(WOW! Just noticed I didn’t post this yesterday! But really, I wrote it yesterday, really I did!!)
I did not experience or express many extremes in childhood. It was solidly discouraged, in my memory. Not too much joy or exuberance. Not too much sorrow or sobbing. Anger. Pride. Satisfaction. Disappointment.
Although I had to learn later to notice, name and express anger, joy or disappointment, I also realize that my parents were teaching me, probably unconsciously, to walk the noble middle path.
Is it ironic that Dr. Doolittle was one of my favourite children’s books series? Pushmi-Pullyu was a gazelle-unicorn cross with heads at each end, trying to go in opposite directions. In Tibetan mythology, the gazelle is a symbol of compassion, known for coming in between two fighters to resolve a conflict, offering itself as a sacrifice. The unicorn, another kind of deer, is the fighting, triumphant creature. Hmm… something to ponder.
The Noble Middle Path is the one between two extremes. The Noble Middle Path sounds much more elegant. Somehow, I think it’s a ruse: pulling us in to thinking it’s very noble and middle and therefore, easy.
There’s also the razor’s edge. Nice. Comfy. The Razor’s edge. Such a vivid image, eh? Live on the razor’s edge. That’s a very, very VERY fine line to walk! And sooo painful to fall upon.
A few days after Nick Wallenda’s walk across Niagara Falls in June, I watched three young men in a park in London attempt to mount a taut rope tied to two tree trunks about 30cm above ground. They’d step up and balance; then the rope would swing back and forth under them as they tried to walk. Their arms would flail, teeter tottering up and down, trying to balance. They’d get one or two steps in, or at best, one would manage a quick three-step along the path, hoping speed would trump technique.
Not one of them made it from one end to the other of the 3 metre rope, but they laughed as they tried and they got back up and tried again.
I remember competing on the balance beam in Grade 9. It was the early 70’s, 1971-72 in fact, and I was able to do things on the beam that no one else was doing in the city at that level.
Balancing was easy for me and I’ve thought about what I ‘did’ that made it intriguing. I anchored my feet (or foot!) on the ground and stretched my upper body into the sky. I breathed through my whole body and got out of my head, stopped ‘thinking’ about what I was doing. I kept my body in balance, using my arms; my legs were flexible, not stiff.
(This was all well and good. However, my height was a singular disadvantage in this sport. And,
then, there were the Summer Olympics of ’72. Remember Olga Korbut? That back flip at the end of her routine thrilled and challenged the world! After that summer everyone was doing flips and walkovers… and my gymnastics team days were over!)
When I think about the razor’s edge, and living there, I have no intellectual problem with it. I understand that this is the Noble Middle Path, the Way Between Two Forces. But, seeing how difficult this balancing act is on the physical plane, makes me wonder. I’ve got questions.
Now what does that balance mean? If I’m walking “between the two opposing lines of force” how do I step, one foot after the other, balance and stay? If I’m afraid, surely I fall/fail. (But do I fall/fail forward?!)
What does the razor’s edge divide up anyway? Good/evil? Green grass/mud? Better Homes and Garden/My Home and Garden? Arrogance/humility? Milk Chocolate/Fair Trade Dark Chocolate? Coffee/Tea, the Java Jive and me? Efficiency/Inefficiency?
How do ‘two great lines of force’ play out? Just what does it take to even STAND on that edge, let alone walk? Really. Is taking just one step the first one? (rhetorical question, I know; still have to ask). What happens when you fall onto one side or the other?
If I have ice cream for breakfast, and I’m trying to live a spiritually conscious life, I’m thinking I’ve just fallen.
When I hold myself to a direction, to a set of values and principles, I notice myself getting tauter, the tension tenses a little more…. I pull myself upwards.
Pushmi-pullyu… the gazelle and the unicorn. Heads going in both directions. Great compassion and great triumph through the fight. If they both pull evenly, the line will stay taut and anchored. Arms outstretched onto both sides of the path, bringing in the ‘chi’ of each side—fight and compassion—and teeter tottering back and forth. Right thrusters, left thrusters, Star Trek’s Voyager sails through space, a bird achieves equilibrium.
It’s taken some time today, but I think I’ve come to a centre place here. For now.