Maybe it’s a few friends of yours. Maybe it’s you and you know it. Maybe it’s you and you aren’t aware of it; but we’re all somewhere on the self and other spectrum. Regardless of how various individual people define us, we can all appreciate that some people will be more selfish than others, just as we know some will give beyond their capacity to give.
Notably, either extreme appears pathetic from the middle. To be fair, the people on the extreme ends also don’t often have many good opinions about the people in the middle, and notably; they’re often viewed as the least-informed about life.
The most balanced people rarely experience their balanced nature because they have so little variation to compare it to, and so the experiences they do have tend to be filed under shocking, unpleasant or maybe bad simply because they’re so comparatively big. In that way life kind of works the way a lemon does, where it shocks you when you’re a baby, but lots of experiences with something means that today you can convert that lemony tartness into refreshing enjoyment.
Most of you will know these varying spiritual states as political distinctions. People seen as over-generous and foolish by one side are seen as compassionate and generous by the other. Likewise, the ones viewed as selfish and careless are seen by their own side as focused and successful. Each of these opinions and every single one in between are all largely valid, which helps us realise the truly meaningless nature of opinions, because what we’re really talking about is the many ways people are.
There’s no correct place to be on this spectrum. You’re not healthier near the middle and sicker on the extremes, although those can be byproducts of being in those positions. Everyone on that spectrum suffers, just for different reasons. The two far ends of the spectrum find each other’s pure existence to be painful. In between people argue about what the priorities in life should be and how they should be accounted for. And in the very middle a bunch of people are pretty good at intellectually appreciating all the various positions taken, but they’re all a little lifeless due to a lack of extreme experiences.
This idea can be disappointing to a spiritual seeker because it indicates that a common theme is true; you are already home. The reason this idea gets confused is that we see our spirit as a thing, on its way somewhere, when it would be better to think of ourselves as a principle in motion. So it’s like we’re the principle of gravity and the body we live in is doing the falling that we call living. Yes, your nature is to pull toward the center–to fall–which also explains why the center can be confusing and disorienting to those born too close to it, making their subsequent lives feel shallow and often unlived.
Can you accept that your nature is to move toward balance and that is the pull of life you feel each day? And can you simultaneously accept that your nature includes the idea that where you’re headed isn’t better than where you are, it’s just a different balance point with different challenges? The point isn’t to get anywhere, it’s to go; to live; to be. External outcomes ultimately don’t matter. It’s what Shakespeare meant with that “To be or not to be,” stuff.
Are there different types of prices for experiencing the various positions on this spectrum? Indeed there are. But pain is pain. It’s the part of life that allows you to contrast your joy, so there is no point in avoiding it. There are enlightened beings living all over the spectrum. The trick isn’t where you are, it’s how aware you are.
Wake up. Know yourself. And know that others are themselves too. And then work toward a less judgmental world where, more and more, you simply let them, and yourself, fully be.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.