Monday, May 6, 2013

The Middle Way

Two comments from readers of a previous post.

"The 'opening up' you describe is exciting—even exhilarating! We can walk the path of life with eyes focused narrowly ahead, closing our selves off to the possibilities for discovery around us. Or, we can view the journey as an adventure in which the norm is to be surprised and we expect to 'unlearn' something in every encounter. Each piece of our old self we leave behind makes our step lighter and more joyous. How exciting is that!"


"I guess it's scary for me because I'm so incredibly entrenched in my ego. So so so entrenched. I think it is absolutely terrifying to be truly kind to people and to yourself especially, to be vulnerable, to surrender, to be open like that because it requires a rebellion against that ego, to turn away from your attachment to all the things that make you feel worthy of love. Surrendering!! that means humility, humiliation even, vulnerability, complete lack of control, etc etc."

While these may seem, at first glance, to be diametrically opposing view of our path, they have more in common that you would think when you look carefully.

The second may be where a great many people start from. When all in life is going well, when most things you encounter daily bring satisfaction, there is nothing to instigate a search for something new, a new way of living. Why change when you're already happy and content? Then, for whatever reason, something comes up and you realize that there is a piece missing in your life. It may start as no more than a nagging doubt or an irritating question, but sooner or later, if you take life seriously that question, that doubt will grow.

For the lucky ones, and i'm serious about that, the doubt will explode into a complete refusal to continue to accept life on the terms you have lived it to that date. You know something's wrong, something in the rules you have lived by seem completely out of whack. Yet, when someone tries to point out where that 'whackiness' is, that, too, seems so completely backwards that your brain revolts even more. You no longer know which way to turn. But the tipping point has been reached and you are forced to make a change, to give up the old ways.

Then there are those who have done what needed doing and find their way onto the path. After a while the new rules start to make sense. The sense of loss coming from shedding the old rules starts to fade and the new path seems like an adventure, an expedition to new lands, new cultures, new experiences accompanied by all these wonderful people who love life, who see past the materialism that pervades the lands "back there." Life on this trail can seem like a rebirth and can be exhilarating.

So what do these to ways of looking at it have in common? Both still see the world through the eyes of an individual ego. Both still see the world through a gate with 'me' on one side and the world on the other. I suppose i sound like that as well in some of my writings — words can be miserably difficult to use sometimes.

But the truth lies in between those two comments. Somewhere between the despair and exhilaration.

The path as i see it is only reached when you have finally convinced yourself that no matter how hard it will be to stop the ego's rule over your life, you commit to trying. You commit to letting yourself accept that who you are is not who most people think you are. As frightening as surrender sounds, you make the commitment. Until you do, you're stuck in hell.

You've just been fired from your job. It came out of the blue and you never saw it coming. But, it happened and you were shown to the door. As you sit at the nearby park, you rant, you rave, you scream and shout, you agonize about the injustice of it, the unfairness of it, your stomach is in knots, you can't even think straight. You swear and curse, throw sticks and stones at the closest tree. How could this be possible. They can't do this. They have no right. I was the best, everyone knows that. I was on my way up, that was obvious to all. I was highly respected by all my peers, people told me that on numerous occasions. I've never wanted to do anything but this with my life. Never. What will people say? What will my parents say? My family? My friends? Now what?

Now what?

Now what?

And slowly, acceptance starts to settle in. It has happened. Your life has changed. Who you were is no longer who you are. It's a struggle for a while, but as time passes and you realize that your family and friends haven't abandoned you, you begin to settle into a quieter life with more time to think, more time to reflect. And then someone suggests a job in a new field and after working there for a while you find you love it. You love your new life, your new opportunities, your new friends. And people begin mentioning that you are a much better friend, much better family member. A nicer person. A person people are comfortable with.

Was the original loss humbling? Of course. Was it humiliating? Of course. Frightening? Of course. Until you look back at it from the viewpoint of your new life.

But what would happen if you learned all the lessons except the ambition, the need to get ahead, the need to be the best? Then even this new life poses great risks.

The key on this path is to see that the goal isn't in the adventure. The goal isn't in giving things up. The goal isn't becoming something new. All of this will happen, of course, but not because it's something you do but because of what you don't do.

Walking this path means learning to Be. Walking this path means accepting that everything you used to think is only partially true and of partial use. Walking this path means accepting that no matter how hard it is to understand, there is no you and me, there is no in here and out there, there is no birth and death, there is no path and non-path, there is no nirvana and samsara. Walking this path means accepting that your most important daily activity, no matter what else you do, is to accept that everything you see, everything you hear, everything you taste, everything, is you.


Walking this path means learning to Be. Walking this path means coming to see that everything you think immediately takes you away from who you are. Walking this path means coming to see that everything you believe is your one-sided view and not an accurate description of who you are. Walking this path means coming to see that there are no discoveries to be made, no adventures to be had, no grand vistas to be seen. Who you are is not an experience so none of these are possible.

On one side is an irrational fear of letting go of your stories. On the other side is a walk in a more pleasant meadow but care must be taken to not try and label all the trees, flowers, and wildlife you see during your walk.

I often describe the henro trail as boring. I would describe the true path as boring as well. There is no excitement in this search. There is no excitement in following the Way. But there will be a day when you realize that having stayed on the path was the wisest thing you ever did. There is no goal, but where you end up will be a marvelous place indeed, no matter how boring it may seem to others.

1 comment:

Edward J. Taylor said...

This is dead on. I remember the majority of the Henro to be dull and monotonous. Yet when I finished, I felt that when I looked back over my life, I'd always think of it as one of my bigger achievements.