Rev. Nancy Ballinger has lived in Morro Bay with her husband Ron Schow since 1993. As an educator and Marriage, Family and Child Therapist she taught internationally for 10 yrs. with Quest International, consulted with alcohol treatment programs, served as Children's Bereavement Counselor for Hospice of SLO and had a private practice until 2000.
In 1996 Nancy entered an interfaith seminary, and in 2000, graduated and was ordained. She is the Spiritual Director and founder of AWAKENING Interfaith Spiritual Community, Morro Bay a ministry in the spiritual tradition of Kriya Yoga, which offers an interfaith way of living through meditation and a holistic lifestyle.
Rev. Ballinger offers classes, worship services, retreats, weddings, memorials and spiritual guidance counseling, bringing a rich background in Eastern and Western spirituality and philosophy, and an inspiring message of living an authentic life to one's fullest potential.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
By Nancy Ballinger
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
The peacock's cry was the only sound to travel through the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains as I sat with fifty meditators in silence. As a group we agreed the first evening to no talking, reading, writing, ipod, television, radio, computer, or cell phones during our time on retreat. Already realizing one of the benefits of this practice, I had managed to put aside the heartbreaking pictures and news about the oil spill and be fully present to the beauty of my surroundings. As our forefathers stated, I felt embraced by certain unalienable rights endowed upon me by my creator. I felt at peace with my life, and liberty from my worries of the week in sacred pursuit of my natural, whole state of happiness.
A basket with small pieces of paper and pens greeted us each morning as we entered the meditation room. We were invited to write any questions that presented themselves to us during our silence and to give them to our teacher. At the appropriate time in the daily program she read through them, one-by-one, and answered with her usual love and clarity.
"How can we be here meditating in such natural beauty and peace when there is so much pain in our world with the oil spill disaster ?" someone asked. "How can we not?" was her thoughtfully simple reply. "We can only change the world when we change ourselves."
I remember as a little girl being taught about the devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other, who were ever in battle to steer my thoughts and behavior. Would I follow the devil and think mean things about my little brother who was always bothering me or be nice to him even though he didn't deserve it? It was easy to grasp how this worked. I thought the forces of good and evil were invisible and outside of me. Little did I know, in my innocence, that I would grow up to realize the real battle was always betwixt parts of myself.
Thousands of years ago this inner battle was written into a sacred text named the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita, as it is sometimes called, is part of a much larger epic tale, the Mahabharata; well known to people of all ages throughout India, and to students of yoga philosophy around the world. The Mahabharata is the classical story of a family feud, with the drama, deceit, jealousy, loyalty and love found in all families. As a parable, the Gita is written in the form of a dialogue between a warrior and the divine. The warrior, called Arjuna, represents all of us in our spiritual quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Krishna, one of the Hindu names for God, is our higher divine self in the dialogue that will show us the way.
As the story begins, Arjuna, as a spiritual warrior, has come to a level of inner growth where he is ready to see the world differently yet is confused and frightened. Like many of us he realizes that growth requires change and is afraid of what he might have to do or give up in exchange for the peace he hopes to win.
In the beginning chapter, Arjuna looks at the battlefield before him and sees what he is going to have to defeat. He realizes that it is his ego—his kin and best friends (lifetime habits and qualities) that are there. The Sanskrit names for these nearest and dearest companions are brilliant: anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride—all worthy foes! Krishna, (soul wisdom) points out that on the same field, he can also see his own brothers (soul qualities)— quietness of mind, pure intelligence, righteousness, discernment and compassionate right action—which are also parts of him. Krishna then goes on to assure Arjuna that he will be his constant companion as he overcomes his negative inclinations and finds freedom in his true nature. The remaining chapters teach step by step the path of returning to spiritual wholeness.
Everyday life is like a spiritual boot camp where we find constant opportunities to grow. A small example happened to me after the group had been in silence for several days at the meditation retreat I mentioned earlier.
During our stay we were encouraged to spend time walking and contemplating in nature between our group sitting meditation sessions. This particular morning I had found myself in a circle of tall redwood trees. Lying down on the soft ground at the center and looking up through the trees at the brilliant blue sky, I felt absolute unity with the universal energy pulsing through all of nature—including me!!! It was incredible. I was still feeling humbled by it and at the same time high, when I returned to the meditation room for our last group sitting before lunch.
There I was, in the silence with fellow meditators, following my breath, gently smiling, body relaxed, and mind still. Gradually, I became aware of the person behind me practicing a breathing technique with a sound emanating from his nose. I knew many of us, including me, were experiencing allergies from our time in the trees, but now the Nose behind me was making this racket. I thought "Can't he hear himself? Does he have to practice in the group? This guy is hijacking my peace and joy and I can't do anything about it!"
Then as quickly as this popped into my head, I was able to let it go as I realized that just like in the redwoods where it was so easy to feel, I am one with all of life including the dear man behind me. As soon as I quieted the self-righteous devil (ego) on my left shoulder, the angel on my right shoulder (soul wisdom) brought me back to the truth of who and what we all are. I remembered that we are spiritual beings having this human experience, and smiled—once again following the breath.
Another example is an experience that is happening to many of us as we watch the news and allow the events of the day to demolish our sense of well-being. With a modern day foe pumping oil into our waters, we can get lost in blaming, which flames the fires of anger and despair. It is difficult to keep our perspective yet "we can only change the world when we change ourselves."
What will we choose? Will it be our ego taking anger, hatred, and pride as our allies, or will we follow the side of compassionate right action, discernment, and peace of mind? The latter thoughts, feelings, and behaviors require us to be more conscious and therefore more disciplined. Yet, this is the main exercise for the peaceful warrior in the spiritual boot camp of life. It asks regular commitment to our regime of daily meditation, ethical living and surrendered service. We strengthen our muscles of right living through these daily exercises which prepare us for life's challenges as they come our way.
For Further Reading
1st and 3rd Monday of the month
Meditation follows at 7:00
If you are looking for a loving, safe place to find the sacred in everyday life, Reverend Nancy Ballinger offers spiritual guidance counseling. With over 20 years as a licensed marriage and family therapist and studies in Eastern and Western philosophies she brings a unique, open perspective to her counseling. Sliding scale fee.
Rufous Hummingbird image on banner by Mike Baird.