The Lure of Becoming and the Middle Way

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The Lure of Becoming and the Middle Way

When we are in a queue we think: ‘When are we going to get to the desk?’ That is the ‘becoming’ urge, bhava-tanha. We think to ourselves, ‘How long is the line?’ ‘Are we nearly at the table?’ ‘Are we nearly there?’ This is not the same as simply waiting for the line to move. It is ‘becoming’ and, naturally, there is the suffering that arises from becoming. But let go of that urge and then you happen to be peacefully standing there, and it just happens to be, conventionally speaking, the queue for the food; and yes, people around you are moving, so you move your feet as other people move. You are still moving, but there’s no ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ The more agitated you become in the queue, the more you create digestive problems; and you make the experience of receiving and sharing food much more stressful and difficult for everyone.

In meditation it is exactly the same. You apply effort but you don’t add: ‘I’m trying to get concentrated! I want to get jhana! I want to get insight! I want to be enlightened!’ Those are reasonable and wholesome goals, but the more we fixate on them and are caught in that becoming, the more we hinder ourselves from allowing that process to develop naturally. This area of ‘becoming’ and ‘trying’ and ‘doing’ is an important aspect of meditation practice, particularly because we tend to shuffle between, on the one hand, feeling as if we are ‘doing’ something and therefore engaged, and on the other hand falling asleep. We are either excited, interested, active, or we feel as if there’s nothing happening and so switch off. We move towards the partner of bhava-tanha (the craving to become), which is the desire to not feel, to not experience – vibhava-tanha; the craving to not be, to not exist, to switch off. We habitually shuttle between these two, either thrilled with doing, or disengaged, not connected. But the Buddha’s path is non-becoming, the Middle Way, and this is what we are aiming at. Non-becoming is when the heart is not inclining either towards the desire to become or the desire to get rid of.

The Middle Way is the point on which the two extremes pivot, it is where they meet. If you picture a pendulum, ‘the two extremes’ are represented by the limits to which the pendulum bob swings, whereas ‘the Middle Way’ is represented by the pivot, the still centre that the pendulum swings from. It transcends both of them. It is a wholly different dimension. This means that in meditation, both walking and sitting practice, you begin to find a way of steering the mind, like ‘using the weight of your own body’ – there’s an inclining towards concentration, there’s an inclining towards insight, but you’re not pushing. In walking meditation, you are not driving towards the end of the path. You are relaxing and letting the body move along the path. The body does its walking, but ‘you’ are always ‘here’. Similarly with the breath; the breath can be moving but that which knows the breath is always ‘here’. The Middle Way is finding that quality of being still, that awareness which is perfectly still, not tied up with movement and time yet which receives the qualities of change and movement. When we are able to be really aware of that ‘becoming’ habit, we notice it almost like the feeling of gravity on the body or the texture of our clothes on our skin. And when we can see that, feel it, know it, we can begin to let go of it.

This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from Don’t Push—Just Use the Weight of Your Own Body (Compassion) pp. 33-37