by Dr. Bruce Arnold

Everything is marked by oscillation. From the vibration of the smallest wave/particle, to the galaxies and clusters of galaxies swirling around and sometimes through each other, whatever else is going on, there is oscillation.

In that phase of existence which is between the smallest and the largest – the plane on which we live – we see the effects of oscillation as well. The tide ebbs and flows. Seasons come and go and come again. Birth and death and life renewed. The phases of the moon. The systolic and diastolic within our very blood.

We don’t drive straight down a highway. There is always the slightest veering to right or left, followed by the correction back to the center. Every pilot knows that straight-and-level flight is really a constant fluctuation of pitch and yaw and roll.

And so it is in our lives. Activity is followed by rest, sadness by joy, amazement by boredom.

Even the great philosophers, sages, Buddhas, rishis, saints, and yogis are never free of this. Only the unenlightened believe in some state of perfection, in which there is no variation or twist. The enlightened ones know that no one escapes the laws of existence.

There is a story of the death of the wife of a great Buddhist teacher. When his disciples found him crying in his grief, they asked him why he was so sorrowful. Hadn’t he taught them that all life was impermanent and appearances only an illusion? “Yes, but my wife: what an illusion!”

We don’t know much about the life of Jesus, pretty much only the last few years of his public ministry. We are fortunate to know more about other spiritual giants. The Buddha, for instance, lived to be 80. We know much more about him. We know that early on in his ministry he taught certain themes. Later, he expanded them further, not abandoning the early teachings but building on them. Finally, towards the end of his life, he once more introduced great new themes into his life’s work.

It can be said, with great certainty, that each of these stages was preceded by a time in which he plunged back into – what to call it? – engagement, involvement, attachment. Drama, if you will. This is how the human psyche works. Not by constant progression, but in pieces, one step back for every two forward.

Carl Jung, in his autobiography, gives a thorough account of how this worked in his life. Every one of his great insights was preceded by a time of confusion, even darkness.

It is not just this way for the great and famous. I’ve just been through a period in which I lost perspective, got wrapped up in details, let go of what I know about impermanence, misplaced some of my sense of humor. Yet now it seems I’m emerging into new acceptance of myself,  a new recognition of my flaws and assets. When I first began to realize this, it was with that ego-energy that says “you were wrong, you screwed up, you’re a fraud,” because ego thrives on those petty judgmentalisms. Now, as the mists part and I step further into the warmth and light, I remember that this is just how it works. No up without down. No in without out. No learning without mistakes to learn from.

Homeostases are made to be broken.