What defines you?

I was struck today by how much we are defined by external conditions, which the led me to thinking about what really defines us.

For me, the thought of what defines me came to me this morning when my 16 year old son pointed out that my current situation around money does not define my worth or how I should or shouldn’t view myself. Sometimes we are all in that situation of not being able to see the wood for the trees.

I’ve been dealing with some very challenging circumstances over the past few months around my work and finances. Although I have some semblance of a plan, every now and then I question what I’m doing and completely lose myself in the conditions I am presently faced with.

My son pointed out quite simply that far too many people base their whole self worth around what they do or do not have in their bank account.

‘It is just paper’, he pointed out, ‘it does not make you one thing or the other, it has nothing to do with who you are.’

I love synchronicity – when you are seeking something or an answer, a solution; how the universe just sends you whatever you need. The trick of course is being open to noticing it when it comes your way.

The second synchronicity (there have been a few today) was a video of a guy who asked specifically what defines us. Some people say their job title, being a mother, father and so on. He told a story about his father who in the end said he is defined by love and when stripped back said, ‘I am love.’

I’ve pondered over this all day and realised that at the moment, I am choosing to allow my external circumstances – the life situation I am currently in, to define me. In following the Buddhist path you live in a way that keeps you centred – this is why it is often termed, the middle path – where no matter what life throws you way, you return to your calm centre where you can choose how to respond (or not sometimes) rather than react. This isn’t literal in the physical or location sense – there is no middle or centre, it simply means returning to the heart of you or the core of your being where there is a river of peace and where everything is just as it is and you are ok, strong and sure of who you are. Truly you are love and in a wider sense you are everything and everyone because you are a finite part of an infinite universe.

So today, ask yourself this question, what defines you?

[Image copyright Kah Lok Leong Unsplash]

Where is this middle path?

The middle has always seemed to resonate with me in some way and when I discovered Buddhism 11 years ago it was as though I had found my way home.

Buddhist philosophy teaches us the Eightfold Path, which is described as the ‘middle way’ and explains why it is often termed the ‘middle path’. It is a way of living in moderation; between the extremes of self gratification on one hand and self mortification on the other. In a subtler sense it reflects the paradox of the universe and can be thought of as finding a way of finding balance between spirituality and materialism.

Following the middle path can help your life whatever your struggles. For me I always tended to live in opposite extremes. When things in my life were bad, they were extremely bad and when I finally turned my life around things went to the other end of the scale and I lived like a saint. Although the latter was very necessary, it wasn’t sustainable. To be in the world but not of the world is the middle way.

When you truly understand the enormity of the middle path and you begin to embody it into your life, you can find inner peace and balance. The middle path becomes a place to rest between the opposites life throws our way. It helps decision making and it becomes a guide like an illuminated path before you.

A few years ago my daughter became very ill and the conventional method of therapy offered was one that required a parent, child hierarchy. We soon realised that it did not exist within our family unit. Due to my own family dynamics, I had raised my children rather unconventionally and when I tried to apply the kind of parenting that was required for the methodology to work, it failed. In finding a solution I naturally sought the answers in Buddhism. I explained to the doctors and therapists the notion of the middle path. In applying ancient Buddhist principles we were able to develop our own way of working, that whilst harnessed the basics of the therapy they knew to work with her particular disease, largely centred around finding the middle way.

Balance is about finding the point in the centre of something where you are equal on both sides. There is a completeness to this and when you find that point within, it brings about rest and peace. Having said that, in my experience following the middle path doesn’t always mean being physically exactly in the middle, but it reflects the point where you feel the balance. How do you know where that is? You will feel it – you will feel the peace within, the resting place.

When you practise this,  you will come to know that place well. It is this middle path that you return to when you sit to meditate. The place you connect with when you are mindful throughout your day. It is the path you seek when you need rest and solace. It is the place of truth, joy and happiness. The middle path is the way, you just have to seek, to find and to follow it.

I love Jack Kornfield’s explanation of finding the middle way that you might like to read.

[This image is of beautiful Buddhist prayer flags that can be found along the Land of Medicine Buddha Hike, within the quiet redwood forest in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains.]