Compassion 101: The Middle Way is Not a Tightrope
I talk about being steady inside, but that doesn’t mean static.
When I first got exposed to the idea of the Middle Way (a Buddhist concept), I thought it sounded boring and well, unadorned, like not ever wearing pretty colors or laughing too loudly.
I also felt this way about the saying, “Everything in moderation.”
As happens to most of us, as I grew older my perspectives shifted, and I began to get tired out by my volatile emotions and interactions. The first tool that helped me find steadiness inside was Hatha yoga. I remember telling my friend that it made me feel like I was just in my animal body, just being, without all those pesky thoughts and feelings. It was such a relief and fostered a lifelong love of laying on the floor.
To get back to the point, being more steady inside is a different thing than controlling yourself.
It’s easy to think that if you could just not have such big reactions to life that all would be well. If you could just stop yourself, ratchet down, and get it together. (Read more on that here)
And please know that very often all of this is happening inside of you, with a calm face presented to the world. As adults, we have mostly learned not to act out (whatever that means), and instead have learned to make our inner landscapes the backdrops for our unresolved emotions, thoughts, and actions. This does keep society more pleasant, but I’m not sure if it’s healthier.
Here is what I think about the Middle Way and moderation now- they are not about the outer world. They are not about our actions, they are about the intention behind our actions.
What you should (I have been so indoctrinated with the word should being negative it feels like I am writing a curse word) strive to have steady is how you regard yourself, how steady your self-compassion is.
What is in the middle is a garden path through your heart that is wide enough for however many people and animals you love (it is made of heart magic after all) and is paved with the understanding that you, and everyone else, are products of past experiences, filters that we see the world through, and truth. When we take all of that into account, we are compassionate to ourselves and others. We have the ability to consider the source in both an individual and a larger way. We have a compassionate perspective.
How does that look in real life?
If I have an unreasonably dramatic reaction to a situation (for me it’s people being angry), and I am able to notice that I am reacting in a disproportionate way, I take that sliver of space that awareness offers me, and I stuff as much self-compassion in it as I possibly can. I remind myself in a non-verbal rush: "You are safe, you can ask questions, there is love here too, you can leave, you can react how it feels right to, you do not need to hide, it’s ok for emotions to be expressed, what is the next right thing?" That is me giving compassion to myself in that situation. It gives me steadiness and access to the middle way inside myself. When I am in touch with what I call the small voice that knows what is true, I can navigate uncomfortable situations in a much more healthy way.
Again, what needs to be steady is our regard for ourselves and others.
Regard: attention to or concern for something.
Steady: regular, even, and continuous in development, frequency, or intensity.
(from the Oxford dictionary.)
Alright, Sarah, how do we get there?
Consider accepting as fact that every person, including yourself, brings their unresolved past, current belief system, and unexamined learned emotional patterns into every interaction they have. These are the lenses we look at each other through. Accepting that, and all that it entails helps us to sense deeper into people and interactions instead of making snap judgments. It begins to open up the space for awareness and compassion to fit into.
Just that. It’s enough.