By Ty H. Phillips
There comes a time in most people’s lives where we must decide whether or not to continue down the path we have been taking.
The twists and turns will be the same on most paths—as will the ups and the downs—but what differs are the people we are walking the path with. We have come to two wrong conclusions in our lives; one, that we shouldn’t have to struggle and that struggle means the path is wrong and two that we deserve to suffer, that the excess struggle means we should struggle more. These two views are the poles of extreme views.
A well-known tale of the Buddha’s life tells of his time as an ascetic. He was wasted away and emaciated, verging on death and collapse. As he sat there struggling, thinking it was the right path, he heard a sitar teacher talking to his student: “If the strings are too tight, they will snap, if they are too slack, they will not play.” Upon hearing these words, he realized that he had been pursuing the wrong path. He gave up his excess struggle, fed himself, clothed himself and accepting the middle path, reached enlightenment.
In my own life, I have been known to accept a struggle for periods far exceeding a healthy nature on my life and those around me. We have all stayed in relationships for too long, thinking they must be salvaged “just because” or fled them instantly when we see struggle because there should be none. We are unbalanced in our approach. We are stuck floating between excessive micro aggression or accepting long term lack of care and emotional abuse in order to show how long and hard we will work (another form of ego).
Coming to terms that he was wrong must have been hard for the Buddha. He had put everything on the line including his health. He was near death and still struggling to find liberation even though no progress had been made. He was then faced with letting go of his attachment to this path and being abandoned by his fellow travelers. He was alone, facing a new path, a new way, to find truth.
Much like him, it is hard to abandon our path when we have become so attached. A friend of mine, author Gerry Stribling made a comment yesterday that, “We don’t study Buddhism to be Buddhists, we study it to be better human beings.” I think this simple comment is striking. Even on the path of non-attachment, how many of us are attached to name and form? In our own lives how many of us are attached to habit and pattern?
Change can be terrifying.
It is an abandonment of all that we know and have come to accept as who we are. These are our identifiers, our masks that we view our reflections with, it is who we believe ourselves to be. Changing the direction of the path is not an abandonment of the path, it is an abandonment to what we carry along the path that is unhealthy.
The raft is not the shore.
Editor: Dana Gornall