If you pay careful attention to experience, the idea of the middle way being choosing some kind of compromise doesn’t make sense.
The middle way, in my experience, is choosing to show up with our hearts. It is the middle as in the centre – our hearts are our centres, physically and metaphorically.
It doesn’t make sense for it to be choosing the central point between two poles because that kind of compromise comes from the judgements we create with our mind. The point of enlightenment is to completely eliminate these judgements and this use of the middle way is actually really damaging because our idea of what a compromise is is so heavily influenced by our conditioning: the information that we are willing to see, what we perceive as right and wrong and what we have normalised.
Current events are making this crystal clear – a White person’s perception of what is ‘the middle way’ is going to be different to a Black person’s perception. They have completely different experiences and therefore different perceptions of the same situation. People believe that they can have a rational viewpoint of things, but actually they are just rationalising their own personal experiences and dictating this on to other people. Inevitably, it is the people with the power who get to dictate to the people who don’t have the power what the truth and/or a compromise means.
The mind relies on good and bad, right and wrong to build its perceptions of the world. But all of this is just created by fear. If you eliminate the fear by meditating enough, you see that this picture that the mind creates of the world does not actually have any truth or fixed meaning to it. It is just that – a picture drawn by a computer.
There is no rational reason why anything is better than anything else – you can argue a point about anything. To get to any conclusion about why anything is better than anything else it always involves the emotional impact that that thing will have. When you get right down to the truth, how something will make people feel is the only reason why anything is ‘better’ or ‘worse’.
Using meditation to liberate yourself from holding fixed perceptions of the world, doesn’t help us see the truth. It helps us see that the mind can’t hold any truth.
Lots of people translate the middle way as judging what the best thing to do is in a situation, but this judging comes from the mind. The middle way makes zero sense in this context.
If we detach from our experience in this way we can reach a point where no feeling is strictly better or worse. We welcome all actions. We can go with the flow of life, allow the worldly winds to pass through us, we are perfectly non-reactive. Every situation is totally equal and welcome.
If you go with the flow too much, or just let things pass through, you lose any sense of agency in your life. You are just choosing the path of least resistance. You are letting the people who have more of a desire to be in control become the dictators of your life.
This is silly too. If this is what life is about then we wouldn’t have developed preferences in the first place. We are here to show up and give a fuck.
If you pay careful attention to your experience you will discover that the middle way is about choosing the heart. Staying centred and moving from this place within ourselves. If you meet the world with an open heart it will tell you what the most important thing is.
If we open to the world with the heart’s natural states of friendliness, compassion, joy and inclusion we will automatically be able to:
- Welcome all the information – Friendliness
- Notice what we care about and how that makes us feel – Passion
- Embrace where we are on the journey – Joy
- Given all this, allow our heart’s natural response to arise – Inclusion
It sounds so calm and peaceful, but the ‘middle way’ actually takes us down some of the most extreme paths.
In the current situation welcoming all the information and feeling how that makes us feel probably means watching videos of police brutality and taking responsibility for confronting all the guilt, pain, heart-ache and anything else that that may bring up for us.
Fortunately, joy allows us to not feel shame, but to feel that we are exactly where we need to be. Even if we’re really sad and depressed. That is the place we need to be. It’s not our fault, but it is our responsibility to respond in a true and heartfelt way. Given all the information, what is the best way to respond? Only your heart can tell you that. And it will only be able to give you a clear and true response if you’ve done the first three steps.
To show up in this way, and go through these steps with an open heart, we need courage. The word courage comes from the French ‘couer’, which means heart. One of the definitions of courage is strength in the face of pain or grief.
When we are aligned with life, our heart’s natural response flows out of us, we don’t need to think about it. It is when there is difficulty that we will resist choosing the middle way, or the heart’s path. This is when courage is demanded of us. This is why we practice.
Our hearts compel us to stand up for things that matter, to do the things that our mind is afraid of or thinks are ‘bad’ or that require some level of risk.
When you struggle to find courage to meet a situation we typically fall into one of these two behaviours:
- We get stuck in our minds: Running away from the situation and hiding behind judgements, or looking for something to escape to and making excuses (aversion/ craving)
- We fall into our souls: Feeling overwhelmed by the situation and collapsing into a useless heap or taking too much responsibility for the situation and trying to fix it all (overwhelm/ over-reaching)
We need to learn to avoid this and be able to show up in this moment with our hearts.
The best things for helping us find the courage to meet a situation in the present moment with our hearts are gratitude and pride. These are the gateways into courage.
- Gratitude helps us remember the things we have that help us to show up and be present.
- We feel proud when we, or someone we love, has showed up to do something that required courage and effort. The promise of feeling proud of ourselves can inspire us to be braver.
In order for this to work, these have to be genuine felt feelings of gratitude and pride – not the ideas of things you think you should be grateful for and proud of. What are you genuinely grateful for in your life? What would make you feel really proud of yourself for at the end of the day? These things will help us do what we need to do.
In summary, the heart tells us what is important, what we really give a shit about. It tells us what is worth standing up for in life. This is the path we want to walk; the path that is most rewarding for ourselves and helpful to others.
The heart doesn’t flatten things into what is right and wrong. It takes in the emotional responses of us and those around us and understands that life is messy and complicated. The heart can hold all the information and richness of now. It knows the feelings and the experiences and the story and the needs of ourselves and others and what the most important thing is. The point of the middle way or the central way, is to open to life in this way. To let go of right or wrong and to follow your heart.
It’s about having the courage to show up, be honest about how you really feel about a situation and respond in the way that feels most true to your heart.