The Middle Way

  1. Relax, Release
  2. Relinquish, Rejoin
  3. The Middle Way

The Middle Way allows us to paddle with life, having experiences, without the drama of pre-judgement.

The Zen of Letting Go

middle way

This is the fourth of our new series of articles on The Zen of Letting Go, with side references to bodywork, breathwork, and energy (especially sexual energy) work.

I amuse myself with how easy it is to find appropriate references for articles. I was reading the October 2010 issue of Toronto Life, and found (pg. 56) this Q & A comment with Douglas Coupland:

Q: Player One [Coupland’s new book] contains something called Doug’s law: “You can have information or you can have a life, but you can’t have both.” Why Not?

A: There’s that weird sense you get, at 11 at night, when you realize you’ve spent three hours looking at cute cats on YouTube. That you life is richer for the experience is debatable. You could have been out whitewater rafting or gardening. Your life is either a wave or a particle, but never both. [all emphasis mine]


The reason we get into the snafus that we do is a product of our rational mind, as demonstrated in the above Q & A. I’ve lately been reading To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Nishijima. He’s a Soto Zen priest and expert on Dogen, 13th century founder of the Soto sect. What I’ve been playing with is Nishijima’s take on the 4 Noble truths.

In short form:

1) Life is suffering (dukkha)
2) The origin of suffering is attachment.
3) The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The 8‑fold path
Reality itself

I’ve written about the 4 Noble truths before. Nishijima’s version fits quite closely with how I see it. Without getting too bogged down, here’s the point.



The first realization is that we all have quite active minds. They daydream, and plot and describe — I call this telling stories.

From To Meet the Real Dragon

Thinking is a kind of activity that produces images devoid of substance. At times those images appear to be real, but in fact they are not.” p 100

But, at some stage, the real nature of dreams has to be learned. Sooner or later we must recognize that dreams are not the real world.” p 100

Each and every human being must suffer from the conflict between dreams and reality.” p 101

Many are the people who think their imagined reality is either real, or “ought to be.” That, if only they could get their manifestation mantra correct, the world would bend to their will. Or who refuse to fully engage with others, because something better might be just around the bend. After all, they’ve imagined this “better world…”

The first “waking up” moment, then, is the realization that the world of imagination is not real.

Not to say it’s not important. Everything we see around us was first created in someone’s mind. Our minds, adequately used, are awesome instruments. It’s just not the whole story.


piles of stuff

The second realization happens as people realize that mental images are not real. I like to think this is a Western issue, but here’s the Buddha, 2500 years ago, stepping through the same mine field. Anyway, most people decide that if the mind’s imaginings aren’t real, then Materialism is certainly real. They shift from the mind to the accumulation of stuff. People. Money. Cars. Conquests. Something, anything, to give a sense of permanence and reality to life.

The difficulty with this POV is 2‑fold:

1) dealing with the disillusionment (Get that word! We stop creating illusions!) of the non-reality of our ideals is not solved by focussing on making big piles of stuff.

2) Stuff is a distraction. If the goal is to find meaning and purpose, (i.e. life itself) then material goods, which can be divided infinitely, are not “real.”

The second “waking up” moment is the realization that desiring and clinging does not lead to the cessation of suffering. It typically just leads to wanting more.


Maturity requires the letting go of trying to choose between Idealism and Materialism (or anything else!)


The third realization is this: our very human tendency to seek either/or answers is flawed. As we’ve said endlessly, dualities lead to wars, conflict, headaches, and all kinds of bodily symptoms. In the Buddha’s time, and now, people were fighting over who was right — the “religious” — the Idealists, who posited some version of “pie in the sky, bye and bye,” and the Materialists, who were anti-everything to do with mind and spirit, and cried, “Every (wo)man for themselves.” The Buddha had tried both paths, and found them NOT wrong, but flawed.

The Buddha’s Middle Way concerns itself with the solution to the war over who is right.

Picture a river (the Middle Way) with one bank being Idealism and the other being Materialism. The Buddha suggested that both “banks” have their uses, and one might put one’s canoe to either shore and stock up for the trip. However, the “cure” for the dilemma of choosing, of “right and wrong” is simply to leave the chose shore and resume paddling your canoe.


In other words, and this is the third “waking up” moment, neither view of the way it is, is correct. (The 3rd noble truth is often called the truth of negation.)

If we see that the first two views meet in the here and now, then we might even notice that both our mind (idealism) and our bodies (materialism) inform our moment to moment action. We are, then, called out of endless debate into the realm of pure, informed action.

Life Itself

The fourth realization is that the first 3 are theories, and even an elegant theory only describes. So, a theory of “how life works” is NOT life, working. Life is what is happening all around us, and in us, and life happens without us. Life just is. It’s the water under the canoe.

The fourth “waking up” is this: paddle your canoe, by sitting your butt down and going along for the ride. The Buddha taught this as meditation, or zazen.

So, back to the original Coupland Q & A. Coupland is stating the Materialistic view, and using Quantum physics to do so.

Simply, take a “photon.” In the quantum world a photon (or any sub-atomic particle) exists as a hybrid—a particle/wave. It becomes one or the other when it is observed. In other words, the experiment performed determines the outcome, and the particle/wave “collapses” into either a particle or a wave.

He uses this idea backwards, and says you are one or the other, never both. (Here’s the parallel to the 4 Noble Truths: right/wrong thinkers make such statements. EITHER idealism, OR Materialism.)

The rest of his point is well-taken. Wasting your life staring at YouTube videos is, well, wasting your life. However, he points this out so that you might choose to use your time differently. Therefore, he is correct that you can’t whitewater raft and watch videos at the same time (theoretically…) However, what you choose is just that—a momentary choice. Each choice, then, fixes itself, or collapses, like a particle, until you choose differently!

The photon becomes one or the other in the instant of the experiment.
However, the NEXT photon is still a particle/wave, (The Middle Path) and remains so until the next experiment.

OK, let’s be practical. Just because you’ve always done your life one way, metaphorically, or actually pissing it away on YouTube videos, doesn’t mean that, in each moment, these is no choice. Because of Action, there is choice.

You can do what you always do, or you can act differently. Nothing is stopping you, except you.

In counselling, staying stuck involves blaming and setting up absolutes, and just sitting there. In bodywork, staying stuck involves refusing to participate, blocking feeling, blocking energy, maintaining boundaries, refusing to explore the chargy bits.

Action says: do something other than what you are doing, hold the judgement in abeyance by letting it swim around in your head without shutting down, and have a new experience.

Next week, we’ll start at the Root Chakra and move up, giving you the chance to experiment with “life as energy.” You can play along and see what happens, or shut down and stay where you are.

As always, your choice.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

2 thoughts on “The Middle Way”

  1. Just wanted to let you know that your articles are very important to me. This one in particular I found extremely useful. Thanks!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.