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The Middle Way of Christ: Healing the World

Michelle Pearce
September 2007

I choose the way which leads between the two great lines of force, that is the keynote for this month. It is the very same middle way that the Buddha taught. It is the way beyond the duality of the world, which slices our perception of life into two neat categories of right and wrong, black and white, good and bad, divine and evil, heaven and earth and which, at a certain point, we realize is not such a neat divide after all. Reality seems far messier, more fluid, and we will find that if we attempt to navigate through life with such black and white thinking we will constantly encounter the conflict and chaos that comes from dividing something that is inherently whole and integrated into pieces and parts and then choosing one part over another.

There is a type of psychotherapy called dialectical therapy that is directed at the resolution of just this problem. Its founder, Dr. Marsha Linehan, was seeking a therapy for the difficulty that people with so called Borderline Personality Disorder have. People with this disorder, mostly young or middle aged women, tend to perceive situations and people as either all good or all bad. Typically they will formulate an ideal of the person of their attention, lover or friend, as a wonderful person until that person does something that offends or threatens their sense of themselves as a good person or gives any negative feedback to them, and then they perceive that person as all bad, evil. This population is very difficult to work with for the therapist who typically is also perceived either in an idealized or evil way and so has difficulty developing the type of trusting relationship necessary to help the individual work through some of their perceptual distortions.

One might say that the person with Borderline Personality Disorder fully embodies and demonstrates, in a very dramatic way, the ills associated with living within the distorted reality of a world of duality. Within this world nothing is seen as whole, integrated, able to encompass all aspects of life and living. The fragmented parts must either be wholly embraced as good or wholly rejected as bad. There is a hyper-vigilance for good and bad so that the bad may be separated from and rejected. What the individual with this problem does not see is that it is their distorted perception of other people's behavior in relation to what they desire for themselves that causes them to see the person and their behavior as either good or bad. That is, if the person is doing something that contributes to the desire that they have for themselves, who they want to be, what they want in their life, then that person is perceived of as all good. If the person's behavior is perceived of as taking away from what they want for himself or herself, who they want to be, then the person is perceived of as all bad.

Interestingly, this same way of perceiving can be applied to the nations and national disputes and wars. This is not to say that violence and destruction should be condoned, but is it not true that if there were greater acceptance of differences between nations, greater objectivity of those differences without "personalization" of how it takes away from or contributes to another nations' perception of its own well being and image, then these episodes of physical violence would not erupt because there would be a communication, a negotiation, and even compassion and healing on the mental levels, using words and good feeling, before the explosion of the conflict was brought to the level of actual physical conflict and violence? One might think of this as dialectical therapy for the nations and a way of healing national conflicts.

Dr. Linehan developed dialectical therapy after studying in Japan with Zen Monks. Its essence, therefore, encompasses mindfulness (radical acceptance of here and now) and the middle way (embracing the whole). It is this radical middle way that we are now challenged to find, realize, embrace, embody and actualize. The middle way is the Way through Christ that He spoke about because He is the soul of all humanity and it could be no other way. Christ has overcome the world. That is, he has embodied and included all the diverse and conflicting forces and groups in the world. This feels like an overcoming because there are many warring parts and groups within the whole of humanity and so to embody them all, to realize, understand and love them all, means to be strong enough in love to take on the tension of a profoundly disturbed whole that sees itself as warring factions and parts (people, groups, nations) in direct opposition to other parts (people, groups, nations). The Way to the Father (Unity and Wholeness) is most certainly only through Christ, the underlying soul of the world, by whatever names you may want to call Him. Thus, finding the middle way for humanity now means going through Christ and embracing the whole. And, yet, humanity uses even its religion (literally the means to tie back to God) as a way to separate itself from other groups, religions, nations, through generating fear and hate. Where it does not feel like loving inclusiveness it cannot be going through Christ, because that is what He inherently is.

This middle way is not some religious or abstract concept. It is a very practical way of living one's life. Going through Christ and embracing the middle way means being willing to look at all the ways one uses thinking, attitudes and beliefs to stay separated from other people, groups and nations, whether it is through fear or hate that the separation is brought about and maintained. In other words, where one feels fear for another or hate for another, there is where one is staying separated and there is the part of the self that is not in Christ and not embracing the middle way. Thus, these two ideas that can be seen as leading to one Reality of unity and wholeness are the Way to heal humanity of its problems and suffering but it has to be put to practical use by every individual person, group and nation. Those who are willing to do the hard work of looking at their own selves, their own lives, and making the continuous effort to struggle back to the middle way, back to the Love of Christ, each time divisiveness and separatism are occurring in their lives, will be providing the points of light to anchor the Love of Christ within humanity.

In the post-modern age there has been confusion over embracing the whole and a flat land of perception of everything, all concepts ideas and behavior, as entirely equal. The fallacy of this flat land has been described more than adequately by Ken Wilber's work. The dialectical method, would argue, however, that one could embrace the differences, the hierarchy of ideas, and the wholeness of it all. That is, we do not need to throw out the idea of the middle way and wholeness just because we are able to see that within that wholeness some ideas and behaviors are more right and of a higher moral standing than others. We do not have to hate or fear the lesser because we chose to embrace the higher. Perhaps the moral yardstick is wholeness. In other words, the behaviors and ideas that point towards wholeness are more accepting and inclusive, and the behavior that is founded upon right relations, is the higher moral compass. Therefore, the more our thinking and behavior can accept, include and seek to embrace and become integrated with all parts of the whole, the more in Christ we are, the more we are embracing the middle way. We do not give up the intellect and ability to mentally discern what is of a lesser moral ground, we simply understand that it is still a part of the whole and so rather than hating or fearing it, rejecting it, we choose to seek to work towards right relations with it. Right relations is not overcoming it, negating it, or suppressing it through violence. We know from psychology what chaos and illness result from the repression, denial and rejection of intrapsychic forces. Might the same be true for the personality of the nations and of the world?

All the areas of separatism of hatred and divisiveness are today clearly revealed through the media and this can be very discouraging at times but it is also a profound opportunity to look intelligently at problem solving towards the goal of creating greater unity and harmony, rather than emotional reaction to all the chaos and sickness, emotional reaction that is typically discouraging and/or rejecting. It is only through the mind, rightly used and embracing the idea of unity and harmony, that we can heal the dis-ease of the world. Emotional reactions, while communicating what is going on, no longer serve to be the basis for action and behavior. Like the therapist teaches the client in psychotherapy, we must learn to perceive the emotions as communicating something and then choose our actions based on clear, rational and objecting thinking with the objective kept always in mind. The middle way must be tread between the poles of emotional reaction that lead inevitably into separatism, conflict and chaos.

In Christ, in unifying love, we seek to embrace and practically tread the middle way. This is our opportunity and our challenge.