Middle Mind

by | Jun 23, 2006

How easy it is to notice extremes. Maybe that’s why we humans sometimes default to a black or white, good or bad view of ourselves and the world even when long years and experience have proven that life is anything but black and white.
Perhaps our minds gravitate to extremes in an atavistic response to complicated situations, relationships, feelings. “This is too much!” cries the overwhelmed child. “This is not fair,” cries the victim!” “This is wrong,” cries the righteous one. And in a flash the figures in our mental model reorganize, like so many dancers, once spread across the stage in an extravaganza of color and motion, now rep-aligned and frozen so that the romantic lead can take back the focus.

All the world may be a stage, but Shakespeare neglected to mention that we each project the stage across which we strut and fret. It’s only natural that we try to take back control when the characters develop minds of their own and the plot line veers sharply away from our plans.

Funny thing, though, and don’t ask me to explain this. Once the play has begun, the players respond poorly to direction. Endow your projected world with multiple dimensions, and it just won’t behave according to black and white rules. There’s no way to get the storyline to straighten out after it’s begun to branch out.

That’s why it’s so important to cultivate middle mind.

Middle mind is attending everything that is not at the edges. Middle mind is noticing the gradations, the specifics, the variations. When we feel as if there is too much to do, middle mind shows us what’s ours to do right now. Write the check. Stamp the envelope. Print the address.

Middle mind agrees with the storyline. Middle mind says, “you are here” when fear shouts “you’re in trouble.” Middle mind says, “you are here,” when pride whispers, “you’re so hot.” Middle mind agrees with reality.

How to Access Middle Mind

How do we get to middle mind amidst the chorus of our inner prima donnas?

First stop running from the extremes. Sit with everything that is overwhelming, pressing, scary, or urgent. Write down the parade of horrible imaginables. (Just make a list; this is no time to write a novel.) One by one, invite the unbearable whatever into your body.

Make room for it in your belly. Notice the sensations that arise, allow them to be. Notice the emotions that arise, allow them to do so. Invite the next unbearable in, and allow whatever needs to happen to make room for it. Keep allowing until everything that needs to be done has found a resting place in you.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Somehow, when we make space in our bodies for the experiences we are trying to control or dodge, we settle. Allowing these competing, clamoring demands to land in us quiets the mob. It becomes obvious and okay that only one thing can be done at a time. You may even see which one thing wants to be done first. If not, choose one and begin.

Vacuum the office. Return the phone call. Write the report.

Finding middle mind is like running into your best friend on a bad day. Suddenly, you’re not alone, you don’t need to explain yourself, and you can stop running. Like a wise, kind friend, middle mind sees your life more clearly and loves you less conditionally than you do. Middle mind reminds you that you are more than your most recent success or failure.