“It is just this Noble Eightfold Path, namely: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.”
– The Buddha, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
The Middle Path or Middle Way of life is one of the most central themes of Buddhism. Propounded by Gautam Buddha and expanded over centuries by his followers, the idea of finding the right balance in life with the Noble Eightfold Path is applicable to a wide range of actions which transcend religion. Religious beliefs define the Middle Path as an enlightened path, one which lies between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-denial. These are said to unenlightened lifestyles, being hedonistic and ascetic in nature. In general understanding, this path of life is all about leading a balanced lifestyle, one which is grounded in reality, is mindful and peaceful. You don’t have to be striving for enlightenment in order to incorporate principles of the middle path into your life. The act of balancing out your life can in fact be achieved through 7 key ideas associated with the concept of Middle Path:
When trying to lead a more balanced life that is free from extreme emotions and situations, simplicity is the key. The spiritual take on simplicity focuses on going beyond ego and materialism. This can be understood in a variety of ways. To look beyond your ego and wants from life is to understand that things may not always go our way, but we cannot let that hold us back or give in to impulsiveness. Your simplicity of thought will enable you to keep calm and let your emotions take their natural route with minimal damage. The material things in the world are there because we want them, not because we need them. Borrowing from Minimalism, balancing life is about knowing the difference between want and need. When your needs are simple, life is less complicated. You can take time out for the small pleasures and savor every moment as it comes.
Paying attention and being mindful of every moment in life gives you a better understanding of how things are and how you can make them better. Living a balanced life is all about being aware of your actions and their consequences, of being able to differentiate between what is important and what is not. With awareness comes clearer thinking and more appreciation of what we have. Living in the present moment is essential to living a more balanced life because being overly worried or concerned about either the past or the present is detrimental to our inner peace. While it’s true that our lives and relationships might not be exactly how we want them, the awareness of our problems can help us work towards positive change. Mindfulness is the best way to achieve balance. Awareness brings peace and calm, and prevents impulsive decision making, while mindfulness keeps us in harmony with our surroundings.
Since everyone has different ideas and beliefs, the idea of a middle path can be subjective in nature. For this reason, it’s essential that you create a vision of how you’d like to live a more balanced lifestyle. It could be having more balanced relationships, a better work life, a balance between your moods and habits etc. The idea is to have a life plan sketched out, which will of course be open to changes and modifications. Your vision must be a source of renewed focus and motivation, that has the power to bring you back on track if and when you begin to slack off or lose your way.
To have a vision is a great start towards achieving balance, but the process is incomplete without having specific goals. Having a vision such as “I want to follow my passion in life,” is an excellent way to begin, but the next step is to identify what your passion in life is. There could be more than one, or you might not be able to think of anything yet. Your current situation in life might not even allow you to follow your passions very freely. In that case having a goal such as retiring by the age of 45 in order to follow my passion is an example of a goal. A short term goal might be to take an hour out every week to do what you love.
Goals provide much-needed direction to your vision. If balance is what you want to achieve, then there are multiple components in life you can look to change. Each one needs a vision and needs to be supplemented by goals.
The middle path of life calls for awareness and appreciation of everything around us. For starters, we must learn to appreciate ourselves without vanity, focusing on respecting our bodies and treating ourselves with care. Eating healthily, exercising, avoiding bad habits and resting are a few ways people can respect and appreciate their bodies. Appreciation extends to everything else we have been given as well. It involves appreciating what our parents have done for us, appreciating the friends and relationships we’ve got, the work we do and the planet around us. When done with sincerity and effort, it amounts to the concepts of right actions, right view and right intention in life, which bring about balance in our thoughts and action.
The act of balancing one’s life requires a great deal of effort and patience in learning the middle path between overindulgence and denial. In general, to effect change in our lives, patience is always of great value and importance. For the patient mind, every day counts because it makes it count. To achieve more balance, one must learn to be patient with oneself as well as others. Impatience can create this blanket over us where we tend to override things and undermine emotions and moments to focus on the bigger picture. This leads to negative expectations of overachievement and perfection. The balance can only be achieved with peace and calm in mind and body and healthy expectations about the results.
Rest can mean both mental and physical rest. Physical rest is needed to be able to concentrate fully when awake and work productively. Mental rest is about being completely at peace with your thoughts, without feeling guilt. Guilt causes disharmony and affects the balance. Mental peace and rest are also achieved by putting your ego aside and letting go of grudges against others. Your relationships with your surroundings have a lot to do with the way you approach them. Take a step back and analyze your vision and goals once in a while, with a rested, sharp mind. The entire idea of the middle path is about developing new meaning and purpose through the well-rested mind and body.