The Middle Way

In the original teachings of Buddha, there is a concept known as “the Middle Way.” It means avoiding extremes and adhering to moderation. The origin of this concept comes from the Buddha himself. Born into a wealthy family as Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha became dissatisfied with his life of riches and left his family to wander and seek happiness. He tried out abject poverty, eschewing all material possessions and found this didn’t lead to happiness either. What he eventually came to was the Middle Way: possessions are fine, even good, but it’s important to avoid becoming obsessed with them. They can bring some happiness, but letting the craving of them overtake you can lead to your stuff owning you instead of vice versa. Buddha applied the Middle Way to all aspects of life – possessions, status, sex, money, etcetera.

It occurred to me just today that this is applicable to something I’ve wrestled with in my head for a long time: the aesthetics of the human body. On the one hand, I fully believe media and society has led to a lot of our unhealthy striving for a certain kind of body, with very narrow, unrealistic parameters. We all see media images and, at least subconsciously, think, “I’m supposed to look like that – be that thin, that muscular, that young, that color.” This is definitely a negative. On the other hand, there is no denying the human form. We exist as physical entities, and it is in our genes to look at a group of people and prefer how some look over others, even if we’d been raised by wolves, devoid of media contact.

We are all exposed to media images. We can reduce our exposure, but we can’t eliminate it. We can’t pretend we don’t see physical differences, either. But, it would be folly to go about pretending we feel good and healthy about ourselves always trying to look a certain way. I have, at times, gotten to the point where I am scrutinizing myself in the mirror at close range, noticing all my supposed flaws – wrinkles, sun spots, sagging this, too small that. That is obsession, and it isn’t useful.

Where is the Middle Way in this? Well, there are a few pointers for finding it. First, limit your negative media exposure. Second, look at your whole person in the mirror ever so often and find all the good things your body does for you – “whole person” and “ever so often” are key. Acknowledge that you find certain people more attractive or less attractive, but don’t focus too much on it. The people you meet are more important to you for who they are, not how they look. As for clothes, wear the stuff that makes you feel good and comfortable – colors you like, soft fabrics, but don’t obsess over picking out just the right thing or how you look all day. Focus on being present in the things you do.

This applies differently to each person’s life. Everyone has different negative tendencies to overcome. But, I wanted to offer this because I’ve found looking for the Middle Way in a lot of things in life that bother me has put them in a comfortable perspective. Perhaps it will help you with a few things, too.

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