A Middle Way Meditation Practice

How can we put the Middle Way into practice on a daily basis? I have been recommending various already established practices for the integration of desire, meaning and belief, but a practice may also be needed to bind them together and provide a constant reflective reminder of the Middle Way as a framework. It is that recognition that has led me to develop this Middle Way Meditation Practice. As yet this practice has not been extensively trialled (only by me), so I’d like to invite you to try it out and feed back to me how you get on. The weekend retreat on meditation in June should be a further opportunity to improve on this practice.Meditation's_face Eugenio Hansen

This practice is loosely inspired by Buddhist vipassana practices, with one important difference: whilst vipassana practices involve trying to bring oneself into alignment with some ‘truth’ that is the subject of the meditation, in this one, one works only through the process of balancing and integrating desires, meanings and beliefs that one finds in one’s own experience. The goals are open ended, and only the general integrative direction is prescribed by the practice.

This practice is intended to start from a base of mindfulness meditation. I would recommend at least five or ten minutes of preparatory mindfulness practice (e.g. consolidating posture, following the breath, body scanning, just sitting and accepting whatever experiences come up) to help ensure that the following practice is done in a state of sufficient overall awareness. If you have never done any kind of mindfulness practice, I suggest that you learn to do one (and become familiar with how to sit in meditation) before attempting this practice.

After the mindfulness warm-up, the practice is divided into four stages: desire, meaning, belief and absorption. These could be done in variable amounts of time, but I would suggest at least 5 minutes for each stage. If you find there is too much content here, it could potentially be broken up into separate meditations so that desire, meaning and belief were reviewed individually, each preceded by mindfulness practice and ended with the absorption stage.

1. Mindfulness warm-up

2. Desire stage

  • Balance your body and become aware of physical sensations of balance in your posture
  • Reflect on ‘sticky’ desires you may encounter in current or recent experience, whether these are emerging as thoughts or feelings. They may have emerged as hindrances to practice during the mindfulness preparation stage – for example, distracting sexual feelings, or anxiety about a forthcoming event.
  • Reflect on the contrary desires that make these ‘sticky’ desires problematic (e.g. your desire to meditate and be free of anxiety)
  • Return to your awareness of physical balance
  • Reflect on an integrated fulfilment for these opposing desires. How could these best both be fulfilled? If you’re not sure, keep reviewing each and imagine it being fulfilled, then become sympathetically aware of the contrary desire, until a resolution presents itself.

3. Meaning stage

  • Return to the sense of balance in your bodily awareness
  • Reflect on conflicting meanings in your present or recent experience. For example, this might be a person you don’t understand, or an area of study you are finding it difficult to engage with.
  • Return to your awareness of physical balance
  • Reflect on the ways that you could integrate meaning in this case of conflict, by tolerating ambiguity or clarifying a model. For example, if it is a person you don’t understand, try to accept that uncertainty and recognise that they have meanings beyond the ones you recognise.

4. Belief stage

  • Return to the sense of balance in your bodily awareness
  • Reflect on conflicting beliefs in your present or recent experience (whether implicit or explicit). For example, you may have behaved inconsistently or experienced ‘weakness of will’, or you may have had a disagreement with someone. Get clear about what the two conflicting beliefs involved are by putting them in the form ‘the belief that…’.
  • Return to your awareness of physical balance
  • Reflect on the integrable and non-integrable (or experiential and metaphysical) elements of these two beliefs and try to separate them.
  • Leaving aside the metaphysical beliefs, reflect on how the experiential elements could be integrated in a wider and more adequate belief. Clearly formulate the new and more adequate belief to yourself.

5. Absorption stage

  • Return to body awareness and try to sit with open awareness for at least 5 minutes, noting whatever comes up but then letting it pass. Allow yourself to absorb the meditation and give time for unconscious processing.
  • Before you rise, finally reflect on any outward actions that you have resolved upon as a result of the meditation. It may also be useful to note these down and to review them before starting your next meditation.

 

My initial experience with this practice suggests that one potential issue is overlaps between the stages, and another is that one might find it easier to engage with the same conflicts through one type of integration than another. Neither of these is worth worrying about, and the practice needs to be pursued flexibly in relation to whatever conflicts it turns up. For example, if you turn up three desire conflicts but no meaning or belief conflicts, that’s fine – just focus on the desire conflicts. In this case, though, you might also find it helpful to consider the same conflicts from the standpoint of meaning or belief. The use of the three types of integration needs to be taken more as a prompt than as a rigid structure.

My own experience so far is that this practice can be very helpful, despite the fact that the conflicts I alight upon may have been ones that I was considering outside meditation in any case. By putting them in this framework I am obliged to consider them in an integrative way, which should lead to better judgement.

About Robert M Ellis

Robert M Ellis is the founder and chair of the Middle Way Society, and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory 'Migglism' and the more in-depth 'Middle Way Philosophy' series. He has a Christian background, and about 20 years' past experience of practising Buddhism, but it was his Ph.D. studies in Philosophy that set him on the track of developing a systematic account of the Middle Way beyond any specific tradition. He has earned his living mainly by teaching, and more recently by online tutoring.

6 thoughts on “A Middle Way Meditation Practice

  1. Hi Robert, this meditation idea seems a very interesting and challenging development. Nice way to start the New Year. A spin off from your silent interval?

    First and very off-the-cuff comments:

    1. My first reaction was as described above.
    2. Next reaction, it’s too conceptual and thought-based, too much to do in one session, I should need a new meditation timer to break the session down into do-able stages. It feels more like a reflective exercise than a meditation.
    3. Next, despite it’s seeming draw-backs, I’d like to try it out, see how it develops.
    4. Next, It draws a lot of Focusing, I think, and I’ll bear that in mind as I prepare to try it out.

    By way of preparation, I relaxed for five minutes in dedicated shed-like structure I’ve built in the garden gazing at print of Brueghel’s ‘Tower of Babel’ given me for Christmas by my wife. The Tower of Babel picture has become a helpful metaphor for me and the Middle Way, and I find something new in it every time I ponder it.

    While trying meditation method out:

    1. Placed some intention on conflict arising out of wish to try out MW meditation and wanting to find reasons why it wouldn’t work for me. This seemed to be part of a larger conflict about whether MW philosophy and all its ramifications, relationships and responsibilities were something (!) I wanted to be part of, or wanted to relinquish. Shorthand for is Robert a goody or a baddy (Another God’s Eye view to add to the mix). This seemed a good enough place to start.

    2. Relaxed and centered five minutes, became aware of unusual regular muscular tic in left ankle, interior aspect, rather like an arterial pulse but not regular enough, fast enough, and too intermittent to be related to heart beat.
    Attended without anxiety or further analysis to this pulsation/tic, which after a few minutes stopped. Brief mental image of your (Robert’s) bearded face.

    3. Relaxed and attending to breath and relaxation of face and throat, a little residual tension there. Noted very slight dull ache in right rear quadrant of neck, shoulder, slight pulsing character. Passing attention to that and it subsided after about a minute.

    4. Arising of old low-intensity sexual fantasising, noted this and becoming aware of attaching to it, it subsided and slipped (back) into the hinterlands of consciousness.

    5. Sat relatively unencumbered by discursive thoughts, aware of body sensations and breathing. Surprised by interval timer at 25 minutes, and the last five minutes of meditation were tranquil. When timer sounded at 30 minutes I waited until it seemed appropriate to end the session. For some reason I found myself counting up from 10 to zero, each step marked by a respiratory cycle. I hadn’t considered doing this at the outset, but it seemed appropriate at the end.

    6. Sat quietly for a couple of minutes reflecting on the experience, thinking: I could do something unrelated now to start to integrate the experience/. I went to the house and did some washing up of crockery.

    Interim conclusion

    The MW meditation did begin to link some of the the philosophical propositions of migglism with the practice of meditation, and that seems an important step in the right direction.

    It also reinforces in me my confidence in my own ‘take’ on migglism, in which various forms of body-oriented psychotherapy and Focussing occupy the centre ground, although that ground is being encroached on by cognitive science (to the limited extent I grasp it). I’ve just got a copy of Lakoff and Johnson’s ‘Metaphors we live by’, and felt a shift at their metaphor of argument as dance, not warfare.

    It also strengthens my appreciation of the dynamics of desire-meaning-belief, and how that dynamic may be helped to reconfigure itself by attention, acceptance, and intentionality.

    Good stuff, Robert!

    I shall see where the method takes me. I shall be interested to have the comments of other migglers and I urge you i.e. all migglers not just Robert) to give this method some thought and report back if you try it out. It seems too important for us to ignore or to be bashful about.

  2. Hi Peter, Thanks for this. I just want to comment on the ‘feels more like a reflective exercise than a meditation’. I think that was always one of my problems with Buddhist vipassana practice, apart from the ‘truths’ involved. I don’t think it can substitute for basic samatha/ mindfulness practice in creating a starting point of focussed concentration and relaxation. However, once one reaches that point with samatha my experience is often of a plateau. Just dwelling in that state and ‘seeing what comes up’ has a certain value, but it seems a little too disconnected from our more normal goal-orientated states. It seems too easy to do a mindfulness practice and then continue one’s day with the same prejudices – maybe more relaxed and focused, but still prejudiced.

    So, where I see the potential of this kind of practice is in building more of a bridge between one’s meditation session and one’s longer-term reflective states, both cognitive and emotional. Balanced effort is always going to be needed to stop that reflective element becoming too narrowly conceptual or too narrowly goal-directed, and the mindfulness starter is probably the place to try to find that point of balanced effort.

    1. Thanks Robert, I’ve re-read the guidance notes which convey more direct meaning for me since carrying out the practice in modified form, but with the intention of honouring the underpinning principles.

      Shall continue with the practice and ‘report back’ my comments, as re-reading what I wrote after a period of time has passed helps point out significant experiential data I might otherwise have missed.

  3. Hi Robert,
    I’m new to your website and have not explored every page, however I have been practicing my own interpretation on ‘The Middle Way’ philosophy for quite some time; one which I can only visualise as being close to the descriptions on your website. I meditate regularly and I find that the quietening of thoughts during my meditations continue to benefit my journey throughout my day. ‘The Middle Way’ is the global term we are using here to summarise our methodology, so I have always been drawn to use the term ‘Middle Path’ to conceptualise my own journey utilising ‘The Middle Way’ as we all have our own paths based on our individual interpretations of our experience at any given moment.
    I have found that using conscious awareness throughout my day is just as beneficial as my meditation practices at home when attempting to achieve a favourable ‘Middle Path’. I am fairly satisfied that by using both practices I have managed to attain a more subconscious ‘Middle Way’ response through repetition, but balanced with an overall awareness before taking any actions. I have found that when situations arise that require me to act (whether it be ‘real’ or psychological), conscious awareness comes into its own and I generally don’t require these more focused meditations that you have described in this thread (Apologies if this is me interpreting your motives behind this ‘Middle Way’ meditation practice). Being more reflexive rather than reactive to situations by stopping, observing the situation, detaching from any preconceptions and awakening to what is actually happening generally gives me the clarity of mind required to adopt ‘Middle Way’ thinking within any given situation and so reducing my requirement for such practices. This statement is by no means intending to diminish the positive outcomes of such meditative reflection as they are beneficial, but generally for me not regularly required.
    Based on my own personal experience, I have found that utilising a collection of awareness practices have been more beneficial than attempting to internally reconcile through meditation alone. I have found that using both conscious awareness tools and meditation over time have generally created what feels like a more natural progression and feeling of alignment with Middle Way philosophy. When solely using meditation, I often felt the need to ‘slow down’ and compose myself but felt I couldn’t with the pressures of everyday life which I used to experience between meditation, especially experiencing situations out of my control, and your meditation practice would serve to aid these issues in this respect. I have found that practicing conscious awareness almost like a PRN, gave me the control I needed over my perceptions of situations rather than letting the situation control my perceptions and ultimately colouring my decision making which would not be congruent to any ‘Middle Way’ thinking. I think the key term is ‘stress management’ as in my experience most of my ‘bad’ decisions were made whilst in a state of stress, however mild, hindering my ability to think clearly in any given situation. Don’t get me wrong, if we went about our day without any stress, we probably wouldn’t get anything done and be in a state of stagnation but changing our perception of stressful situations, however mild/extreme into positive experiences has personally been the key to following my Middle Path.
    I can only comment on my experiences and the tools I have at my disposal at any given moment in order to make what I believe to be my best educated and calculated decisions. I hope that I can gain more experience and tools to use along my Middle Path in the future on this website. It has already provided a great source of knowledge from what I have read so far.
    I apologies if I’ve gone slightly off track with my thread, however in some way everything is linked and relevant in a way to your original question, How can we put the Middle Way into practice on a daily basis? Thank you for the opportunity to comment, loving the work so far.
    Many Thanks,
    Ben

  4. Hi Ben,
    Welcome to the site, and thanks for your comment! Your meditation practice sounds great, and I wouldn’t want to over-emphasise the Middle Way Meditation Practice by contrast. It’s an approach I developed a year or so ago, but it hasn’t received much discussion or development since: so it’s just up there in case people find it useful. People in the society use a wide range of practices, and when we sit together on retreats it’s normally very open and non-prescriptive.

    The other point I’d want to mention is that although of course meditation can be very helpful, I do think that other practices working at other levels are needed to complement it – such as the use of the arts working with meaning and the imagination, together with what I’ve started to call ‘objectivity training’ (critical thinking with applied cognitive psychology) in working more intellectually with our beliefs. You’ll find more about my ideas on that complementarity in the resources on integration and integrative practice on this site.

    1. Hi Robert,
      I love the arts, playing the guitar has been my passion since I was about 4 years old. I regularly practice playing music and have found this to be a huge factor also. No idea why I didn’t think of mentioning it in my last post.
      I’m eager to look into your objectivity training, it sounds very interesting, that will certainly be my next port of call when I can. Your retreats sound very beneficial also. I will certainly look into those too at a later date.
      Thank you for the support on my meditation practices.
      Kindest regards,
      Ben

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