Believe in nothing, no matter who says it, even if I say it, if it does not agree with your own experience and your own common sense ~ Buddha

The Middle Path

Before I start, full disclosure, I’m one the spiritual-not-religious set. Not the born again type, which would be bad enough, I’m the seeker type, the spiritual pilgrim. 😛

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household that didn’t even pretend at religion, and so from the time I realized that town kids did a funny thing called church on the weekends, I studied them with the gravitas and curiosity of Jane Goodall.

Hence, everything I know about religion I learned from a book. The source of the greatest confusion, for me, was the difference between what the Bible taught, versus what was actually practiced. For instance, I read the Old Testament and wondered where the hell Jewish people got all the pigeons and lambs to sacrifice. I was a very literal-minded child.

In high school, after I had read my way through the fiction section, I tackled the non-fiction section. Where does the Dewey Decimal system start? World religions. Taoism, Buddhism, Confuscianism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, Kabbalah, and Zoroastrianism, just to hit the high points! Those are only the living religions; I studied what I could of the dead ones too– anglo-saxon paganism, Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Roman pantheons, as well as what little was known about the Central American religions. This concept of human faith was so fascinating to me!

So as you can see, I’ve done the legwork, the a la carte menu, if you will, and while many of the teachings have caught my fancy, and been integrated into my personal mythos, most are just pretty stories I use to inform my understanding of human behaviour.

Now, due diligence done, I’ll tell you the metaphysical crisis that’s been occupying my mind of late: Duality.

Now, I’ve pretty much nailed the understanding that labelling a thought-concept automatically limits it, creating a duality between that-which-is and that-which-is-not. Therefore, to experience life as fully as possible, you must at all costs refrain from judging or labelling it. (Suggested reading: The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle and Siddartha by Hermann Hesse) Scribbles and I began our friendship over a discussion of duality and cups.

But I was recently at a class (connecting consciousness, physics and metaphysics) and the instructor gave a demonstration concerning polarization, a particularly pernicious form of dualism.

She sat the class (about a dozen) in a circle, and placed one person in the middle. She put her hand on the shoulder of one person on the perimeter of the circle and said “This person represents world peace”. Then she went to the opposite side of the circle and said,  “This person represents universal conflict.” Finally, she said to the person in the middle,  “Where do you want to be?” Of course the person went and arrayed themselves beside “World Peace”. “Whoops,” she said, “Now you’ve tipped the balance. In order to get back into balance, the world will present more conflict.”

Now, accepting the validity of this exercise means accepting that not only does Newton’s First Law apply, but that there is a basic karmic principle at work. THIS is my understanding of karmic law… Not that good begets good and evil evil. But that supporting and cleaving to the yin or the yang of any situation will strengthen the opposite as well.

The is a very little understood concept; or, if it is understood, very little applied. But you do see it occasionally.

One example is Seek first to understand, then to be understood. By shifting your mental weight off of proving your own position, and striving to see if the opposite argument has any merit, you achieve a sort of mental balance, or the middle path, as it is known in any number of religions. Only then can you proceed from any kind of defensible mental position. Why? Because the more you stick to your side of the argument, the more pig-headed and unreasonable you are, the more your opponent gets that way too, and the less ground you’ll gain with them.

Moderation in all things; not only the food we eat, the pleasures we enjoy, and the mental self-flagellation we undergo, but also in our outlook, our perspectives.

It’s not about winning the argument, that’s just a concrete example of the energy built up by choosing a side. Any polarity requires the existence of its opposite in order to exist itself. Without dark, light cannot be distinct. Without sickness, there is no health. Prosperity is impossible without poverty.

So I’ve just been paying attention in my life to the ways in I align myself with a polarity, and I’m starting to investigate what my experience of life would be different if I did.

(For those of you that have been paying attention, yes, that is where my epiphany with Xris arose from. )

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Comments on: "The Middle Path" (15)

  1. Brad Warner is going to have to pay me some goddamned royalties for all the hype I’m giving his book. I’m not obsessed with it or anything, it’s just that I finished reading it the other day, it happens to apply to everything I’ve been talking about with people recently, and he says it better than I could. Enjoy:

    So let’s look at some other issues involved with the Zen idea of avoiding preferences.

    I suspect most people, when they first hear of this notion of avoiding preferences, think of it the way I did when I first heard it. You think, “Oh my God! I like vanilla better than chocolate! I like the Ramones better than Air Supply! I like lying on the beach better than getting hit in the face with a two-by-four! I have so many preferences! What am I going to do?”

    In other words, you think, as I did, that preferences are a solid thing that must be gotten rid of. You imagine that some kind of bizarre mental gymnastics must be involved in ridding yourself of all like and dislike so that someday, when you go to Ben and Jerry’s and they ask you what flavor you want, you’ll just smile beatifically and say, “Give me whatever you like, for lo, I am free from preferences.”

    …The idea of avoiding preferences doesn’t mean that we need to be complacent and leave even the worst situations in life just as they are. The first step in effectively changing something that clearly needs to be changed is accepting the way it actually is…But bringing the matter of avoiding preferences into even tighter focus than that, being without preference means that when you have preferences – and you always will – you let go of any notion that you should not have them. You let go of your preference for being free of preference. Even having preferences is not a problem. The real root of our problems as human beings is the way we fly off into imagining how things could, or should, be.

    • I know. For a lot of years, Buddhism made no sense to me. Killing the false ego? Why? I’m Awesome, even in my flawed state. I’m sure if I let go of that I’d find another, even better layer of awesome underneath, but hey, what’s the hurry? Enjoying the awesome I have was more Buddist, I thought, than seeking even more awesome at the top of a mountain.

      This is the class that finally made me see how polarities strengthen each other. When I learned physics in high school and we did the damn equations, I never could wrap my head around the fact that there was an opposite, yet equal force acting upon any obect. It was the equal part that always threw me. For a stationary object, sure. But if the object was in motion, how can there be opposing yet equal forces? One has to be stronge, i thought, to cause the motion. I still don’t fully understand it, but I think its something like this.

      • opposite, yet equal force

        …applied in the opposite direction to a different object. Yours is a common misunderstanding that your teacher may have taught you (my high school physics teacher told me gravity was caused by the earth’s spin.)

        I have a similar religious background. I went to the Unitarian church where I was taught to respect others’ attempts to find Truth, which we actually studied in Sunday school. You left out Sufiism, which is remarkable for it’s peaceful nature despite being surrounded by violence. I appreciate those who try to nudge others in the right directions.

      • @noel. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever read about Sufism. Nothing’s coming up in the mental databanks.

        So explain to me what I don’t understand about physics? You’re a science teacher, I believe. My science teacher didn’t like me because I asked too many Why questions when he was busy teaching about the How.

    • You let go of your preference for being free of preference.

      I know, I know. But I want to merge the understanding of reality I have in quiet moments with my state of mind during the rest of my life. Oh wait, I need to stop wanting that! The joke’s always on the unenlightened self.

      • For me this is an opportunity to exercise the third person perspective. Who is this creature with her desires? How interesting! How odd! Now, why is she acting that way? The impartial observer is I think how you get out of the habit of preferences.

        I don’t want roast beef for supper. We always have roast beef. But then I think, Who cares? Did you have to cook it? Is is worth more to you to have variety in your diet than to value a husband who makes supper every night? What’s behinf this preference? Is is ungratefulness? Is it dissatisfaction with the status quo? Why does this disatisfaction occur? What underlies that? And what’s under that.

        I think the act of dispassionately breaking things down causes your preferences to lose a lot of their charge. If they don’t matter. If the do matter, then you are a lot clear on WHY they matter.

        It’s important to me that I have a partner who is reliable and honest. Why? Because I believe that people should do what they say they will do and I can’t really respect someone that can’t. Why do people have to do what they say they will do? Isn’t there a grey area? Yes, there can be, but what matters is that they try their hardest to follow through, even if it’s not ultimately possible.
        Now I can see that when I fight with my husband about him taking on more than he’s capable of complete and he asks why it’s any of my business, I can tell him that he’s either lying to me, lying to himself, or lying to the people he says yes to, and when push comes to shove, household responsibilities are the first thing to suffer.

        If I were more enlightened, I could let go of the perspective that he should hold up his end of the chores, knowing of course that I have the choice to either do them, or not do them, and that of course if the situation became intolerable, I also have the choice to leave. That perspective, and most particularly, your reaction to that perspective, is very informative. But most people shy away from that perspective because it asks so many big, hard questions. If you have the courage to go deep into the answers, you find what you’ve probably known all along: Life is about choices. Not making a choice is still making a choice, and not having preferences is not the same as not making choices.

  2. Explain…science? You’re not just making fun of me like those girls in Revenge of the Nerds, are you?
    Newts 3rd Law: Cue ball hits eight ball. Cue ball stops, eight ball moves. What stopped the cue ball? Force in the opposite direction to its motion. What moved the eight ball? Force in the same direction as motion. Equal and opposite forces acting on different objects from the same collision.
    Rocket engine: Explosive combustion pushes exhaust backwards and rocket forwards (No need for air!). Same force, opposite directions, but exhaust accelerates much faster because it has less mass.

    The Sufis are Muslims whose practices and beliefs seem more like Buddhists’. They meditate and preach compassion and tolerance, to be closer to a God that is identified with the whole universe. They are the Whirling Dervishes! Which I’ve always been fond of just because they make the world a more interesting place.

    • Hmmm. That was…clear. Really, it was. What’s not clear to me is how I got that misconception in high school and I never got rid of it. Curse you, Mr Price!

      Seriously though, isn’t there something called inertia pushing back on every object that’s moving at a constant rate? Isn’t that the equal yet opposite force?

  3. A push is a force, so no, no net force is pushing back on an object going a constant velocity. It would slow down if there was, which is usually what happens due to friction. Galileo rolled balls on metal tracks to reduce friction and figured out that they tended to keep going. The law of inertia, attributed to Newton: an object in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force ( because of iinertia – a property of mass).
    The source of the misconception: A book sitting on a table doesn’t move because it has two eqal forces acting on it, gravity and the support of the table called the normal force. But those are not the “equal and opposite forces” referred to by the third law! If the table collapses, the normal force wil no longer be equal to gravity and the book will fall. But the force the book exerts on the table will always be equal to the force the table exerts on the book! That is the “equal and opposite” pair.

  4. Just lil-ole-me, checking in late and JustKnowing that this is a “Holy Jamocha, Batman! I gotta read this one for real!” post, but sooo-NOT at 2:30 in the morning!

    bookmarked and “notifiy me”d.

    I also pro’ly should also finish and post my Draft about “Physics + Metaphysics = AhHah!” before I read any deeper.

    Gooood night, all!

  5. Haha! Spend as much time as you want to back here. If you start an argument, Scribbles and Noel probly still have their notifications turned on, so we can all have a good metaphysical brawl

  6. Looking forward to it, and “that’s what I’m afraid of” (the time factor, as in “huge time-magnet” that is) at the same time!

    See you again *here*, soon, but probably not today!
    😉 K

    • After reading your “Screwing up…” post …

      I’m also really hesitant to ‘look like I don’t know what the f* I’m talking about’!!!

      – there, see, I’m raising my hand about all my really-truly fear-thangs.
      – and also ‘watching my boundaries’ – ‘ cuz I’m only just now, in the last week or so, getting better at keeping track of lots of balls in the air at once.

      • Actually, people LIKE people who say “Well, this is how I look at it, but what’s your perspective?” In this virtual world we all live in, the seeming of authority is getting rather more hype than actual authority and wisdom, which doesn’t advertise as well. “Seeming” is the least of your worries, because actual knowledge trumps it every time.

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