Inside Looking Out: The middle way
Many philosophers have written about paths to a good life. Let me throw in yet another idea I was given just the other day.
I met a young man named Josh. We had an interesting conversation that went everywhere to nowhere and then to somewhere in between. As our talk traveled down the roads of our lives, Josh offered to share a poem he wrote titled “The Philosophy of the Middle Way.” After reading his words, I came to realize the simple magnificence of his insights that he had gathered from his walks along ocean beaches.
If you get too close to the water, the sand is so wet you will sink in. If you stand too far from the water, the sand is too dry and you will sink in. There is a path on every beach where the sand is neither too wet nor too dry. Here you will find firm footing. Here you will feel polarity. Here you will experience oneness with the universe.
Josh’s poem makes me think about another wise man. Ben Franklin wrote about finding a balance in our lives and standing on firm ground. He gave an example of what can happen when someone hurts our feelings. We get to choose how to respond to the bad words that were said about us. We can fire back with sparks spewing from our lips, but oftentimes, the result of an emotionally charged response leaves us with hot embers inside of us long after the fire of the hurtful comment has burned out. In other words, we sink down into that sand.
“Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve,” wrote Ben.
Avoid extremes. Stay balanced. Find the Middle Way. Franklin also wrote, “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.” Another of his statements of wisdom was, “He that’s content, hath enough. He that complains has too much.” The more we own, the more we have to complain about and the deeper we sink into the sand.
Think about other extremes that hold us down. Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. Find the Middle Way again. Balance work with time away from the job. Working 60-hour weeks might be making money that pays the bills, but never returns the fruits of the labor. Fathers can miss too many moments when their children are growing up; they can be practically strangers to each other by the time dad retires and the kids move out to raise their own families.
“Work and life aren’t separated but rather one integrated journey, and that journey had better include a good balance of passionate and inspirational work, gratitude, self-love, inner awareness, good nutrition, fitness, generosity, service and, yes … a whole lot of fun! If you want to be happy, healthy and wealthy, include all of these in your life — in moderation and in balance,” said Debbie Gisonni, a life adviser. She would agree with Josh’s Philosophy of the Middle Way. Our bodies, she explains, are built to operate in harmony with all of our organs working together. When we cause too much stress on one organ, it can’t help the others and we put our health at risk. Gisonni suggests that our physical and emotional well-being are determined by conscious efforts to spend our time equally nurturing both. Balancing our emotions is crucial to have a good life, too. The highs are blissful but temporary and the lows come and they go.
Just to mention a few other extremes. If every day was Saturday, or if we were always on a vacation, we would stop appreciating these special days. If Christmas came every 25th of the month, the meaning and spirit of the day we now celebrate once a year would be lost in too much routine.
Take a look at what political extremes have done to polarize our country. Republicans want this. Democrats want that. We, the people are stuck in the sand once again, unable to take benefit from either party.
In his poem, Josh talks about being one with the universe. He implies a singular understanding in which we can still be individuals, yet live in a collective world where everyone is respected as human beings and nature is cherished as nourishment for our well-being.
The paths of life we often take keep us stuck in a rut, and we cannot move to where we should go. When we stand on solid ground and walk the Middle Way to keep our balance, we can enjoy in moderation all that life has to offer.
Rich Strack can be reached at email@example.com.