In a previous post I briefly touched on the Buddhist concept of “The Middle Way,” in relation to love and relationships. The gist was that we should neither rush into falling in love nor reject love altogether. Instead, we should slowly progress towards a meaningful love.
The middle way isn’t just relevant to love, it’s the overarching philosophy that governs Buddhism. The Buddha developed the Eight Fold path, to help us live the Middle Way life. You can further condense the Eightfold path into sub-categories; Ethics, Meditation and, Wisdom.
I am neither Buddhist nor do I believe everything in the Buddhist religion. While many people see Buddhism as a “way of life” or a “philosophy of life” and despite being mostly a non-theistic religion, Buddhism is still a religious journey for many who practice it. What I found most intriguing what the religion was the Buddha’s insistence that he was not a God nor should you take his teaching as truth, rather, you should explore them for yourself and then make a judgement. I find many of the teachings a good map to navigating life and understanding our own short-comings. For me, Buddhist teachings are something I incorporate into my arsenal of life lessons, and my favorite by far is the idea of the Middle Way.
Incorporating the Middle Way Into your Day to Day
It seems like extremism is the new way of life these days. Politically speaking, it’s obvious—you have your alt-right, progressives, etc. Even the moderates can’t be seen mingling with the “other side” for fear of political suicide. But beyond that, you have the vegans and the extreme sports enthusiast. I’ve even heard bookworms say, “oh yeah, I read that 400 page book in a day.”
The problem with extremism is obviously that it can lead to terrible things (terrorist groups, stealing farmer’s livestock to “protect them,” etc) but more than that, it’s that life is complicated and trying to fit everything into neat binary lines is not possible. Take for example, abortion. You are either pro-choice or pro-life, right? But what about the pro-lifers who get abortions? They are hypocrites, right? Well what about the pro-choicer who says they would never get an abortion…are abortions okay for you but not for them? Are abortions just for the poor and the unfit? It’s…complicated.
The point is that we cannot live our lives so rigidly. Life is messy and the answers aren’t always clearcut. In my personal life I confront this all the time. For instance, I am borderline obsessed with living a non-toxic, organic, natural lifestyle. The problem that I face is that it’s extremely hard to be a purist. Because of the society we live in and because of abundance of information that’s out there, I find myself overwhelmed and frankly confused about what is “the right” way to be non-toxic and natural.
AGAIN, the problem was that I was taking it to the extreme, I wanted to rid myself of all the toxins in the world and all the unnatural things that we use in our daily lives. This is technically possible, and some people have accomplished just that, but it isn’t very practical, or cost effective, or even the safest bet. The biggest hurdle though, was that it was stressing me out and giving me major anxiety. So sure, I could do it, but at what cost? What I realized was that it was OK to utilize some of modern society’s tools, as long as they were safe, non-toxic and good for the environment.
I reached this realization by sitting down and really analyzing what my goals were and also listening to the other side. I’d done all the research and learned so much about non-toxic living but I hadn’t been objective enough to hear out the other said, and as the buddha would say, make my own judgement.
Here is a good example
In the natural beauty world at large, essential oils are the holy grail of literally everything, from cleaning your face to acne treatment to moisturizing, etc, etc. The reasoning behind using essential oils is that they are a naturally derived product that substitutes harsh artificial fragrances and is safe to use on skin.
THE TRUTH IS…
Essential oils can be safe to use on your skin and in your household cleaning products and diffusers, you name it, HOWEVER, essential oils are also extremely potent and can be very irritating if used directly on the skin. Not only that, essential oils take up a huge amount of natural resources to produce, making them eco un-friendly. So while I do like essential oils and believe in their benefits, it’s so important to me to use them in moderation and be mindful of their negative effects.
Since we have a skincare theme going, let’s mention retinol. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A that helps in anti-aging. It is found in many conventional skincare products. Many “clean beauty” products use retinol alternatives…but not for the reasons you think!* The hard core natural, non-toxic living community would never indorse or recommend something like retinol because like, Cocamidopropyl Betaine which is derived from coconut oil, anything that is chemically altered is considered “unnatural” and subsequently, “unsafe.”
THE TRUTH IS…
There have been countless scientific studies on the use of retinol and it has been found to be safe across the board. Like essential oils, it can be very potent and irritating to the skin, but it is not harmful if used as directed. As mentioned, retinol is derived from Vitamin A, which our bodies naturally produce, making it also something that our body naturally produces. After having done all my research, I concluded that retinol is something I’d like to try—an ingredient I would have likely never learned about if I’d strictly stuck to the natural beauty community.
The Bottom Line
What I’ve learned is that there is no right or wrong, we are constantly learning new things and adapting. The Middle Way has taught me that you should never pursue nor avoid something to the point of deteriorating your mental, spiritual or physical health. Trying to be 100% natural in an environment where consumerism thrives caused me more stress than benefit. This is not to say I don’t strive to live a natural, non-toxic lifestyle anymore, it just means my definition of that goal is more flexible. The Middle Way is synonymous with balance; don’t not pursue your goals and don’t allow your goals to become self destructive.
*Clean beauty products use alternatives to retinol because of how potent it can be. Alternatives are usually gentler on the skin and also less effective. Learn more from Allure mag’s 11 Retinol Myths That Derms Want You to Stop Believing.