The Middle Pathway

‘So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’ – T.S. Eliot

I spent the last days of 2016 on a Yoga Retreat.  It was the perfect way to end the year, giving me time and space to reflect and restore, and to set intentions for the year ahead. At the start of the retreat we were asked to write down what we wanted to take away from our time spent there, and then to sum up in one word what we would like to carry forward. My word was ‘Clarity’.

The theme of the retreat was ‘The Middle Pathway’. The phrase ‘Middle Path’ or ‘Middle Way’ comes from Buddhist teachings which describes how in life there is a middle way between extremes – a path of moderation through which we can be centred and therefore be free. We live in a world where we are often drawn towards extremes – indulgence versus self-denial, attachment versus aversion, exertion versus lethargy and passion versus apathy. If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not free. If we fight against our wants and desires we equally are not free. If we put all of our energy into one thing we can burn out. If we are completely absorbed by loving another we can lose our own sense of self. And so we need to find a mid-point where there is balance.

If we are imbalanced and drawn towards these extremes we are often unable to be centred in the reality of the present. We sometimes battle with ‘The Wanting Mind’, seeking happiness and fulfilment in things that are often unrealistic or unattainable, thinking the grass is always greener on the other side. We therefore struggle mentally until we can be at peace with how things are in the moment, without seeking to change anything.

Jack Kornfield describes this perfectly in his book The Wise Heart ‘When we discover the middle path, we neither remove ourselves from the world nor get lost in it.  We can be with all our experience in its complexity, with our own exact thoughts and feelings and drama as it is. We learn to embrace tension, paradox, change.  Instead of seeking resolution, waiting for the chord at the end of a song, we let ourselves open and relax in the middle.  In the middle we discover that the world is workable.’

The time we spend meditating allows us to look inwardly and understand what it is that is driving the thoughts, desires and inner conflict that we face. We start to recognise how the mind pulls us in different directions and we learn to see beyond the initial superficiality of what we are presented with. We are brought back to our centre and we start to trust in who we are. And with that there comes an inner strength and clarity.

T.S. Eliot’s quote highlights how there are times where we face darkness, but it is in these times that we can discover a light that we didn’t know was there; perhaps an inner strength or an insight that we wouldn’t have found had it not been for the darkness. And with that comes new hope. Sometimes by being still and sitting with things as they are we find a new sense of freedom and we are able to dance again with a new energy. So as we go through life we may find ourselves out of balance but we must trust that through self-enquiry and connecting with our deeper selves we will ultimately navigate our way back to our centre.

So, for me, this all comes down to trust; trusting that we will find - and have the strength to follow - our path. With that trust we can allow things to unfold naturally without force. We trust that through being centred we will have the clarity of mind to make the right choices when we need to. We trust in our friendships and relationships to unify and support us.

And whilst there is such darkness, injustice and conflict in the world at the moment, we have to trust that our unified awareness can make a difference within our communities. As the Queen said in her speech on Christmas Day ‘We cannot end wars or wipe out injustice, but the cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.’ Through discovering the Middle Path we can create cohesion where there is fragmentation. Understanding our own personal suffering can allow us to empathise with someone else’s pain. And it is this compassion for others that can make a difference.

I will leave you with a quote from Ajahn Sumedo, who describes the need for acceptance ‘Of course we can always imagine more perfect conditions, how it should be ideally, how everyone else should behave. But it’s not our task to create an ideal. It’s our task to see how it is, and to learn from the world as it is. For the awakening of the heart, conditions are always good enough.'