Thousands of years ago, Siddhartha Gautama (who would come to be known as the Buddha) stumbled upon a truth about the universe. The truth was about the danger of extremes. At the point that he discovered that truth, he was very much living a life of extremes. He had dedicated his life to the path of asceticism. This way of life was so extreme that it was said he grew thin enough that he could feel his hands if he placed one on the small of his back and the other on his stomach. While seeking enlightenment in this way, he overheard a teacher speaking of music. He heard the teacher say, “If the strings on the instrument are set too tight, then the instrument will not play harmoniously. If the strings are set too loose, the instrument will not produce music. Only the middle way, not too tight and not too loose, will produce harmonious music". This perspective changed everything for the Buddha. As a result of this awareness, he developed an entirely new spiritual practice that he called the “middle path”.
One could easily say that the middle path is a practice of balance through moderation. But when we think of balance through moderation, we think of taking away from extremes so as to achieve a kind of equilibrium. As a spiritual teacher myself, I have never liked the idea of balance through moderation. Trying to find or create balance in your life through moderation is a difficult task and it is a task that slows expansion. It causes people to temper themselves. For example, if I want a balance between work and play and in my life, I must cut back on work. Often when following the traditional practice of the middle path, it feels internally like you are putting the brakes on.
Some months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with a particularly talented somatic therapist named Diane St. John. In that meeting, she introduced me to the concept of “And Consciousness”. Essentially, ‘And Consciousness’ is a state of mind where you develop the ability to hold space for extremes. She explained that from her perspective, this is an important part of the development of both mental and emotional maturity. For example, if I am starting a new job, I may be afraid and reluctant to start that new job but also excited and ready to start that new job. If I have not developed the capacity to be present with that contradiction, I will be desperate to side with or line up with one or the other of these contradictory truths. It will lead to confusion. I will want to make rash decisions to release me from this feeling of wanting to swing to either extreme instead of feel torn.
Well, this meeting with Mrs. St. John got me to thinking about ‘And Consciousness’ in a more expansive way. I began to see that that feeling of being torn between two extremes or seemingly opposing truths felt a lot like being stretched. And this stretching is in fact a feeling often experienced in conjunction with personal expansion. And this got me to thinking about the teaching of the middle path.
I now believe that the practice of ‘And Consciousness’ has the capacity to be the modern day replacement for the middle path. ‘And Consciousness’ does not call for you to limit any extreme so as to find a state of balance, so it does not put the breaks on any aspect of being. Instead it requires you to expand wide enough to be able to accommodate these extremes and contradictions. This in fact makes the contradictions complimentary. And there is another, deeper truth behind ‘And Consciousness’ that is even more promising. In the moment that we acknowledge a contradictory truth or state of being and expand wide enough to be able to hold both, as if holding both is ok, we have dis-identified with both extremes. We have ceased to become either or and instead have become the thing that is holding both. By holding both, instead of aspects of our self being separated by them, we have created a state of integration or wholeness within our being. Essentially, ‘And Consciousness’ becomes the unifying factor.
It is quite possible that ‘And Consciousness’ was the idea that the Buddha had in mind all along, a conscious state of un-attachment to either extreme. Middle means upright, unbiased, neutral or centered. This is the very mindset one achieves when practicing ‘And Consciousness’. For example, in life I could say, I am both living and dying everyday and so I am neither living nor dying. What does all this boil down to? Whenever you feel stretched or torn between two extremes and you feel the need need to either pick an extreme or to strike balance between them, practice ‘And Consciousness’ instead. Instead of taking the approach of moderation and tempering either extreme (which is a control tactic), consciously imagine yourself expanding large enough to accommodate or hold both extremes. And ask yourself… If It was ok to contain, hold space for or embody both extremes and thus be attached to neither extreme, what would I think or say or do that was different?