Friday, August 20, 2010

The Middle Way

I was at a wedding last week-end. The bride and groom are young - mid-20s - and full of more positive emotions than you'd expect in the average newlyweds. They have very good emotional intelligence - something more useful in navigating life's ups and downs than basic I.Q., according to several studies I've seen. That ability to roll with the punches and stay positive can pull a person through rough patches, and make the smooth patches more likely!
A wedding is about many things, including the future - which we tend to associate with looking up. (The Chinese character for "tomorrow" means literally "bright day.") We enjoy attending weddings because of the amazing energy given off by the couple at the centre of their family, friends, and community. Celebration and exultation feel good - everyone knows that.
The opposites, mourning and despair, feel bad. Most people try to avoid them at all costs (even if the experience of very low mood can bring new insights and depth). However, almost no one tries to avoid exultation. It's wonderful to feel high on love or joy or pride - what possible downside could there be?
Buddhists advise the Middle Way: neither extreme joy nor extreme sorrow. Extremes tend to distort thinking, and place too much focus on the self (which is supposed to be "forgotten" in the scheme of things). Balance is key.
Dancing with a large group of people to very joyous music (see photo) - in fact, most fast dancing - brings about changes that easily veer into exultation, even ecstasy (removal of the self). An experience like that is too be savored, but in moderation. Too much joy, like too much sorrow, interferes with attention. And attention is a crucial aspect of dealing with life - through all its inevitable ups and downs.

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