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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 83 claim any credit for accepting what he was offering. I’d been sitting daily peace vigils in protest of war for nearly a year at the time, and I was sitting an hour’s vigil on Fourth and Broadway in my home- town of Chico, California, when someone, who later turned out to be Billy Brown, laid a card at my feet and said, “Check out my website.” Billy Brown’s card, when I got a look at it later, turned out to be a decidedly New Age, pseudo-cosmic concoction of phrases and images of the very sort I deplore. I felt scornful of it, and a little uncomfortable with the implication that a person who sits medi- tation on a busy sidewalk would likely be taken for someone who would go for such nonsense. But, then, it was also distressingly clear to me that such an assumption wasn’t entirely unwarranted and that maybe Billy Brown and I had more in common than I would’ve liked to admit. In the end, I didn’t throw the card away. A few days later I took up Billy’s invitation to visit his website. It turned out that Billy balanced rocks. Some of them huge, which he managed somehow to set on end in such a way that they stayed put. A photograph of one such balanced stone looked sim- ply impossible. It stood on the rocky headland of a beach some- where, the heavy end up. From there it tapered down to a slender rounded point upon which the whole massive stone rested. This and other photographs on Billy Brown’s web site were like some- thing out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. But you had to believe it because there they were, stone after stone sitting on end in ways you’d never imagine possible, along with Billy’s insistence that the photographs were all “natural,” with no digital effects. In some of the photographs, there were stones balanced in tiers on top of each other, sometimes as many as four high, with the top stone being the largest. It would seem much easier to balance marbles or golf balls on top of one another than to stack up some of the stones I saw on Billy’s website. Billy himself admitted it was an impossible feat for any human being, claiming spiritual powers derived from “the Lord.” According to Billy, it was God’s doing and not his. I assume that even the most difficult and unlikely upended stone does in fact have a point of balance. But try even once to lo- cate that point of balance and you’ll begin to fathom what it must ultimately require of the man who does it and what sort of path Billy Brown chose for himself. Surely he could be no less steady than the stones he set in place. I’ve been trying to achieve balance the whole of my adult life, but in Billy’s world I’m a novice. Pic- ture a stone of, say, seventy pounds that tapers down to a rounded end, the resting surface of which is merely a point of essentially no dimension at all. It’s this point upon which the whole seventy pounds must be balanced. Realize that the stone has a horizontal circumference of 360 degrees, so that in order for it to stand on its own, an absolutely equal, self-cancelling 180-degree opposition must be exerted around the circle at all opposite points. If this weren’t so, the stone couldn’t be balanced at all, a circumstance that measures the exquisite delicacy of achieving such balance. Billy teases stones like this into balance on surfaces so smooth that no resistance to falling can be purchased from the medium the stone stands on. I don’t know about Billy’s claim that he’s merely an agent of God, but I’m fairly certain that no one can do what Billy does by mere design. The force of purposeful intent, however great it might be, won’t get it done. It’s more intimate than that, a mutual enact- ment between Billy and the stone that resides in the exact instant when Billy’s hands release the stone to stand on its own. Nothing he knows, no practiced skill, could possibly avail him at that moment. He is enacting an ancient discipline of setting oneself aside so that the circumstance of the moment can prevail. Billy Brown chose a path as exacting as one could undertake, and it’s a path in which improve- ment is impossible. To succeed, he must remain a perpetual begin- ner, touching each subsequent stone as the very first. Like kindness and love, balancing stones is not something you want to get good at. It asks more of you than any expertise can answer to. When a former Zen student of mine was taking the Buddhist precepts, she asked if, rather than getting a new dharma name from me, she could retain a dharma name given her by a former yoga teacher of hers. The name was “Tulya.” It was a word drawn from an Indian dialect and it meant “equanimity” or “balance.” At the time Tulya made her request, I’d already seen her instructing yoga students while balancing on one foot with her free leg arched up over her head. She would sometimes reach over her shoulder with an arm and, touching her foot, form of herself a completed circle in air. And in this posture, she’d tilt forward until the trunk of her body was parallel to the ground and then slowly revolve horizontally in a circle round that single supporting foot and leg.