25 January 2008

The Middle Way:

Recently I have begun to learn about Buddhism, purely out of self interest. I personally am atheist, but Buddhism definitely has some interesting ideas to offer. One idea it offers in the notion of living ““In the Now:”” which I have already written an article on. The other great idea that Buddhism promotes is the ideal of “the middle way”.

Essentially “the middle way” is a theory of moderation and balance. It is also known as the Buddhist practice of non-extremism. It preaches that one can have too much or to little of something and that happiness and a good life is always found somewhere between the extremes. From the limited lectures I have heard on Buddhism I understand that the great Buddha himself starved himself for some time when he wanted to reach enlightenment. Thus there are pictures of him deathly thin during this stage that survive in artworks today. Needless to say the Buddha realised that starvation was one extreme and was therefore something that in actual fact, due to its extreme nature, inhibited him from reaching nirvana and all the connotations of happiness that go with it. “The middle way” thus became seen as a path taken by the Buddha to avoid the extremes of rigour on one side and sensual indulgence on the other. Thus the notion of “the middle way’, stressing the importance of balance in all things, came into being.

However the idea of “the middle way” is not complex and need not necessarily involve any true appreciation of the Buddhist religion. As I have said I myself am atheist but the idea of leading a balanced life makes perfect sense to me. I think most people would agree that balance is important in all things. I mean, I can not think of one single thing were balance is not required. Even take something as seemingly harmless as water, if you don’t get enough you die of dehydration, yet if you get too much, you drown!

The question should not really be whether balance is appropriate or not, but rather how one finds this balance and where on a spectrum it should be. Still, the importance of balance it seems, still needs to be advocated as it seems that many people still haven’t really gotten the idea into their heads. Its important to realise that this notion of “the middle way” is not confined to the material and what is done, but also how things are done and how people think.

The idea of balance as conveyed in “the middle way” has also been known as the Buddhist practice of non-extremism, and this I think, conveys its origins very well. Extremes are never good, they are unhealthy, they are damaging. Obsessions, addictions and other extremist tendencies ruin peoples lives, hence they should be avoided. The principles behind “the middle way” are simple yet effective, as balance seems to be the one key to life.

Where exactly balance lies, is not an easy question and in many ways I suppose it could be subjective and hence depend on the individual. The problem here is that many individuals stuck with some obsession are often in denial. This fact makes it rather hard for them to really have an understanding of balance and their lack of it.

Allow me to use some examples from an interesting nutritional perspective that support this principle of balance. Nutrition seems to be an area I know a fair bit more about that I really probably need to, probably as I got obsessively interested in it in a rather “unbalanced” sort of way during my last year of school. Needless to say the obsession has caused some nasty habits, but thankfully I’m at least no longer in denial about it and that’s the first step to reaching moderation! Now, onto the information:

A few years ago I essentially came across the simple facts that for example, non-alcohol drinkers live longer than alcohol drinkers and that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters. At first this all made sense as it saw an obvious link between meat and alcohol with various health risks which decreased average lifespan. However, later results revealed something interesting. While for example non-alcohol drinkers lived longer than alcohol drinkers at large, the group that lived the longest were in fact those that drank small amounts. Amounts which could be described as “balanced”, and “in moderation”. As http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/HealthIssues/1106591095.html states:

“Research extending back as far as 1926 has demonstrated that drinking in moderation is associated with greater longevity than is either abstaining or abusing alcohol. The medical research evidence is now unquestionable and demonstrates that the effect is not the result of health-compromised alcoholics who abstain. When studies restrict abstainers to lifelong teetotalers the result is the same. Nor is it the result of moderate drinkers having better overall health habits. When lifestyle factors are taken into consideration, the result remains. And the effect occurs not only for red wine but also for white wine, beer, and liquor or distilled spirits.”

Similarly it was found that while vegetarians lived longer than meat-eaters, it was those people who ate meat only infrequently in moderated amounts that lived the longest of all. The obvious conclusion I have come to from this evidence is that it is not so much exactly what they are doing, but what it represents that is important here. Those who eat no-meat for example are most likely extreme to some degree, as are those who pig out on hamburgers all day. In contrast, those that live a happy, balanced life and as such one which isn’t extreme, don’t deny themselves things which may be a little bad for them (in this case seen as alcohol and meat) but simply make sure to enjoy small amounts of it in moderation. Thus they live a happy unrestrictive lifestyle in which they get enjoyment and through moderation good healthy, both physically and psychologically.

So I personally believe it is the fact that those who can moderate what they eat and drink and do etc, live longer as they are probably happier with who they are and more content in there day to day lives than the others who either over-indulge, or refuse to indulge at all. So here we come full-circle to Buddha’s personal experiences which led him to, as I said earlier, “avoid the extremes of rigour on one side and sensual indulgence on the other.”

The importance of balance in life cannot be understated, and it is important to remember that all things are ultimately in balance. Extremes are primitive, try your hardest to avoid them. Remember too that the state of mind is greatly important here to. If you forced yourself to only eat limited amounts of meat and drink limited amounts of alcohol you’d probably find that you wouldn’t live as long as those who do it without being forced, simply because again you are being extreme by forcing yourself to do something constantly. What you need is a combination of discipline and desire.

So go find balance in life. Find “the middle path”. I hope you do, and that it brings you contentment ““In the Now:”” and a happier, less stressful life. Happiness seems to come with moderation and balance, at least, that’s certainly what I’ve found to be the case.


Patricia Singleton said...

Thanks for the article. As an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, I found that when I got into a recovery program that Adult Children tend to do things in extremes. I found, for me personally, that I started out doing extremes before I could find a balance in the middle. I needed to swing back and forth between the extremes for awhile before I could see the middle ground. Before recovery, I had no idea that a middle ground even existed. Everything in moderation is a good way to live. Today, I rarely do extremes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article it helped me with my homework.

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