The Middle Path

The Middle Path

We are familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. She tries the chairs, the different bowls of soup and the different beds before settling on what’s “just right”. Nothing should be too hard, too soft, too spicy, too bland, too cold, too hot and so on. If we remove the plotline of Goldilocks breaking in and using things that are not hers, we could easily see this story as one about moderation. A distinct message on things being preferable when they are not on either end of the spectrum on any matter – flavour, texture, rigidity, temperature, the list goes on.

In reality, though, we humans are hardly like that. We swing wildly between extremes and fail to choose moderation. Beginning from food to every other activity, we fail to strike the balance ever so often. I have often noticed this trait in myself and also in people around me. There are many of us who go on working like slaves, and then boom! We burnout and have to compulsorily rest for days on end. We cannot stop with just one episode of a TV series, and we binge-watch through our days and nights. What happens next? We cancel all other plans just to sleep in.

There’s a famous tagline for a chips brand, ‘No one can eat just one’. And true to their marketing, what starts as one chip, ends up as an indulgence of a whole packet. And once the salt palette has been satiated, we crave something sweet. Suddenly, we have had too many candies or ice creams or desserts and now we want something spicy. We binge again on what’s spicy before the stomach starts sending us alarming signs. Then, to undo all the damage from our indulgences, we go on ‘detox diets’. The senses, all outward facing, happily go on excursions and we never exercise any control then.

What follows these indulgences and excursions is often forced repression. We go on fasts and diets, call-in sick just to get more sleep, jump onto physical fitness programmes that promise quick results, and soon we are on an overdrive to be very ‘good’. Somehow, this brain is not wired to make those ‘good’ choices on a day-to-day basis. Instead of swinging from one extreme to another, how much easier would it be to choose a middle path?

That middle path is moderation. It may sound like being prudish in a world of external indulgences, but this is just what our masters prescribed. Do not exert yourself too much and do not rest too much. Do not eat too much and do not starve yourself. Do not stay awake for too long and do not sleep endlessly. We need to find the right balance to lead a holistic life.

What happens from a life of moderation? We conserve our energies and make judicious use of what is available. Consider the indulgences as leakages in a water pipe and austerities as plugs that block the leakages. At once we permit so much leakage and suddenly we plug them all expecting the same vitality from the human personality. It is almost impossible. And when the repressed tendencies do find an outlet, we again sink into a base, animalistic revelry. Thus, we go on repeated unintelligent patterns.

When we are moderate in our choices, we maintain the vitality of our personality. With such energy and clarity, we can now divert it towards something more useful and productive. Imagine, striking the balance between work and rest. We can devote enough time to all of our other pursuits – family, voluntary activities, creative hobbies and much more. Imagine maintaining a balanced diet in each of our meals; we’d never have to say no when it’s time to feast. Imagine having a balanced sleep cycle. Probably half of our mental and physical fatigue can be restored with that. No wonder moderation is hard work. But if you make it smart work and say ‘no’ to momentary indulgences, like Goldilocks, we might also find what’s ‘just right’ for us in life.

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Chinmaya Udghosh