Article 32 Finding the (quiet) Middle (edited after initial publication)
Partly due to an onslaught of recreational excursions – either to nearby beach or thermal waters – and partly due to existential ‘Plandemic’-induced angst, and no doubt also partly due to Factor X, have recently hit a brick wall of writer’s block. Which is also due to this chapter’s topic which arose as one during the composition of the previous two articles about sacred perception and mandala and yet arose in a form which involves contemplating the sad state of current affairs which in these troubled times involve issues which I would prefer to avoid not because they are not interesting or important but because we no longer live in a culture that can handle such discussions with any sort of equanimity.
For it seems that no matter where you are on the spectrum, you have an extreme view. For example, if we take the ‘vaccine’ debate:
Pro: everyone should take it as soon as possible, even children who have less risk of dying from COVID than dying in a car crash.
Anti: if you take it you might die within three years as micro blood clots gradually build throughout the body including the major organs and/or you might later be subject to monitoring via implanted nanotech and emerging 5G.
Middle: What is the middle? Given the great amount of contrary information from informed medical experts, including those who helped develop the new mRNA methods (which do not fit the dictionary definition of ‘vaccines’ by the way), how can one know what the reasonable middle is? Perhaps it is reasonable that most people default to trusting the main interlocutors from government agencies like the CDC in America as presented by Dr. Fauci – who isn’t a medical practitioner BTW, but since he is pushing products for which he holds patents via huge for-profit ‘Big Pharma’ companies like Pfizer who have often lost huge lawsuits because of their often toxic products or fraudulent practices, how can such pronouncements be regarded as a ‘reasonable middle?’
And we are in a similar pickle jar – marinating in acid basically! – when it comes to various political and cultural issues like the 2020 US Election, or feminism, or gender-bending initiatives like having biological males competing with biological females in sports, or racial issues, or the notion of white privilege, or capitalism versus socialism and so forth. All of them are becoming increasingly extreme in content and tone such that it is very hard to navigate through such ideologically inflamed hell realms in our increasingly agitated – and censored – public squares, be they in real world or cyberspace.
First, a little backtrack to explore this notion of Middle. Recently, this series of short essays has veered into becoming a form of glossary, so one of the last such terms needing definition is the venerable Buddhist notion of Middle, often referred to in translation is Middle Way or Middle Path. The Sanskrit is Madhyamika and when asked what his approach was, the Buddha would not have described his body of teachings and recommendations as ‘Buddhism’ but rather ‘The Middle Way’ which, simply put, avoids any extremes. In conventional spiritual practice terms, for example, this can be described as avoiding the extreme of either asceticism or sybaritic hedonism, i.e. avoiding sensory pleasure or indulgence entirely or exploring it without limits rejecting all bourgeois or conventionally-minded limits. No, the true spiritual path is what I have called the ‘reasonable middle’. And by reasonable I don’t necessarily mean derived from reason and logic, just that it’s ordinary, practical, earthy, simple – aka ‘reasonable.’ Note that this reasonable middle may not necessarily be what is widely viewed as ‘normal.’ Society gets into all sorts of passing phases and what is normal to one generation – like well-intentioned banter and flirting – becomes anathema to another that can get you disgraced or even imprisoned.
But although the Buddha discussed the Middle Way principally as it concerned his recommended approach to spiritual development, it can well be applied to all circumstances in any life or society in terms of finding the sane way forward, the one which avoids falling into various traps of extremism, for if you look at things which have gone wrong, you can nearly always trace them back to one form of extremism or another.
In earlier articles I harped on about ideologies and the Ideologues who worship and promulgate them. Essentially, that is the same sort of point, albeit there the emphasis was on the nature of concept versus reality, that holding onto Big Ideas often means losing touch with ordinary, kitchen sink reality, not to mention getting caught up in various Conceptual Realms in the Head instead of the universally Royal Kingdom of the Heart.
In meditation lingo this is traditionally described as taming the mind which should be done in the same way as one tunes a string instrument, namely ‘not too tight or too loose.’ Actually, this is perhaps a better way of describing the extremes rather than saying left or right as we do in the political sphere, because it acknowledges that there are truly different approaches at play. We can regard asceticism as extremely tight, and hedonism as extremely loose for example. In the political sphere there are usually two broad approaches which may or may not veer into extreme modalities, namely what can be termed, broadly speaking, as ‘traditionalist’ and ‘reformist.’
The traditionalists appreciate what has been passed down to them by their ancestors, many of whom struggled mightily, even laying down their lives, to bequeath their descendants a better world, and many of them actually doing a decent job of it. The reformists perceive various areas in the current situation which are deficient in some way, for example being stuck in some outmoded way of doing things which impedes improvement. Both perspectives have merit but both can go astray into some form of extreme. Extreme traditionalists might insist that we must keep doing things in exactly the same way as our ancestors did them, regarding any sort of deviation as a type of sacrilege. Reformists can stray into regarding everything inherited from the past as essentially evil and from that extreme position proceed to embark on trajectories that seek to destroy everything from the past by replacing it with a New Reality (usually Big Idea driven given there is no current real world example).
So each side, so to speak, can be further divided into a too tight or too loose extreme just like Jonathan Swift’s oft-quoted:
“Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em;
and little fleas have lesser fleas and so ad infinitum!”
So this is how the Middle Way suggestion become both interesting and profound. Because it’s not like either the traditionalist or reformist approach is necessarily wrong or extreme, rather that each approach can be pursued in ways that become too tight or too loose, too rigid or too wild, too narrow or too broad, too fanatic or too fanatic (!).
So finding the Middle, interestingly, is as much Art as Science. And the proper way to conduct oneself in Art is, not surprisingly, artfully, which implies a certain degree of graceful nimbleness, ideally with some generous dollops of good humour thrown in, not to mention good will as well. The Middle Way is both subtle and ordinary, like the quiet inner voice mentioned in an earlier article. And though it may sometimes be hard to discern, it is sturdy without necessarily being stolid or surly. Emotionally it is always even-keeled; logically it is always rational; scientifically it is always verifiable and practical; politically it is always beneficial and easy to implement giving instantly visible results; in conversation it encourages easy discussion conducted with mutual good will along with occasional spontaneous outbursts of good-humoured laughter, an ebb and flow universally recognized.
This Middle sounds like a place, like perhaps the number 5 on a dial going from 0 to 10 but it’s more like the middle of a river. A river is not only in continuous flux but also each part is different from every other; sometimes the middle is five yards from the shore and sometimes one mile; sometimes the middle is turbulent and fast-flowing, sometimes it is tranquil, barely moving at all. So the Middle can’t really be defined in absolute terms – except in the abstract – rather is a relative, situational thing which continually changing, adapting.
I hesitated to broach this topic because it originally arose in my mind in response to various increasingly heated debates of late about whether or not the new mRNA COVID shots should be force-injected into people without their consent, or whether or not it is constitutionally acceptable for private industry to insist that their employees take an experimental medical procedure or lose their positions and income (in which case they are not being forced to take it, just given a very extreme either-or scenario in which to decide whether or not to consent to the procedure).
This debate is exacerbated by the extreme situation most western societies have increasingly been finding themselves in, predating the onslaught of the ‘invisible enemy’ in early 2020 as manifest in America, for example, by the Rise and Fall of Donald J Trump as President, victim of Intelligence and the so-called ‘Deep State’ and unlikely election loss after receiving many millions more votes than the first time around, something which has never before happened in American history and with his opponents relying on huge numbers of poorly (or not even) verified mail-in ballots using procedures not permitted by Statute to submit and then process them and then refusing to conduct full audits afterwards by not allowing them to be adjudicated in a Court of Law, which is the usual way for resolving differences, including ones involving election outcomes. So here there is a vivid, ongoing example of a country bitterly divided (and this is just one current example of many such inflamed divides right now) with each side believing that the other side operates in bad faith and thus is essentially demonic. Talk about a good example of extreme.
Even worse, because both sides are extreme (it might not be in terms of logic but emotion or view about the opponent etc.), it is very hard to discern what may or may not be a reasonable middle. Indeed, where extremism is the norm, truth is rarely to be found, and in absence of truth it is hard not to fall into the trap of believing one’s own theories, and not knowing who is doing what, such theories tend towards projecting responsibility onto some sort of imaginary organisation, aka ‘them.’
So here is perhaps overly simplistic guideline for how to deal with this ongoing existential conundrum: rather than trying too hard to parse through tons of mutually hostile polemic about any given issue – like whether or not to take the vaccine for example – first you have to quieten down the shouting on either or both sides that you may be importing into your own head and heart. This does not mean that you have to go and sit down quietly and meditate – though meditation is always a fine thing to do (albeit better to do it for its own sake as a regular discipline, not as a specific therapeutic or antidote). Rather, it simply means to tone down any extremist aspects in one’s own configuration before trying to learn from external presentations. And in handling those, one naturally finds oneself developing the ability to discern any too-tight or too-loose aspects both in oneself and others. Tuning into the too tight or too loose dynamics allows one to better discern the underlying balance or its lack of any given point of view or dynamic. Further, once one can pick up on any given extreme one can intuit its opposite extreme and thus have a halfway decent shot at discerning the quiet, oft overlooked, Middle.
The linked video below provides a good example of a reasonable person with direct personal experience navigating through the complex issues around the pandemic. He has run a ‘COVID healthcare unit’ in “Oahu’s biggest skilled nursing facility” and so has considerable first-hand experience with patients. Some of his conclusions may or may not fit with other situations, but given his particular situation, clearly he is a sincere, intelligent and experienced person who is beset by all sorts of extreme positions and policies and, not surprisingly, having a difficult time navigating his way through it all whilst apparently still managing to maintain a relatively even keel, both emotionally and logically. Kudos to him.