There is a concept of the middle way as a path of development. The followers of this path likely apply moderation to everything. They tend to avoid extremes. While this seems a reasonable way of living, there is a much more advanced approach.
Two extremes and the center
As we know everything has its opposite. As a result, we have two extremes and the center, the middle point in between. And if we carefully observe the workings of the universe we will notice that the natural rhythm is to continuously swing from one opposite to the other and back. This is the principle of rhythm. We go from a day to a night, from joy to sadness, from summer to winter, from a high-tide to a low-tide or from work to rest. There is this basic rhythm, the basic swing between the polarities.
The same understanding applies to practicing the middle way.
Counter-intuitively, the true middle way is not narrow. Oh, no no no.
The middle path is not about boring miniature movements around the middle point. On the contrary, it is a challenging path when you walk between the extremes. Traveling between the polarities does not mean, however, all polarities that exist, but only the opposites that define the space of your maturing and personal growth. And you choose to walk this path with consciousness. You keep visiting the opposites and swing consciously between them.
The paradox of the center
There is an interesting paradox of the middle way.
Our goal is to be in the middle. The middle is the center. What is the center?
Center is Integrity. Center is Peace. Center is Christ.
Being in the center is the ultimate goal. However, center is not achieved by standing still there, but by balancing between the opposites.
Center is Balance. Think about it this way. When a person walks on a tightrope, he is constantly moving his body, swaying from side to side to move forward and prevent the fall. And although his goal is to stay on the rope, i.e. keep the center, most of the time he is outside the center, being either at one side or the other. He is keeping the course of movement not by standing still but by actively balancing between the opposite sides and between up and down.
So, the balancing between the opposites is the core of the middle way. The center is continuously being reached through an active balancing.
So, the key understanding here is as follows.
- The middle way is a path between opposites. It is a spacious path. There is a lot of room for experience and even more for investigation. There is freedom to manoeuvre, to make mistakes and to learn.
- Personal experience or deep understanding of the extremes is essential for finding the true center for yourself.
- When you loose health, you understand how valuable it is.
- When you become poor, you begin to appreciate what wealth is.
- When you are live in noisy environment, you begin to value solitude and silence.
- When you are about to loose your life, you begin to live with an contagious passion.
Even when you experience the darkest sides of yourself, making deliberate errors, committing crimes or hating others, it may serve you as a powerful experience for a personal transformation towards kindness, gratitude and love.
The big challenge
There is however a big challenge when you want to follow the middle way.
Think for a moment about a pendulum swinging from side to side. When there are no external forces, the pendulum will naturally stop at its center.
Let the pendulum be now our metaphor for life. Our ultimate goal is to know the center and to be at the center. However, there are always external circumstances that act on us, be it consequences of our decisions (that we can hardly foresee) or events outside our control. As a result, the pendulum never stops. It is always in motion.
What is the swing?
The external forces and circumstances may override the natural rhythm of the pendulum. So, they will tend to keep you at one of the opposites, usually the less favorable one such as the permanent state of grumbling and complaining. As a result, the center you find is not the center at all. You simply have too little experience and understanding to be able to define the center well as the pendulum has an abnormal rhythm, highly biased towards one of the polarities.
E.g. if you have been unhappy and complaining for years, you may only have a vague idea about happiness. As you lack the direct experience and cannot even imagine what a true happiness is the way you define happiness is colored by the negative interpretations of your experiences. As a result, your perceived center is far from the middle point.
The how-to of the middle way
The advanced way to follow the middle path is to transcend the duality, the opposites. What does it mean? In practice
- You take the time to understand the principle of rhythm and its working in your life. It means that you are knowledgeable about the rhythm and cycles of changes. When you know a change is to happen, you can prepare for it in advance in order to take advantage.
- You know where the center is because you have chosen to experience the opposites and to understand them. You simply take the time to go through the extremes personally, learn about them from other people, or extrapolate from your own life experience.
- You always keep your intent to return to the center. Or, in other words, you hold the consciousness of the center. Even if the external circumstances or life challenges want to keep you stuck at one of the polarities, it is you and your consciousness that will encourage you to swing towards the other side.
- The middle way is achieved by your active and conscious balancing between the opposites. So, it means that you first go to one extreme and spend the necessary time there, then you follow to the other extreme. And repeat.
For example, the advanced balancing of your work day is to work hard and with deep focus followed by a full rest. This can be implemented in any way that is convenient for you. E.g. you can choose to work hard for 50min followed by a 10-min rest and repeat it all, say 8 times a day. Or you can choose to work hard for 3h followed by a 25-min rest and repeat it 3-4 times a day. Or you can work very hard for a full day followed by a free morning the following day. Any of such approaches is efficient as long as it suits you.
Transcendence is by choice. You are in charge. Accept it.
And your middle way will become a fantastic experience.
The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.