Learning To Stay In The Middle

January 20th, 2013

Author and activist Terry Tempest Williams wrote about “staying in the middle” in Leap.

In the middle of my life, I am coming to see the middle path as a walk with wisdom where conversations of complexity can be found, that the middle path is the path of movement. . . . In the right and left worlds, the stories are largely set. . . . We become missionaries for a position . . . practitioners of the missionary position. Variety is lost. Diversity is lost. Creativity is lost in our inability to make love with the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about staying in the middle of change. On the one hand, you need to make plans, take action and show some conviction. This is the leading edge of change and sometimes requiring pushing the envelope. On the other hand, you have to stay open and not get locked into super specific outcomes. This is the middle of change where you learn to say “we’ll see.”

There is a Taoist story about an old farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors came and said. “Such bad luck.”

“We’ll see,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

“How fortunate,” the neighbors said. “We’ll see,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy.

“We’ll see,” said the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the boy’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer.

“We’ll see,” said the farmer.

This story describes staying in the middle, rolling with the punches, not jumping to conclusions. Another word for staying in the middle is equanimity. Equanimity comes from Latin words aequus meaning balanced, and animus meaning spirit or
inner state. Equanimity is inner balance, impartiality, calmness. Equanimity is keeping your cool no matter what the circumstances.

Allan Lokos said,

A modern definition of equanimity: cool. This refers to one whose mind remains stable & calm in all situations.

“We’ll see” is an empowering phrase. Next time someone tells you you can’t do something, say “we’ll see.” Its a way of disagreeing without getting defensive or argumentative. Next time someone judges you or predicts your future, say calmly, “we’ll see.” Its a phrase of non defensive, non attached, acceptance and quiet confidence that whatever needs to happen will happen.

Equanimity is a prized state in Buddhism. The Buddha used two Pali words; Upekkha, meaning “to observe or look over” and tatramajjhattata, meaning “to stand in the middle of all these things”. Equanimity is about observing without concluding. It’s not passive. It’s about full engagement with the moment, full wonder at the possibilities, without attachment to specific outcomes. Imagine how many opportunities you would miss in life if you had already made up your mind what needs to happen.

Equanimity is the ability to accept all that happens–praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, trust and betrayal, without attaching to the feeling and locking into an expectation. Equanimity allows you to stand in the middle of both praise and criticism, success and loss, without losing your cool. Circumstances and our our state of mind change so rapidly, that equanimity helps us not to attach to any circumstance or feeling.

Equanimity is the balance of doing what you can and then stepping back and letting life take its course. It stops you from fighting tooth and nail with reality when reality is telling you that is not yet your time.

This is a profound truth. It’s not an accident that we often describe people who have inner peace as “centered” or “grounded”. A circle is a symbol of infinite acceptance. As the Buddha said, “They abide in peace who do not abide anywhere”.

Or I would prefer to say, “Those who abide in peace abide everywhere”. Equanimity makes you at home in your own skin, which makes you feel at home anywhere and everywhere.

Equanimity is the basis for inner peace, a life not ruled by judgment. Stay in the middle. Engage the present fully. Let the outcomes go. As the ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said,

You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

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  1. Jim Skinner says:

    That Marcus guy had a way with words…so do you Ian.   Thank you

  2. Ann Genson says:

    As always, wise words for the soul. Thank you.