May 8, 2017

The Middle Way: What No One told us about Being Single.

Maybe there is not just one way or another—perhaps there is a space we can learn to rest that is in-between.

This is what I am beginning to think about life and our relationships with one another. I am starting to believe that the way we originally thought about them was all wrong.

Studying mindfulness practices has taught me a few things. These were epiphanies that did not arrive immediately, but dribbled out slowly into my life—more like molasses might flow in the winter. These teachings were stubborn to unfold. I think because of the conditioning we’ve been exposed to, we believe our lives and love statuses should look a certain way in order for us to feel good.

But, being that it is 2017 and we are meant to be becoming more open-minded (and hearted), it might suit us now to soften to some ancient wisdom on this matter—for being single does not have to mean what we were told.

We were trained to believe in a certain fallacy from a very early age. We were taught that things are solid and that our relationships must be too. Why? Well, because…

Sometimes it gets achy, this human experience of being alive. And so we begin to fear it. We begin to try to make it different than it is. We fight with the very order of the world—which is that it is constantly changing—and, thus, we get a little mixed up.

So if our lives shudder and shake, and the earth beneath us does not always feel stable, it is because it is not. Our relationship statuses aren’t either, meaning we might find ourselves single when we didn’t think we would. But this does not have to mean that we are lonely or suffering. Maybe it just means we need to take on a new perspective in our lives.

In her book, When Things Fall Apart, the renowned American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, writes about our attachments. She says, “We deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

Isn’t this truer than permanent structure? Things in life are always being built up and then torn back down. They are regularly and equivocally uncertain. Isn’t trying to make something solid, that by its nature is not, sort of crazy?

Life is actually fluid, at least this is what yogis and Buddhists believe.

I feel the same way about the construction of relationships. I feel that we have this idea that they stay one way, but when we observe them closely, do they? Ever? Really? Or is impermanence actually the reality here as well?

Could we find peace with our current status instead by understanding the organic tendency of the world? I think we can. We just have to retrain ourselves, like a rewiring of our brains. It is a reprogramming that no longer sees “single” as a problem. One that understands there are many ways to be happy and to feel love.

In Buddhism we are trained that what is here in this one moment is all that we need to be okay, content, and feel free. We are taught in meditation to continually come back into this exact second and to do so by following our ever-changing breath.

Could this be part of the rewiring of our brains? What if we learned to be friendly with the changes in our lives? Perhaps even be compassionate with the things that come and go—like people, our breath, and our “statuses?”

The middle way that Pema Chödrön was referring to is a principle we can lean on. It is a fundamental teaching of the Buddha.

The middle way is about not having to live extremes and about accepting the truth of life and love. It is about finding a balance in our lives, in which we don’t lean too much this way or that way.

To me, being single has taught me this. It has shown me that I don’t have to cling to one thing to experience happiness. In fact, I often feel greater and more consistent love when I’m single than I do when in a more “permanent” status—something that no one told me would occur.

There’s freedom in the middle way. And there can also be great peace.

We will get achy from time to time as we work on reconditioning our belief that being single is a condemnation—some sort of suffering. And even when we become okay with what is, allowing ourselves to miss and long and love should stay. We always want to feel the experience of being fully alive.

Sometimes being fully alive is shaky. Sometimes the earth will shudder beneath our feet. Sometimes people leave.

We must not forget that everything we interact with throughout the world is alive and so, naturally, impermanent.

We must not forget that by their nature, relationships and statuses come and go. This is the peace we were not told we could find when we were single. It is the wisdom of the middle way—leaning into the freedom and honesty that is discovered in the “in-between,” in the organic nature of things.


Author: Sarah Norrad
Image: Jonathan Pendleton/Unsplash
Editor: Leah Sugerman

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