The original title of my first book was “The Happy Middle”. I thought it would be an apropos title, as I was writing about the bridge between indigenous and modern worlds, integrating ancient wisdom traditions into cutting-edge science. During the writing process I was visiting the States and tested out “The Happy Middle” on a few trusted friends. It fell flat. In fact, I heard a thud.
While I am super pleased with the title Time is Cows, I still think about what happened with The Happy Middle. And in recent weeks, living back in the States, watching the media, and speaking with folks, I think I understand something….
America has always been a land of extremes, in almost every sense; from the size of food portions to the size of people (direct correlation), to the size of houses and cars.
It is not easy to find basic healthy eaters — a lot of people are either all-out vegetarian and gluten-free or, heavy meat-eating, even fast food lovers. Extreme sports, extreme entertainment, extreme everything is what a lot of people talk about, and many aspire to, or do themselves. Even our language is extreme “I hate XYZ” or “This is the ONLY way to be or do XYZ”.
It’s as if moderation, integration, basic balance is just not cool. The Happy Middle is not seen as a happy place. Rather, it is perceived as a place for wimps; for non-action, a place of murky confusion that makes people uncomfortable. It is much easier to pick a side on the spectrum — me/us versus them.
I get it. It wasn’t easy for me to drop down, 20 years ago, in a completely different culture. Everything I ever knew and believed about people, societies and the land was called into question. I worked very hard to clarify the pillars that held me together, while living together with people who had very different-looking pillars supporting them. But I did it. I did it by staying focused on the Happy Middle.
What is this Happy Middle? Some of you may know of the concept from ancient Eastern traditions, specifically in Buddhism and Taoism. I actually like to visualize it as the yin-yang. Or, as I learned at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC the other day, the Quechua people of Peru have the concept of yanantin, meaning the union of opposing yet interdependent energies, or “complementary opposites.”
Far from being a murky, wimpy, place, The Happy Middle is a place of strong, very diverse, yet complementary 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).
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, hyper-sensitivity, and all-out exhaustion? Well, 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. It is a place of comfort, peace and profound wisdom.
The smiling Buddha is smiling not because of ignorant bliss, but because of seeing it all and taking the higher ground.