In Buddhist psychology, there’s a concept dubbed “the middle way” that can make life a little easier.
The ancient Indian son of an oligarch turned spiritual master we now call the Buddha told his followers: “There is a middle way between the extremes of indulgence and self-denial, free from sorrow and suffering.”
Indulgence is our default way of being. We follow our mind’s every whim into the past or future, replaying memories or worrying about tomorrow.
Like a gripping Netflix drama, we indulge the storyline, which sweeps us away.
Denial is a little different but almost as common—and far more destructive. It’s our internal critic, rearing its toxic head as a “should” or “shouldn’t.” I shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts. I should be a little skinnier. I shouldn’t be so afraid.
Both take us away from the only place life is happening, the present moment. Both keep us at a distance from tasting our food, savoring the mystery of the night sky, or feeling someone’s love for us.
Last weekend, while RV camping with my parents, I got a front row seat to my denial. In such close quarters, I saw firsthand how judgmental I can be. I judged my mom for cleaning up relentlessly. I judged my dad for talking everyone’s ears off. I even judged myself for judging so much.
One morning, after tripping over a bowl in the middle of the RV, I judged my parents’ two standard poodles for not putting away their food bowls. How silly!
The middle way is accepting whatever is happening in the present moment—including thoughts—rather than following our habitual patterns of indulgence and escape. The middle way is waking up to the endless possibilities. The middle way is inner freedom.
The Buddha once welcomed into his home a musician who was discouraged with his meditation practice.
“What happens when you tune your instrument too tightly?” the Buddha asked.
“The strings break,” the musician replied.
“And what happens when you string it too loosely?”
“When it’s too loose, no sound comes out,” the musician answered. “The string that produces a tuneful sound is not too tight and not too loose.”
“That,” said the Buddha, “is how to practice: not too tight and not too loose.”
Want to be more mindful?
I’ve come up with a cheat sheet to help you start and stick with a regular meditation practice. Get it for free here.
Listen to my podcast Meditation for the 99%
On Meditation for the 99%, I take meditation out of faraway monasteries,expensive retreat centers, and Corporate America, and bring it to work, relationships, and, especially, politics. Listen everywhere podcasts are available.