Common Ground: The Kinship of Metaphysicians
A syncretic approach to esoteric teachings - the golden threads that connect Pagans, Yogis, Rosicrucians and Masons.
The Middle Path
Every regimen of study, work, personal grooming or health which I have ever adapted and used successfully in my life, had to contain the elements of Reasonableness and Moderation. I never had the constitution for unremitting fanaticism. The Middle Path has always worked best for me. Whenever I did undertake a campaign of intense, focused effort, no matter how convinced of its necessity I might have been at the outset, I always found myself needing to take days off for rest and re-evaluation.
The Buddha discovered the Middle Path when he overheard a music teacher observing that if you don't tighten a string enough, it will not play; but if you tighten it too much, it will break! That made sense to Siddhartha, and it makes sense to me.
In my lifetime, I have witnessed too many beautiful athletes who died young because they pushed themselves to train too hard. Whenever I have come near that point of exhaustion, my survival instinct has intervened to save me from such a fate. I was content to allow those who were obviously more gifted in such areas to attain the gold medals; at least I was still alive to fight another day! I always felt that I was needed for some other purpose yet to come; I wasn't supposed to sacrifice everything, just yet. Not for this.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that Yoga is the Middle Path. It is neither for the glutton who stuffs himself with too much food, nor for the ascetic who denies himself any food at all. Nature dictates a proper balance between Ahimsa and Tapas.
To an actor, the art of performance is a delicate balance between muscular tone and total flexibility - a Middle Path employing both diaphragmatic tension and relaxed vocal chords. You must be trained and thoroughly rehearsed, but you must also be sensitive to the ephemeral inspiration of the moment.
Life itself is like walking on a tightrope or the edge of a blade. It takes constant rebalancing and adjustment to keep from slipping off. You need strength to hold yourself up, but at the same time you must be pliable and responsive to every changing wind that may strike you from any direction.
A tree that cannot bend will break.
A similar Middle Path applies, I think, when it comes to the degree of complexity we need to accept in order to function well. Some years ago, I ran across an online book that claimed to be a Medieval Alchemy text revealing the ancient secrets of Creation. Its pages displayed hundreds of abstruse metaphysical drawings, showing supposed correspondences between planets, elements, colors, vowel sounds, chakras, numerical sequences and kabalistic designs - none of which bore any relationship to anything I had to deal with in my everyday life.
It was even more complicated than the yoga style that insists on perfect alignment of each muscle and joint in the foot, ankle, calf, knee and thigh before a person can be considered to be properly standing up!
As diverting as such tidbits of knowledge are, for a person of my mental and emotional composition keeping them all simultaneously in mind would be more than obsessive-compulsive. It would make me crazy.
I'm not saying that the laws of the universe aren't complicated. But I don’t have to be able to build a car in order to drive one. A basic understanding of how it works and experience behind the wheel are enough to make me a skillful driver.
I think the same principle applies to skillful living. I need a basic understanding of my body, my world and my culture. I need to spend some years learning how to operate within these elements in a practical way. I don't need to know as much as the Divine Architect of the universe. But neither should I take Her lessons for granted; I should pay attention.
Referring back to the Buddha, one day his disciples came to him asking how to breathe. (They were Hindus, and Yoga prescribes a multitude of different breathing patterns under Pranayama.) Siddhartha cooled their mania by observing that the salient point was simply to breathe. Each person could decide how for himself.
People can make life as complicated as they wish; but it doesn't need to be more complicated than that.
On the World Tree, human beings occupy Middle Earth - the realm between the Heavens and the Lower Depths. This is the very fulcrum of the seesaw, the point of Balance itself.
If this doesn't speak to us about the advisability of the Middle Path, maybe we're not listening closely enough.