The Middle Way

The Buddha Shakyamuni called Buddhism The Middle Way. This refers to a balance in our daily lives. We avoid extremes like extensive fasting and extensive indulgence. The Buddha found this in the path he followed while meditating and practicing.

He was born around 500 BC into great wealth, a Prince all set to become King. At one point in his life, after living through what must have been a luxurious youth, he had a spiritual awakening. His past lives began to surface. Suddenly he began thinking about life and death, pain and pleasure. He wondered if suffering was the unavoidable end of everything we did. Compassion arose in him like a storm, and he left the palace and became a wandering sadhu. He relinquished all material things. He fasted extensively to the point of physical emaciation. And then, at another point in his life, he abandoned both of these extremes (the wealth of his youth and the asceticism of his practice) and opted for The Middle Way, where he lived as he needed for his meditation and spiritual practice. He compared this to the strings of a guitar being tuned just right, neither too loose nor too tight.

But his Middle Way also refers to the Buddhist practice of shifting states of mind by slipping between thing. Each state of mind has structure. States of mind such as happiness, ecstasy, anger, depression, elation, and others all have a certain structure that makes shifting between them somewhat difficult. Our awareness has structure, and changing it requires effort.

One thing that the Buddha found is that there are certain times when it is easier to change. Some examples are between waking and sleeping, between night and day (dawn and dusk), between the seasons (the solstices and equinoxes), or between two thoughts. There is a moment when we are not really in one time or the other. We are not really awake or asleep, we are not really in spring or in summer. At that moment we can more easily shift between states of mind. We can more easily change who we are. Our practice is accelerated, just like a small car on the highway that gets into the slipstream of a large truck and is pulled along.

Finding these times is simple. Just see what you are between. You may be between jobs, between lovers, between apartments, or between years (a birthday). By noting these times and using them you can always be moving your practice along.

Buddhists (and most religions) celebrate the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. We all celebrate birthdays. Sunrise and sunset are great times for meditation. And meditating on the moment between thoughts makes that moment grow longer, and eventually those thoughts become rarer and rarer, and we suddenly have stopped thought.

Naturally you can begin to organize some aspects of your practice around these times. We know when the equinoxes and solstices are, and can plan for them. We can setup our lives so that we have more time to meditate during the few days before and after them. We can fast as we go into an equinox or solstice. If you are a particularly lucky person you can try to schedule job changes around that time, and then be between jobs and seasons at the same time. That's like getting behind an extremely large truck on the highway.