In the movie Little Buddha, there’s a scene where Siddhartha — having spent six years as an ascetic in the forest (one grain of rice for food, no shelter from the elements) — is struck by a conversation he hears between an old musician and a boy as they pass in a boat along a nearby river: ‘If you tighten the string too much, it will snap, and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play’, says the musician to his pupil.
Siddhartha recognises a great truth in these words: the path to liberating the mind from suffering is the middle way; neither the extreme of asceticism (trying to strengthen the mind against the body’s suffering), nor of indulgence (trying to avoid suffering by satisfying every passing desire).
Likewise, A Course in Miracles often expresses problematic mental states, or attitudes, in terms of opposites. For example, it contrasts the ‘martyr and the atheist’ (see T-9.I.8) and the ‘careful and careless’: ‘You need be neither careful nor careless; you need merely cast your cares upon Him because He careth for you’ (T-5.VII.1:4).
The extremes of martyr and atheist, careful and careless, come from believing we are alone. They reflect an unconscious belief that either God is angry, or that there is no God. The former leads to fearing we have to vigilantly provide for our own safety (imagine a very tight string!), or that we shouldn’t bother about anything (the slack string) because we’re all ‘going to hell in a handbasket’. In the latter case, we often experience an acute sense of loss or deprivation because of a hole left by the belief in God’s absence: we’re prone to spend too much, drink too much, or whatever too much in an attempt to fill the void.
Whichever end of the spectrum we occupy (and we can alternate between the two), our belief that we aren’t cared for by something that transcends the world will be reflected in our ego’s interpretation of our lives and circumstances: everything will be tainted with the ego’s lens of deprivation and vulnerability.
If you find yourself stuck in an extreme attitude, or unsure of the best way to proceed with something, remember that God is real, God is Love, and that His Help is with you. Open your mind to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to look again at what your ego has interpreted in a negative light, and you will see a different thread running through your life; one that speaks of helping hands. Gratitude in realising that you’ve been accompanied will then lead you forward, and no matter what form this takes, it will represent a middle way.
Image: Marko Kafé, Buddha in Zazen, via Wikimedia Commons
Books by Stephanie Panayi
The Farthest Reaches of Inner Space
Above the Battleground: The Courageous Path to Emotional Autonomy and Inner Peace
Reflections on ‘A Course in Miracles’: Volume One
Reflections on ‘A Course in Miracles’: Volume Two
Reflections on ‘A Course in Miracles’: Volume Three