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Walking the Middle Path

Some of you, having looked at the title may be going ”uh oh“, some may be going “great something about buddhism“ still others may be going “whats he going on about?”. This story is for everybody. I don’t know much about Buddhism except that as religions go, it seems pretty balanced. In the area we used to live, the kids did buddhist studies at school and a lot of what came home seemed to sit well with how we, as a family lived. Getting back to my knowledge of buddhism, as I said  its pretty thin, except that the term “walking the middle path“ which is a central concept of Buddhism, just so happens to pretty much perfectly sum up my personal philosophy on dealing with the challenges in my life and the changes afoot in the wider world. Now don’t get confused and think I follow the Buddhist middle path, but that simply the term fits well with how I think and that certainly my middle path and that of Buddhism are ultimately about balance, self honesty and a healthy dose of critical thinking.

Now those that know me will know that  one of my central themes is not falling in love with any one idea or fix, as “The solution”. I think its a trap when we identify with, or are identified with, an idea, a movement, or a technology so strongly that we are trapped within that frame of reference and so miss other ideas or solutions other than those we are familiar with. Having said that, its why I identify so strongly with the permaculture movement. Without going too far into it, to me the strength of permaculture and the very fact that can make it so maddening to try and describe it to others, is its vigorous adoption of new ideas without diluting its core concepts. Its not an idea so much as an idea about how to arrange ideas. Confused ? Me too. I did say its maddening. Think of it this way, permaculture is both a bookshelf and the system of how we arrange the books on that bookshelf, its not the books themselves. So on our bookshelf called Permaculture we have such titles as, organic gardening, biodynamics, solar passive design, composting, holistic management etc etc etc. As new titles become available and/or we have new updated editions of our existing books, our library grows. As our library grows we begin to rearrange where we place our books on the shelves as the information contained within links with and forms synergies with our other titles. What is not Permaculture is when the authors or fans of a particular book insist that it’s the bookshelf, or at least the most important book in the bookshelf. As a permaculturist (or a follower of the middle path) I’m pretty promiscuous. I don’t care where or who the book came from. As long as it works for me it goes on the shelf with all the other books.

Anyway the trap as previously identified is falling in love with one title and constantly retracing the same familiar paths contained therein without questioning what is valid and what has merely become habit. We’re now approaching our central theme and while I’ve strayed far, I hope I’ve laid sufficient groundwork to illuminate my point.

Suppose we absolutely loved a book called  “Civilization is going to collapse and millions are going to die” or conversely a book titled “Renewable energy will allow civilization to continue on as usual” (I’d like to add at this point that the last title is a much edited and updated version of the classic “Fossil fuels are forever”).  At this juncture, I’d like to leave the whole book analogy behind as its getting pretty tiresome and I’m sure we all get the point.

The trouble with whichever story you believe is that its maddeningly difficult to predict the future and that even if you could, it completely ignores the possibility (nay probability!) of both futures and any number of variations in between unfolding simultaneously in different parts of the world. What I’d like to propose is that we take  the middle path and accept that we can’t accurately know the future beyond some very broad brush strokes (e.g Fossil fuels are running out, we’ve overshot the carrying capacity of the planet and “The Hobbit” will be a box office success) and get on with doing those things that work no matter what the future holds for us.

For example within the school of thought that says the global economy is falling apart (of which I’m one) there are two main sub groups, the deflationists and the hyperinflationists and every variation in between (who is right, I could care less). What I’m interested in is what will work no matter who is right and get out of the predicting the future game entirely. So the deflationists say money will be scarce and whoever has it can purchase what they want (cash is king) while the hyperinflationists say we will be flooded with money which will destroy its purchasing power, so load up on gold . If you choose to believe one story over the other, then you immediately expose yourself to the risk of choosing wrong. Refusing to choose one or the other is of course not the whole strategy – our next step requires us to look to the implications of both competing points of view and seeing what core issues they have in common.

As a general theme, if what you decide to do reduces your dependence on others (be they individuals or companies) for the necessities of life (food water shelter etc) then you have chosen the middle path, an action which immediately makes you more resilient to the vagaries of live no matter what they are. In fact what you will find, is that the same actions keep cropping up no matter the potential problem you are trying to circumvent .

This is why growing your own food is such a powerful act. It works and has huge benefits  whether or not the global financial system is falling apart, whether the inflationists or deflationists are right. Take our earlier example – the deflationist with his wad of cash and the hyperinflationist with his bag of gold. They both have to eat and if they are trying to buy food from someone who is also hungry, then I don’t care how much money or gold they have, they are going to be hungry. We do have to present both sides of the argument and so yes, growing food is a big commitment if you are doing it well. It also has lots of nasty side effects like increased nutrition from eating nutrient dense, toxin free food and increased flexibility from having to actually move your body, not to mention that members of your family may follow you outside from sheer curiosity and then you might actually have to talk to them instead of sitting in front of the TV watching Survivor or some such reality show. While food is a biggie, it is only one of a number of necessities in our lives that if we reduce or remove our dependence on others for, has vast benefits plus some possibly nasty side effects as previously mentioned. Where the middle path doesn’t help is if we are confused about what is essential and what is not. The trouble being, in this day and age we tend to get our wants very much mixed up with our needs and consider things like flat screen TV’s and i phones as not negotiable, a fallacy that can be quickly dispelled by a couple of days without food or having no home.

As a further example, take the typical modern house. Statistically they are getting bigger, the number of people living in them is getting less and we are spending less time in them. A thirty year mortgage paying off a $400,000 loan to get that house will keep you working for the best part of your life and see you paying much more than you borrowed. Now lets build a very modest house, small, recycled and local materials, no toxic substances like off gassing plastics, solvents or glues etc. I’ve known a few people do it for around $10,000. What would you do with all the spare time and/or money if you weren’t working to pay off in excess of $800,000 debt? You could have some nice holidays, that’s for sure!

Now why don’t more people do this? Well? Could it be that we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that we deserve it? That we need to have it, that it must be this way because everybody else is doing it? Convinced that we need to work for thirty years as a slave to a bank, that if we don’t have a vast house we might actually die, that people will actually look down on us if we have a small cheap sustainable house. My advice would be send them a nice postcard from wherever you’re next holidaying, or wave at them from your tiny house with the big garden and the solar system on the roof that supplies all your energy as they head off to work .

So what would I do? Nail down the essentials, grow as much of your own food as practical, get out of debt and reduce your dependence on anyone who is providing anything to you for a profit, especially if it is considered a need. Following the middle path, consider if what you do for a living  is resilient to things like economic downturns, get involved in community. Above all, learn to think critically and don’t fall into the trap of automatically believing those things you most want to happen.

Live life, be happy!
Cheers Tim

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