The GPS to a tranquil and happy old age recommends “The Middle Way”
I’m coping with a significant impending change: we’re moving from the heart of the city to a nearby suburb. The adjustment will be dramatic. From a two-block walk to restaurants, museums and shopping to mowing the backyard lawn and watching my granddaughter when her parents have a night out.
Half of me is excited about the new chapter in my life. Half of me feels like I’m walking the plank! I’m bouncing back and forth between idealized and catastrophized notions of my future… golden years surrounded by family and enlivened by do-good projects… bleak, lonely years isolated in the anteroom of the impending old age home.
My mind is doing an excellent job of creating drama. I see outcome as black or white, right or wrong. A patch of solitude becomes a well of loneliness. Falling short of an objective leaves me wallowing in abject hopelessness. If I’m not feeling “up” well then, I must by definition be “down.” I churn away, searching for something to change my mood. But the more I struggle the more entangled I get in a web of my own spinning.
As Pema Chödrön, the American Buddhist nun famous for her teachings on meditation, duly advises, give up the struggle. Instead, she teaches, enter a neutral world without polarizing reference points. This is called The Middle Way.
Instead of furiously resisting when we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, when our minds strive to come up with diversions so we don’t have to feel any pain, she encourages us to stay right on the spot.
Stay with your feelings, she urges, don’t judge them, merely acknowledge the turmoil with compassion and humor, without analysis or evaluation. Refrain from attaching good or bad to the thoughts or evaluating them as right and wrong. Simply consider the words as adjectives, definitions without the connotations.
The middle way instructs us to let the thoughts come and go as if touching a bubble with a feather. If we are lonely, we sit with our loneliness without frantically searching for alternatives. We sit quietly, moving through the feeling.
I’m taking the lesson to heart. When I relate directly to the impending change in my life, accepting the decision we made – now a fait accompli – it is an acceptance of how things are, grounding me in reality rather than trying to re-script it.
Equanimity replaces agitation. ‘So it shall be,’ I say to myself, and so it is, answers the universe.