply exhaust ourselves.

Of course facing change is a little scary, it takes courage. This plump Scottish grouse, with his very impressive red eyebrow wattle (much adored, it is presumed by the opposite sex), demonstrated courage when he stepped out of the heather onto our path.  He came to no harm. :)

The second ingredient to achieving balance in life is moving from concern for self to concern for others. We've all had the experience of feeling quite overwhelmed, as if we are in the midst of a stormy sea, at risk of being tossed and blown by wave and wind. We also know that if suddenly, in the midst of this storm, we discover that our children or a good friend needs us, everything changes. We move from the storm to a far different place...a place where we can be there for those we love. Suddenly, the storm is left behind as we allow compassion to take us to where we are needed.

Moving focus from self, to the happiness and the needs of others, almost always restores balance. It also reminds us that we are not alone in life.

The third contributor to a sense of balance, is to maintain a sense of play. Life is serious enough and heaven knows, there are a lot of matters to take seriously. Ourselves? Not so much. When we take our imperfect selves too seriously, we invite rigidity of mind, and constant disappointment. When we are playful, we are like a tree, willing to bend in the wind, and in so doing, rarely at risk of any broken limbs. Playfulness ensures our spirits will not be broken and lives will not be overwhelmed. It is a powerful source of balance.

This very large tree at the end of the trail, in Glen Prosen, reminded us to ground our lives with the kind of strong roots that will ensure balance...a degree of comfort with the inevitability of change, the need to move focus from our inner self to others...and the wonderful inclusion of a sense of playfulness in each and every day.

These three things help bring to us the evenness of mind, the balance, we seek.

At the end of the trail is a most delightful cottage, its red doors and daffodils, bringing warmth to a chilly April day.

The Glen Prosen Church, built in 1802, stands at the trailhead. Several members of the "flock" were there to greet us. :)

My father would have enjoyed this walk, across these gentle Angus hills, very was just the kind of day he always said would bring balance. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. It was a much needed reminder and I'm so glad it included "play"
    Looks like a beautiful walk. These are the places I am drawn to, places where you're alone out in the hills.

    1. Thank you for that, Linda. Yes, play is SO important, isn't it. It smoothens all the rough edges...and restores our equilibrium. It also makes us smile...a prerequisite for balance. Warm wishes to you.

  2. A great post Duncan on many different levels. With regard to the blackcock, it is you who is lucky no harm befell you. A black cock in spring!!! What you thought was a "path" was actually his breeding territory (lek)! You are lucky you escaped with nothing to grouse about. :o)

    1. Thank you for your comment, Douglas. We had such fun with this bird. Sitting in the heather about five metres away, he played hide and seek, dropping down and peeking back up again, time and time again. Finally he got fed up with us not playing, and strutted out into the "path", and then lifted off demonstrating some superb nap-of-the-earth flying skills. Happily, he didn't seem too annoyed, during what we didn't realise was breeding season! Otherwise, there might well have been something for two hill walkers to "grouse" about! :) Warm wishes to you.

  3. Dear Duncan and Joan,
    I have read and re-read this post numerous times and as mentioned earlier it is so meaningful to me at the present moment. Wise words that I will try to live by. When one's life is in disarray and in an upheaval, one desperately looks for balance. However, we tend to look for balance in all the wrong places. Your three ingredients for restoring balance will definitely help in that effort. Thank you again for writing your blogs. Even over a distance of more than 4000 miles you make a difference in people's lives.

    All the best to the both of you.

    Dick Snel

    1. Dick, thank you for your kind words. We're so glad that you come by here and that you find something of meaning in the words. As I have shared with you in person, your generosity of spirit has deeply touched us over many years. Take good care, we'll be in touch again soon. With warmest wishes from us both.