April 20, 2015

Carving out your own Middle Way.


If you’re like me, it’s a constant struggle to find what the Buddhists call “The Middle Way”.

The Middle Way is a concept of Buddhism that refers to a balanced approach to life in which one does not live by extreme principles and instead embodies the concept of moderation.

I have personally interpreted the Middle Way to represent a balanced path of life dedicated to fulfilling both my own needs as well as the needs of others —but this is where it gets tricky.

One does not need to have gone to a prestigious university to know that the needs of others are plenty. According to the Huffington Post, approximately 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water.

When I hear statistics like this, the pill of my first-world privilege all of the sudden becomes much more difficult to swallow.

Despite the fact that my job and social life both consist of serving others and even though I give monetary contributions to charities that work to alleviate the suffering in Third World countries, I am still keenly aware that no matter how much I give, I could always give more.

That being said, it does not benefit me or anybody else to ruminate and feel guilty about this imbalance. In fact, according to many schools of thought, creating more suffering within myself is creating more suffering in the world as a whole. While I can personally always count on eating three meals a day and having clean water to drink, that does not mean I do not have other needs that need to be filled as well. So where do I find the balance?

A friend of mine recently said to me, “life is a series of recalibration”.

Like the practice of Shamatha meditation during which I bring myself back to the breath as soon as I am pulled away by my thoughts, I am constantly doing things to return to my center. Sometimes I get drawn into a hedonistic lifestyle for a few days and it feels great to let go of some of that First World guilt I spoke about earlier, but sooner or later it will catch up to me and no longer can external world pleasures keep me satisfied.

I feel as if I’ve been living too much for my own satisfaction and feel an obligation to be of service to others in some way. Other times the guilt of the privileges of my life makes it hard to enjoy the experience in front of me so I engage in activities to bring me back to my center again. In all of this I am reminded that there is no formula for the Middle Way. Rather, it is a path we all must carve out for ourselves.

One cannot separate themselves from the needs of others, but it is equally as important not to separate from the needs of one’s self. How much giving is enough? How much giving is too much? Where do we draw the line? Perhaps we are meant to grapple with these questions and learn to rest in the awareness that in the end, there are no answers. We can only try our best and hope that our time on this earth leaves it in better shape then when we got here.


Author: Jesse Bernstein

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Guilherme GMP/Flickr

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