Stay focused on your intentions, taking the path called the Middle Way. Although the Middle Way involves mastery of inner and outer balance, it does not totally exclude the occasional celebration in the light or a dip into the dark. It does, however, involve mastery of the quick return to balance, calmness, and peace. The Middle Way takes in all possibilities and yet it is a path of gentle flowing through life as one gets to know the self through experiences. It is a path that knows the proclivities of being human. Without judgment walk onward, taking the Middle Way.
We’ve all been taught to be nice girls and boys, to not rock the boat, not make anyone uncomfortable by bringing up disturbing issues. Who among us grew up in a household where things were really discussed, addressed, and resolved by coming to a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do? Not me.
In my house you kept quiet. You didn’t rock the boat, make anyone uncomfortable, or even talk about what bothered you the most. You held everything in and hoped for the best. If you got caught doing something bad you were blamed, shamed, and punished, but no one ever asked if you needed something. No one ever asked if you were in pain, in need, or suffering. No one wanted to know if something was disturbing you or confusing you. No one wanted to deal with feelings or emotions. They wanted it simple. You followed the rules so everything went according to plan, or else. You were told to act like a lady, get good grades, and stop being an embarrassment to your parents. In the end you just ended up feeling guilty, ashamed, and bad.
But growing up where nothing is ever discussed, where you are supposed to figure out some of the most frightening and complicated experiences in your life on your own is a daunting task, especially for a small child who just shuts up and shuts down, finds ways to self-soothe and somehow makes it through childhood and into adulthood. Having been sexually abused, I empathize with others who also had a bad time of it, but I also know that we must move beyond our traumas, not only entertain a new vision for ourselves and the world but embrace it as well. We must all dare to change.
In spite of my background I have always been able to see the good in others, no matter how bad they appear to be. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality, the part of me that somehow knew how to survive and thrive in spite of what happened to me. Suffice it to say, I’m an optimist. I’ve always been able to weigh all sides of an issue. Often this makes it impossible to take sides. I was never good at debating. I’m much better at taking in the whole picture and seeing how all the pieces fit together. This is a Buddhist perspective, the middle way, all things in harmony and balance. In the end, I tend to be okay with the way things are because I know that things have a way of resolving, often in the most unexpected of ways, but often in the most simple of ways.
For most of my life I felt like I was living in a daze. I didn’t really wake up, except occasionally, until I was 50. It was then that I started to gain clarity on what had actually transpired in my childhood, why I had lived in that daze for most of my life (because I was only half in this world, the other half still back in the past), but once all that insight about my past started to flood into me all I wanted to do was stay awake. I got interested in life in a new and different way.
I wanted to know why and how things happen, and how to change myself and the things in my life that I could change. I saw the bigger picture of what had been, but I also wanted to intend a new bigger picture for the future. I wanted to be actively involved in planning my future life in a different way, consciously aware of myself as part of the process. I didn’t want life to lead me; I wanted to meet life and take a new journey with all that it offered me. It meant I had to be prepared to really change. I had to learn how to let change work for me in positive and good ways, with intent and purpose, rather than just because it happened anyway.
I have since learned that not everyone wants to change, not everyone is ready to change, and in fact many people don’t care about changing at all, they just care about themselves. This seems to be what we are being confronted with now, just how many people really only care about themselves, how caught up they are in their own hubris, their own greed, and how little they care about others. We must all be accountable for what is happening now and we all have a responsibility to try and figure out how to resolve the chaos of our times. There are many forums, and many people are taking the opportunity to finally speak out, but for most of us perhaps the best forum is quietly within.
To truly know ourselves as human beings must be the first step in changing our world. Why did my abuser rape, torture, and assault me? Why did he sell me to others like himself? Why do people do the things they do?
I have discovered that if I am to understand others I must try to understand myself. The first step in doing that, I learned, is to give up all preconceived ideas of how things should be, all preconceived notions of what is right and what is wrong, of what is supposed to be. I learned that I have to empty my mind of everything and be open to understanding life at a totally different level and from many different perspectives, be open to new concepts, new twists, new notions of possibility never before imagined. I have to be totally nonjudgmental, abundantly curious, and insatiably interested in learning new things.
In being open in this manner I come back to myself, to that young girl who could always empathize, who could always see the good in others, who could always see all sides of an issue or a problem. That little Buddhist girl is still in me and she still presents me with her open mind, and every day I am grateful for her. I had to work very hard to find my way back to her, wading through the muck of years of duty and adherence to principles and ideas I did not really believe in but followed blindly because I did not want to rock the boat, get into trouble, or be misunderstood. Then I decided it was high time for a different approach. I recapitulated. In so doing I had to break down the world I knew into dust and debris and pick from it only what was important and leave the rest of it behind, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sometimes that’s all it is, just something to leave behind.
Now, as I said, I am awake, and in being awake I have to look at myself from all different angles all the time. How am I like those men who abuse? How am I like my own abuser? How do I abuse others? How can I judge another when I know I am not perfect?
When I accept that I have deviant behaviors inside myself, perhaps even to the same extent as some of the worst offenders, then I begin to know why people do the things they do. I do the things I do because I act impulsively or greedily or selfishly. I might be fearful, sad or lonely. I might lash out. I might take. I might overdo. I might be greedy today and selfless tomorrow. I might be hostile now and loving later. I might be inflated in the morning and by nightfall totally deflated and depressed. I might hate one minute and feel bad about it the next. I might get angry and vent, knowing that it’s important to state what is bothering me, but then I can also be the kindest person in the room, wanting the people around me only to feel comfortable and happy. I am all of these things because I’m human.
I have written about my demons, I accept them as part of me. Even if I don’t act on all my impulses, even if I don’t let all my demons out of the bag, I have to accept that they exist inside me. I too am culpable, fallible, weak, and sometimes I fail. That’s what it means to be human. And that’s why I cannot hate, even those who do bad things to me. I can only love. Love is what I always come back to. It is the glue that holds us all together and it is the glue that must keep us together as we address the current climate of change, as people in power get sacked for their indiscretions, as others suffer the shock of knowing that people they love did bad things. What do you do with all that? You just keep loving them.
Love is powerful and hopefully it will get us through this to a deeper understanding of all that we are, the human animals as well as the loving spirits. We accept the loving spirit part of ourselves so easily, but it’s much harder to deal with the other side that we are too, the instinctual animal that we have yet to fully confront and accept into our lives and our world. We all need to work at it, within ourselves first and foremost. Only then will we understand why people do the things they do, because we do them too and we know why. Then we can truly be empathic, nonjudgmental, loving, total humans. Then we will be able to not just accept the bigger picture but embrace our wholeness as well.
Some things just have to be accepted as we wade our way through the chaos we now find ourselves in. Some people just won’t get it, will refuse to change no matter how much they are confronted with how badly their behavior harms others. Some people just aren’t that evolved yet and we have to let them be where they are, for the truth is they are part of what creates balance, they are part of that bigger picture. The Buddhists know that you can’t have the light without the dark, the good without the evil, the day without the night.
At the same time that I accept all that, I do have expectations of everyone I know and everyone I don’t know. I expect to be treated as a fellow human being. I expect to be given the same opportunities as everyone else. I expect the same fairness I grant others. I expect the same kindness and compassion I extend to others. I expect to be allowed to live in a safe world, free from violence, war, nuclear disaster, free of angry people with guns. I expect the same for others.
I want us all to live in a world where we make room for others, where we share what we have with others, where we embrace everyone as human beings just like us, where color and race and gender are not issues of divisiveness but what bring us together. I want the bigger picture to be bigger in love and kindness and compassion.
At the same time, I see how we are all rushing to the same side of the boat now, tipping it too far in our exposing, in our rooting out the evil in others in our need for validation. We have gone from never tipping the boat to nearly capsizing it! The truth does matter, but it can be taken too far, doing more harm than good in our eagerness for a quick solution. There is no quick solution. We might just tip that boat over and then where would we be but all awash in the same stuff we dredged up.
Somehow we have to get back into the middle of the boat again, back on the middle way, where everyone is given the opportunity to work on their issues with support and help, because the beautiful outcome of this process could be that we have finally exposed that we all have issues that need to be addressed without judgment, without blame, and without shame. We all know what judgment, blame, and shame do to us, how devastating they can be, sending us deeper into our traumas and deeper into hiding. We are all just human after all.
We’ve already rocked the boat. Now let’s get it back into calmer waters and meet in the middle, bringing with us all that what we’ve learned about others and ourselves. Let’s offer the same support to others that we expect to receive ourselves. Let’s not be the family that refuses to accept feelings and emotions. Let’s be the family that sits down together and talks at a deeper level and tries to understand each other. Let’s be the family that talks about all that uncomfortable stuff that has left a lot of people feeling confused and frightened, perhaps resorting to acting out because they don’t know what to do with it all.
Let’s try to figure out what we’ve been missing in our personal and workplace relationships, and what’s really needed for us all to heal and finally live peaceably together, as one, in the middle of the boat.
A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries
In the mystery play of our time, Donald Trump is emerging as Helios, the sun god, a golden redeemer. The stronghold of reason is crumbling and the hunger for divine renewal appears to be landing upon his golden locks.
A religious fervor is stirring in the masses, in all of us. The renewal we really crave is transcendent ecstatic experience. The problem with Donald’s solution is his complete identification with ego as divine Self. In other words, total exaltation of the ego with divine imperative. “Make America Great Again,” as catchy as it is, is complete ego coronation, as it solves the destruction of the world through a restoration of the myth that America is God’s chosen one whose grand imperative is purification and masculine power domination.
The mystery play denies the necessity to take the journey into the depths of the earth to face the truth of the destruction and neglect of the feminine, of its divinity and source of healing and renewal.
Trump reflects the ego in all its might—Helios the sun god obliterating all the darkness in its one-sided enlightenment. This is a very personal story for all earth inhabitants. We all have ego selves, that which governs our decisions and actions in life. Ego of our time is dominated by reason. But reason, for all its order, is deplete of body experience. Reason is localized in the head; it is abstract, dissociated from our true animal aliveness.
Our modern religions are dominated by reason, they don’t link us to the living substance within ourself. This is why the modern world is addicted; addiction is our hidden pagan compensation to partake of the divine substance so critical to sustain life. Of course, addiction is equally as one-sided as reason—it knows no limits, like Icarus, who imagined himself as Helios and melted from getting too close to the heat of the sun, falling to his death upon the earth.
Trump is the ultimate symbol of the addict: we can have it all, he says, there are no limits! This is the collective masculine ego’s last stand and it is empowered by ego identification with divine energy, with God, but like Icarus it is really just ego unleashed and if I am reading it correctly, it can only go so high before it is doomed to go down.
This hunger for divine experience has been burgeoning beneath the rule of reason for too long, and the charismatic Trump advantage lies in its fervor. This truly is what happened in Nazi Germany. The irrational fervor latent in the German Volk was galvanized by a charismatic leader who extolled purification and masculine domination, overtaking their cultured humanity and sending them, and the rest of the world, into the darkest time in recent modern history.
To learn from history would be to not repeat it. Collective energy, including all that fervor, is made up of the energy of individuals. To separate the individual self from the collective is Step One, while at the same time accepting the truth that as individuals we are still a microcosm of the collective. The advantage of individuality, however, is one of manageability. For however vast the challenge, it is possible for the individual to take the plunge into the full truth of the many-sided self, where all the ancient mysteries and transformations are possible, without harm to the collective.
Individuals can assume responsibility for themselves, and must, as historical fact shows that collectives are largely impossible to control. Unfortunately, there is now a curious total absence of individual responsibility, in fact, things are devolving into something of a mass blood thirst. The time is ripe for the individual to take responsibility, one person at a time. Let’s hope we are not too late!
To begin immediate and active participation in becoming responsible, each individual can square with the divine masculine and the divine feminine within the self, each finding their own unique and individual way to the Middle Way, the ultimate goal within and without. It is impossible to define that Middle Way on a collective level, for all must find legitimate balance and reconciliation within all that one is made up of, within the self.
If enough people can make the effort to find their way to this Tao within, the world will find its way to the healing ticket too!
I ponder the pendulum, how once set in motion it swings back and forth, around and around, sometimes pulled inward, sometimes pushed outward, and how life itself is like this pendulum.
Michio Kushi the founder of the East West Foundation and a proponent of the macrobiotic lifestyle says: “Macrobiotics focuses on the dynamics of yin and yang in daily life. Yin is the name given to energy or movement that has a centrifugal, or outward, direction, and results in expansion. Thus diffusion, dispersion, expansion, and separation are all yin tendencies. Yang, on the other hand, denotes energy or movement that has a centripetal, or inward, direction, and results in contraction. Fusion, gathering, contraction, and organization are yang tendencies.” *
I set my intent a long time ago to study the Middle Way, the Tao, seeking greater harmony with my environment. For the past several years I’ve been engaging in adopting a macrobiotic lifestyle, for its principles of yin and yang and harmony with nature are exceedingly appealing to me. Having at times throughout my life been vegetarian and having always sought diet-related balance, the macrobiotic theory is both familiar and timely for me personally, but I find its principles especially poignant as we face the situation of our planet. And so, when I read Chuck’s last blog regarding Tamas, Sattva, and Rajas, it all made perfect sense to me: the pendulum, the Middle Way, macrobiotics, life itself.
Kushi says: “Everything in the universe is constantly changing. Each day we experience the result of this unceasing motion as night changes into day, activity changes into rest, youth into old age, life into death and death into rebirth. An understanding of the changes that govern our lives and the natural environment, and a recognition of the interrelationship between opposite yet complementary tendencies within these changes, helps us to achieve harmony in our bodies and minds.”
And so, for the past few days, as I ponder the image of the pendulum, the yin and yang in all of nature, the Vedic principles of Tamas, Sattva, and Rajas, a song runs repeatedly through my head. Part of it goes like this: “Oh would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar, and be better off than you are, or would you rather be a pig!”
I first heard this song as a child when watching a Little Lulu cartoon. It was one of my favorite cartoons, and yes, I always preferred the part about swinging on a star, but I could not get away from the image of the pig rolling in the mud. The shift in the melody from a high note to a low note as the cartoon shifted from Little Lulu swinging on a star to the pig is significant.
The synchronicity of these two images, the pendulum and the song about swinging on a star, arriving together do not escape my notice. Here we have the same image, the realities of life that we are all presented with every day of our lives, as we swing between the opposites. It’s impossible to escape the yin and yang of life, the Tamas and the Rajas, for we would not be in harmony with nature if we did not flow with what comes to us. Kushi says: “The forces of yin and yang are the most basic and primary, and are found throughout creation. All movement, formation, change, and interaction can be understood in terms of a basic yin and yang equation.”
We could not survive if we did not allow ourselves the experience of all of nature. Life itself is impossible without air, but too little air leaves us dull and unhealthy, while too much breath leaves us lightheaded. Sometimes we need a lot of breath to get through a situation, so on occasion excess of breath is necessary. For instance, a runner needs to breathe more vigorously when hitting a challenging terrain and this is good, but once the challenge is conquered a return to a calmer though still slightly heavier breathing pattern is appropriate when running. In our every day walking life, however, more normal breathing is appropriate. We all need sleep, but too little sleep leaves us dull and listless. On the other hand, if we were to sleep all the time we’d end up equally compromised, ending up as stagnant and inert beings with little incentive to return to life. Sometimes, however, more sleep is appropriate, just as sometimes more breath is appropriate. A return to normalcy, to the Middle Way, however, once the occasion for excess has passed, is necessary.
I see life as a swinging pendulum, energy in motion, and I swing with it, going where it takes me, making choices as I go, constantly being aware of choosing appropriately, considering my behaviors, my food choices, what and whom to engage, and how best to use my energy in order to remain in harmony within myself, nature, and the world without. This is riding the pendulum, deciding what feels energetically right for me, the person I am, in this body I reside in on a daily basis. Sometimes I go into excess and when I do I know that there will be an equivalent balance in the opposite direction. If I eat too much carrot cake, for instance, I might feel the loss of energy associated with the drop in blood sugar as the effects of the sugar wears off. This is the principle of yin and yang in action, the swinging of the pendulum, and as Kushi says: “In everything there is a front and a back.”
I try to keep these things in mind as I go about my daily life, noticing how my own pendulum swings, how it reacts to my environment, to my inner desires, how I may be momentarily drawn in one direction, but if I wait a little I notice how I swing away from that desire rather quickly. Sometimes a pause is all it takes, that split second before the turn of the pendulum, a slight hesitation before it swings in the opposite direction. I know that as it swings I will have new things to encounter, new desires might arise or not. Calmness and balance might ensue, agitation or worry might ride the pendulum with me for a while too, but eventually I get to the place of knowing that everything I encounter is okay. It’s all part of nature, of yin and yang, Tamas and Rajas; accepting what comes to greet me is all part of the Middle Way, being in balance, in Sattva.
The intent of my personal spiritual practice has long been in learning how to flow, how to allow for the swings of the pendulum without greater attachment. I have learned that though it swings this way now, it will swing in a new direction soon enough. And so, I am in harmony as I swing, though always seeking deeper meaning, deeper connection to my natural state of being, to my environment, to the people in my relationships, to my inner work. This is life. It is enough.
Riding the pendulum,
* Quotes are from The Macrobiotic Way by Michio Kushi.
For the past several years I have increasingly reasserted my intent to finding the middle way in all aspects of my life, what Lao-tzu calls the Tao. Having once set that intent the middle way opens before me. Lately, more often than not, I notice what comes to greet me. Books appear or I find them sitting on the bookshelf, purchased decades ago because they captivated me or someone else in the family. Now that I am ready to receive them they fall into my hands, old books now coming as new gifts.
I practice yoga and meditate as I always have and yet my practice has achieved a different balance now, as the middle way stresses balance in calm body and mind. I notice that this has happened slowly over a long period of time, that my struggles are less, my mind wanders less, my body relaxing more easily into the poses I do. My sitting is easier. My meditation cushion inviting now, where in the past it has sometimes appeared as a torture cushion.
I prepare my food in the middle way too; neither too extreme nor foreign, I seek what my locale offers, what my yard and the seasons offer. I prepare it calmly and patiently, putting my creativity into each step of the preparations, balancing tastes, textures, grains and vegetables, a little fish, a little meat sometimes.
None of this has been a quick or easy task, but instead has taken many years of slow change, as I constantly reset my intent to change myself and be in alignment with the world I live in. But this is where I find myself now, suddenly feeling as if I have arrived at a new place. And yet I know that this is what it is like to travel the middle way, to decide to live life in alignment with what comes, with where I live. I know that with my intent set, life itself will take me along the middle way, presenting me with its gifts.
I wake up and remember each day that: “Oh yes, I’m doing it differently now. I am a changing being.” Each day I look for the moment of shift when I can say: “Oh, so this is where I am now!” And then I am challenged to take note of the moment I find myself in, perhaps a calm moment, perhaps a stressful one. But the real challenge is in knowing that I have to make a decision and the question is always the same: How do I want to use my energy? Am I going to fight this moment of shift, or am I going to flow with it? Do I elect to calmly flow, or do I elect be aggressively reactive?
I reset my intent every time I am confronted with a shift, and once I’ve reminded myself of my path my challenge loses its bite. I already know that this path I am on is the middle way, that everything that comes to greet me is on this same middle path, and so how I react becomes a simple nod. Yes, I say, I know what to do with this unexpected kink or this unexpected surprise, whether negative or positive. I should not get overly attached to its power, but instead calmly accept that it has come into my life, appeared on my path because it is meaningful for my journey.
And so, there is acquiescence in choosing the middle way; there is acceptance, yet the rewards are great. In being in alignment, I achieve inner calmness and inner balance. In this process of giving and taking there is a sense of growth and attunement with nature, with the place I live and work in, where I give of my energy and receive new energy in return. In alignment it becomes perfectly clear what the only right choice for me to make is.
And so today, the day after a fine Christmas spent with loved ones, I am calm. And although it’s very cold in the Northeast on this wintry morning, I do not wish for sunshine or the heat of summer, for this is my life, this is where I am today. I make comfort where I am. I make calmness and beauty where I am. I make happiness where I am, even in seemingly small ways aligning with my environment, taking what is offered. I put on warm clothes. I light the fire and warm the house. I eat a warm breakfast. I make a fine life where I am now.
Tomorrow may bring something different, and yet I have set my intent to flow with what comes then too. I have no idea what I will be provided with on another day. For the moment this is all that matters. Today is enough. I am fully in the moment. This is the middle way.
I hope you are all well, and happy where you are, as even in small ways this is possible if one is intent upon traveling the middle way.