Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Middle Way

To Buddhists "The Middle Way" is a term with rich connotations. Put simply, it implies a balanced approach to life and the regulation of one's impulses and behavior, close to Aristotle's idea of the "golden mean" whereby "every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice." While the word middle denotes balance, it should not be confused with passivity or compromise. To tread the Middle Way implies ongoing effort.

In the broadest sense, the Middle Way refers to the view of life that the Buddha teaches, and to the actions or attitudes that will create happiness for oneself and others. Thus, Buddhism itself is sometimes referred to as "the Middle Way," indicating a transcendence and reconciliation of the extremes of opposing views.

My friend SM pointed me towards the writing of eco-author James Glave, and one of his posts titled the Middle Way caught my eye. Read the entire post. He said in part,

"...How do we get to the place where vast numbers of us understand that a balanced atmosphere is the key to prosperity, security, stability. That it is not only the path out of this economic crisis but also the key to our shared future...

...We’ve seen some once-fringe green behaviors [become normal] as of late. ...I’ve also been thinking about the people on the “continuum of green.” ...Let’s put green types into three groups: the “baseline” greens, the “keen” greens, and the “bright” greens.

Baseline Greens : ...behaviors, products and actions that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in most of North America...recycling, composting, shopping for organic and fair-trade labels, cloth shopping bags, push mowers, programmable thermostats, re-usable aluminum water bottles, fuel-efficient cars, swirly light bulbs, etc.

Keen Greens have made some kind of personal resolution. ...mall averse, they love eBay and Craigslist, they have one car or a shared car, they’re avid cyclists, purchase carbon offsets, done some kind of home retrofit. They’re locavores and food gardeners. They volunteer. They shop for durability, not just price.

Bright Greens. ...ahead of their time. ...revolutionary thinkers. They perhaps live in Eco-Villages, or want to. ...They push the boundaries constantly. They’re not luddites working the farm, though, they’re very tech-savvy. ...they have trouble relating to “regular” people who don’t get what is going on in the world. ...privately, they are terrified that the change is not coming as fast as it needs to..."

Glave continues "...change will come from the middle section... The keen greens find inspiration in the bright greens, and “push down” better behaviors and choices to the baseline group... It’s up to those who have made some changes to show the larger group that there’s nothing to fear." 

This started me thinking, of course, where are we on Glave's “continuum of green.” ? I think we are "Mottled Greens", and I suspect there are a good many like us. We do most everything in the baseline list, with the exception of not always choosing fair-trade, as it is not always available. We do not cycle or purchase carbon offsets (actually I did once), but adhere to most of the Keen Green criteria. And Bright Green? I would love to live in an eco-village, be off the grid, and figure out a way to save the earth, but unless you consider using cloth wipes instead of TP "pushing the boundaries" we mostly sit on the "Keener" side of the fence and gaze longingly into the Bright Green pasture.

Of course, if the truth be told, even Baseline Green is five steps up from what 50% of North Americans practice on a daily basis. We need a "cradle to cradle" reworking of our industrial and agricultural practices. The time has come for Middle America to adopt the ecological Middle Way, the balanced approach that recognizes there is no way to escape the closed loop we are in. What we dump on the path we eventually have to walk through, eat, drink and breathe.

What Glave missed, at least in this one post, is that none of this ecological caretaking feels like a sacrifice, at least not for me. In the same sense that working at a boring job can be fulfilling because it provides for your children's needs, "greening" yourself is purposeful and brings with it a deep sense of satisfaction, even joy.

1 comment:

James Glave said...

Thanks for the nod, and good point re: the 'sacrifice' attitude. I don't know where I sit on this one. I want to believe that significant lifestyle changes (improvements) don't involve a sacrifice, but instead offer a reward of a kind not usually considered, ie non-monetary, a quiet thrill of accomplishment, the simple private small rush of endorphins that comes from actually making a difference, even a tiny one.

On the other hand, when I am walking/dragging my kids up the long hill in the knee-deep blowing snow because we got rid of the carbon-spewing SUV and our subcompact can't handle it -- and they're sobbing because they're cold and wet -- while neighbors blow by in their 4x4s, I DO feel like I am making a sacrifice that nobody else seems to be making. I am officially supposed to be stoked that I am a leader, but to be honest, in these situations the joy is at times elusive.

I wrote a column about this stuff for HuffPo a while back, called Wipe That Green Grin off Your Face. Might be worth a look.