There is real magic in middle earth. No, not the place of Frodo and Bilbo but the view from the middle place—the divine middle. That’s how I describe it, anyway. I’m not alone. Buddha himself described the middle way as the path to liberation. For me, the “middle mind” is a place of profound clarity, truth, and peace.
Truthfully, the middle was thrust upon me—I was a middle child. There were three of us, so I was also a “perfect middle child,” as they say—no one to share the in-between with. And no, there was nothing about me that was perfect.
As much as I despised being the middle child many days, its lessons were the most valuable ones of my life.
For example, although I was never the first to ride a bike without training wheels or go on a sleep-over, I was usually before my little brother.
As the younger sister to my older sister, I learned how it feels to really want something, and yet it was not my time. In turn, as the older sister to my younger brother, I knew how it felt to get to do something before he could and the bittersweet of leaving him behind and sad at times.
The middle spot is a great teacher.
Perhaps the biggest thing learning from my experiences of “middle earth” was this. When my siblings would fight, I could see that both sides were right in some ways and that both sides were wrong in some ways. It was also evident that neither could see the other’s side.
Even stranger was that many times they would be saying the same thing in a different way, but neither one seemed to hear it. When they finally calmed down, sometimes weeks later, they both seemed to figure out why they got so upset and could sometimes find peace, truth, and even agreement.
Interestingly, total agreement on anything was not as important to either of them as was seeing how the other person got to his or her conclusion.
Total agreement wasn’t as important as understanding the other side’s perspective.
My older sister had two younger siblings—always in the way of all things good. She probably felt lots of pressure being first to do anything, and not understanding how we felt when we never got to do cool things first. It was likely hard for her to see from the perspective of her younger siblings because she had no experience being the younger one.
My younger brother was the exact opposite. He was the youngest and the only boy, with probably lots of perceived injustice and confusion with older sisters. He always was last for anything good, surrounded by girls, etc., and had few experiences otherwise.
Yet as the middle kid, I knew how both of them felt.
I could be empathetic because I’d had many experiences from each perspective. I could understand what each was trying to express because of my different experiences of being the oldest and first sometimes, as well as the feelings of being the youngest and last sometimes.
I now see the many issues created by limited perspective in people every day, everywhere. The issue begins as a tiny feeling of injustice that over time festers into all out ugly with a friend, coworker or family member.
In essence, we’ve set up camp in our own limited perspective and declare we are certain the other side is wrong, because we’ve never experienced true empathy or even practiced “walking in someone else’s shoes.”
To get to the magic place of middle earth, we must be willing to align with the other perspective, figure out and own our blind spots, and then attempt communication.
When my mind gets confused—and it does often—I ask myself, “What am I missing?”
Remembering the thousands of arguments that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, I remind myself there’s an important perspective here that someone is trying to show me that I can’t see.
I’m blocked. I’m defending. I’m unable to understand where they are coming from. I’m out of balance.
When we start defending, this means we are self-protecting a position and thus we quit trying to understand.
I’ve learned (in the hardest ways possible) that to defend yourself when your entire world disagrees is either genius or folly.
You may win over a few to “your side” temporarily. You may even be a true genius, but you are still a fool, because if you beat people up with your ideas and never truly try to understand theirs, you will find yourself alone in the end.
As Mark Twain reminds us so brilliantly, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
I have discovered that true genius knows his or her perspective is true, and yet if he or she listens long enough and aligns with the perspectives of others, the true genius will become wise.
Wisdom comes from understanding that all perspectives are true. This practice will teach you more than any university on earth.
The practice of understanding the people you with whom you disagree will transform you (and them) because you have to leave an old misguided self behind. When we hear one idea differently, our entire perspective must shift to accommodate it, and we grow.
When you can truly know that all perspectives are true, you will find yourself in the place of peace, beauty, and freedom that Buddha knew—the middle mind.
Today, wherever you are in this discovery of truth, remember this: truth is universal—there are very few who argue about the color of the sky.
It is the things we do not completely understand that we will forever argue about. If you are involved in a disagreement, this means you are on the road to understanding. Be wise and don’t let your own perspective of truth be certainty.