We have been hearing it for years: “the world is globalizing”. We are interacting with each other both virtually and in-person on a grand scale. Some amazing relationships, businesses and experiences have emerged. And, so have intense conflicts, misunderstandings and downright fear of “the other”.
If we embrace this time of massive re-arrangement of identities, societies, and world-order as one huge opportunity for moving forward, eventually we will end up in a peaceful and a better place. There are some deep wounds that still need healing around the world. And, unfortunately, we keep creating a lot of new wounds.
A super balm I found that helps both to heal wounds and prevent new ones, is to live life at the Happy Middle; embracing a more global identity, and inspiring others to do so as well.
Where and what is the Happy Middle? Some may know of the concept from ancient Eastern traditions, specifically in Buddhism and Taoism. I actually like to visualize it as the yin-yang. And, as the Quechua people of Peru explain with the concept yanantin, meaning the union of opposing yet interdependent energies, or “complementary opposites.” It is a place of moderation, balance, maturity, humility, universality, and strength. It is not a place of indecision, irresponsibility, lack of commitment, or unwilling compromises.
Far from being a murky, wimpy, place, The Happy Middle is a place of strong, very diverse, yet complimentary opposites, working in harmony together. When you are in your Happy Middle, you feel great about yourself, your mind-body-spirit is clear and joyful AND (and this is a BIG ‘and’) you respect others for being in their Happy Middle (whatever that means to them).
How is it possible that strong values, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, behaviors can be seemingly opposite yet work in harmony together? Especially if they are held by the same person, or a tight-knit group? For example: Can you be a warrior and a peacemaker? Can you be stable and go-with-the-flow? Can you be masculine and feminine?
The answer is “Yes!” Many philosophers have expounded on this over the centuries, so I won’t go wild here with references and long explanations. Rather, I’ll share how I learned a way of being at the Happy Middle.
The trick is switching your mind from always operating in an Either/Or world to being Both/And.
I learned how to switch my mind when I plunged myself into an African culture. At first I was confused:
+ How can such strong men cry with such emotion? In the the States, crying was for women, or weak men.
+ How did Maasai warriors, always prepared to fight, speak and behave with such calm clarity? Where I came from, fights were conflict zones, marked by a lot of mindless behavior.
+ How did time move so nice and slowly in Africa, with very little planned events, yet the hours were filled with rich interactions and quality of life? I was raised in a place where being spontaneous and going with the flow was for irresponsible folks, people who were not interested in succeeding in life.
It dawned on me back then, almost 15 years ago, in the heart of East Africa that individuals and groups, CAN embody two or more ways of being in the world, in essence, embody complimentary opposites, that work in harmony together and, most importantly, allow us to live peacefully with ourselves and others.
The key is to turn down the ego knob. And, turn up the spirit knob.
The ego knob is the one that feels better when “I” knows its exact positions and possessions. I am a woman, I am a daughter, I am a sister, I practice this religion, I am her friend, I am his partner, I am a doctor, I own this house, this car, this phone, and so on and so on. While these positions and possessions do provide stability and security to your sense of being in the world, if you dwell in these labels too much, you can stress yourself out. And get angry with others who may threaten these labels (e.g. try and take your job, criticize your religion).Entertain the Both/And.
The secret is to hold these positions and possessions only to a point. Don’t squeeze the living day lights out of them. I am all these things, AND I am a human, spiritual being, just like you. I am a woman AND I get my masculine side too. I practice Christianity AND I see the similarity in my beliefs when hanging with my Muslim friends.
I know this sounds like a pipe dream. You may be thinking people (maybe even yourself) are so far off their Happy Middle, how in God’s green earth are we ever going to live in peace? In fact, aren’t we moving further and further away from The Happy Middle with radicalization, extreme fear, over-reactions, hypersensitivity, and all-out exhaustion?
It is a place of comfort, peace, and, profound wisdom. I believe we have to start somewhere. And, I believe that when people and societies burn themselves out on the extremes, they start to gravitate back to the Happy Middle.
The smiling Buddha is smiling not because of ignorant bliss, but because of seeing it all and taking the higher ground.
Holding two or more seemingly opposite beliefs, values or behaviors at the same time does not make you schizophrenic, it makes you human. An open-hearted, open-minded human. A true global citizen.
And that is cool. And the world needs more people like this.