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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


More thoughts on exiting the middle.

I wrote yesterday about how hugely important it is when we exit the middle.

The short version:

Beginners don’t need to be given challenges because everything is challenging.

In an advanced practice, you find challenges, because you have a conscious, intentional relationship with yourself and the world around you.

It’s the middle you want to watch out for. When you need other people to create challenges for you.

Most people think the middle is where you are until you get good, but the middle is where you stay until you decide it’s time to be conscious.

And … lots more to say that I didn’t get to.

So. Some answers to questions, and more thoughts on all of this.

What about rest? What if I’m used to resting in the middle?

Rest is a big deal.

And an advanced practice isn’t about straining. It’s about being present and having a conscious relationship with everything you do. So of course rest gets to be a part of that.

You can be engaged and still allow yourself to rest. In fact, you can be engaged in the process of resting.


In yoga (yes, again with the yoga examples), it’s the beginners and advanced practitioners who prioritize rest and the middle who scorns it:

Someone coming to a class for the first time will totally take you up on that offer to “take a child pose”. And people with advanced practices have enough awareness and sovereignty to know when they’re worn out, and to take a conscious, intentional pause.

Beginners love shavasana because they’re exhausted. In an advanced practice you love shavasana because that’s what you’ve been building up to.

But if there has been safety and rest (or other useful qualities) in your experience of the middle, you definitely get to take these with you when you leave.

What if you’re gifted so you sail past the beginner stuff and land in the middle?

This was Sheridan’s question, and it’s a good one.

We need to differentiate between the material you encounter at the beginning of learning something, and the approach of being a beginner.

When you bring the qualities of the beginner — genuine curiosity, receptivity, willingness to be wrong — to whatever it is you’re doing, it’s conscious.

And once your relationship to what you’re doing is conscious, you have an advanced practice.

You can still breeze through the material, but as long as you’re having a conscious relationship with it and yourself, you’re not in the middle.

In fact, by asking that question, you’re not in the middle.

Is that what people mean by “beginner’s mind”?

Kind of.

Beginner’s mind is about taking on the qualities of beginning:

Curiosity. Receptivity.The willingness to be wrong (or surprised!), the noticing of things, the excitement, the anticipation, the lack of attachment to any One Right Way.

When you’re in this state, everything is new.

And yes, the (obvious) implication: as soon as you choose to consciously invoke these qualities, you’re in an advanced practice. Engaging with beginner’s mind is an advanced practice.

Exiting the middle: pursuing “beginner’s mind” and going beyond it.

It’s the combination of choice plus conscious awareness that does it.

It’s not the mindset of beginning-ness all by itself. It’s the fact that you’re consciously choosing this state that negates the middle.

And choosing the challenge of being in it.

So an advanced practice is not just agreeing to approach things like a beginner might.

It’s making a decision to invoke the qualities of beginning, with intention and focus and maybe even with love.

But what if the middle is where I belong?

It is really tempting to stay in the middle. Because that’s where the struggle is. Where you’re constantly trying to get better.

And it feels good. It feels familiar. Striving for an advanced practice that doesn’t really exist, instead of choosing the actual advanced practice of engaging with where we are.

We all go through this — I have been in many a middle. In fact, I’m probably in all sorts of middle spaces right now. The middle is a place that we all stand sooner or later.

We just don’t have to stay. And the second we’re conscious of it, we’re already on our way out.

What about when you want so badly to be “advanced” that you can’t move forward?

It happens.

Back to the yoga example … my teacher used to say, “it’s better to do yoga with your head, not with your leg behind your head”.

And I knew he was right, but it was so appealing to keep striving to get there. So I stayed in the struggle of the middle, hoping that someone would help me (or make me) overcome something.

I knew, intellectually, that I could be the person who engages with her own relationship to something, instead of the person who needs to master something.

But I didn’t want to exit the middle.

What if I can’t stop judging myself for being in the middle?

That’s part of the middle. It’s part of being there.

We’re there because we don’t know that we don’t have to stay there. And we’re there because we beat ourselves up for being there.

The middle itself is not a bad place, necessarily.

It’s just that we don’t need to stay.

We don’t need our desire to be good at something to keep us captive in the struggle of trying to get somewhere. Because as soon as we decide to mindfully, compassionately find out more about where we are, we’re done being there.

But how do you exit the middle?

You choose it. The way out of the middle is choice. That’s all.

An advanced yoga practice does not require you to be able to stick your leg behind your head or balance yourself on an elbow.

That’s the stuff the middle strives for.

An advanced yoga practice begins in that moment when, say, standing in the post office, you begin to notice something about how you’re standing or how your’e breathing.

You are in a state of reconnaissance: observing yourself and your relationship to your surroundings.

You notice. You question. You make adjustments. You meet yourself with love. Or: you meet your inability to meet yourself with love.

It’s about saying yes. And asking questions.

I don’t care if we’re talking about business or gardening or embroidery, it’s all the same. You exit the middle by saying yes to this state of being engaged and present with what you’re experiencing.

So the challenge that we’re saying yes to doesn’t have to be big and super challenge-ey.

Having a conscious relationship with yourself and your stuff is the challenge.

It might only be the challenge of noticing where your breath is. The challenge of giving yourself permission to stop when things get hard. Or the challenge of paying attention to what you’re feeling and thinking in any given moment.

But it’s yours. And you choose it.

Confidential to CB.

And everyone else who hit a wall with yesterday’s post, or whose monsters are using this concept of the middle to make you feel bad about yourself.

You’re not in the middle, sweetpea. The middle is where we are when we choose not to consciously engage with our stuff.

If you’re asking yourself questions about your relationship to the middle, that’s conscious engagement. Which is already a very advanced practice.

And the thing is: consciously interacting with ourselves and our stuff is hard. And you are brave and wonderful for being in it. That is all.

And comment zen for today…

Oh, this is hard, challenging stuff. Working on our stuff is so full of things to trip over.

It’s a process. And sometimes it’s also kind of a pain in the ass.

Wishing you support with whichever part you’re working on. As always, we let people have their own experience, and we do this by being supportive and kind and not giving advice unless they ask for it.

Internet hugs all around, to anyone who needs one.

28 Responses to More thoughts on exiting the middle.

  1. Stephni
    Twitter: lietsjie

    Lots of aaahh for me thanks. Have to think about this a bit. But I want to stop thinking about the middle as a place or a way to measure myself.

  2. Lindsay says:

    “The challenge of giving yourself permission to stop when things get hard.”
    Wow! Here’s me trying to approach that with beginner’s brain . . .
    Well, I’m going to walk out the door now and just be curious about me and see where that goes. And try to hand out some cookies (if they like cookies) to all the monsters who are just going to devolve into tantrums over this one.
    Maybe I’ll give them a sound proof bouncy castle as well . . . and are you allowed to give your monsters valium? ;)

  3. Hiro Boga
    Twitter: HiroBoga

    Havi, as I read this what came up for me was a riff on the various kinds of “middle” in my life.

    Middle of my body, which is my core and sustains me. Being the middle child of three sisters, and how that’s shaped my consciousness and patterns of relating. The Middle Way, in the Buddhist sense of moderation, harmony, balance.

    Middle of the night musings. Middle muddle moodle…

    Exploring now the flavor of middleness and thinking about it in relation to your “exit the middle”.

    Love, Hiro

  4. Sheridan
    Twitter: sheridan

    Havi thank you so much. I have often felt like you were speaking to me when reading your posts, but this time you actually were and your thoughts on my skipping the beginner stuff and ending up in the middle really do make sense.

    What I have been calling “giving myself permission to be a beginner” is sort of a rough version of what you so eloquently describe as the “beginner’s mind” in this post. I used to get very frustrated because it felt like I would be one of the best students in any field, and then just hit a brick wall. I wanted to be better, but always just hit a place where my natural ability stopped and I didn’t know how to move forward.

    Part of the challenge of giving myself permission to be a beginner was having the epiphany that just because I had breezed through the concepts didn’t mean I had mastered them. Just because I could apparently do all of the beginner stuff didn’t mean I had internalized the beginner stuff. Once I stopped worrying about improving quickly, I started to see cracks in the walls I was hitting. Once I started going back and really trying to explore the beginner material, instead of just getting through the beginner material, I began to see some new paths open up.

    This is all a fairly recent epiphany in my life, which is part of why your post was so helpful, but I can see a huge difference from just this small change in attitude.

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this.

  5. Emily
    Twitter: emilyroots

    Wow. Once again, it’s like you’ve opened a direct line into my mind. (And I’m sure a lot of others feel that way, too.) You always leave me with so much to think about. Makes me want to just go for a long walk and mull it all over.

    The conscious interaction with all of it. Yes. That’s what was missing. Bookmarking this post. Writing it down in my developing Read This Stuff in the Darkness section of my Book of Me. Because sometimes you just need these signposts…
    .-= Emily´s last post … The Woolalong &amp All Its Blessings =-.

  6. andrea says:

    Dear Havi,

    This is so spot-on. Rock. Rock. Rock.


    I’m tempted to take your response, photocopy it a zillion times, and give it to every middle school student at my school. You’re mint.


  7. Mahala Mazerov
    Twitter: LuminousHeart

    Havi, I love the insights in these two posts and looking forward to examining the things I do / choices I make through the lens of these insights.

    One of my first thoughts on reading was, do people even *know* there’s an option not to be in the middle? It seems you almost have to break through to the advanced to know there’s a middle and a possibility of exiting. OR you have to have someone very sweet and brilliant who’s been there before clue you in. (kisses)

    I think of this, not just for myself, but for people who come to work 1 on 1 or in classes. So yeah, I’m with @andrea. Let’s photocopy this a zillion times and give it to every student and client. (I’d say with your author bio at the bottom of every handout, but afraid the thought might make you shudder.)

    Big love.
    .-= Mahala Mazerov´s last post … What is Loving Kindness =-.

  8. Deb Ross
    Twitter: DebRewired

    I felt compelled to comment on your last post about exiting the middle, but didn’t. After reading this post, I simply can’t not comment again.

    I’ve never really looked at it from this vantage point, but it makes so much sense. I just finished reading ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle and he writes a lot about being present in everything you do. It all goes right along with what you are saying about exiting the middle. I love it when great things I read align with one another!

    I find myself doing the beginner stuff to merely get through it, not to get the most I can out of it. I do each step for the sake of trying to get to the next step or the end… but I’m not really present with each step, so I’m not really getting everything out of it… which I now realize is just making me hang out in the middle. It seems so silly now that I look at it on the screen!

    You manage to give me a-ha moments often, Havi. Today was certainly no exception!
    .-= Deb Ross´s last post … Time to Purge Again =-.

  9. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    I think I’ve figured out why my monsters like the middle.

    It’s because from there, they can foster belief in a kind of advanced practice that doesn’t exist.

    Someday you’ll be good enough. Someday you’ll feel strong and confident all the time. Someday you’ll stop making stupid, boneheaded mistakes. The day will come when you will never, ever have to feel like crap again.

    If I step into eternal beginner’s mind/advanced practice right now, then I have to let go of the dream of perfection. I have to stop believing that mastery is perfection.

    You mean, the day will never, ever come when you are on top of the world, on top of your game, and everything goes right, and everything you touch turns to gold? Never EVER?! Ack ack ack ack aaargh!

    But wait a minute, monsters. I have had days like that. Remember?

    And I’ve also had days when everything feels like crap.

    And that’s okay. That’s life. That’s the message.

    What if this is as good as it gets? What if I’m good enough right now?

    .-= Kathleen Avins´s last post … The trouble with “middle vision” =-.

  10. Heidi
    Twitter: HeidiDobbs

    I love these posts, especially following after the conversation with your Book Monster. I think I’ve spent so much of my life living in the middle, though I tend to think of it as limbo; stuck between the past and the future, but in a way that has kept me from actually experiencing the present.

    Being right here, right now, with my mind as much as my body, is my new adventure. I’m learning to have fun with it, to play with it, to approach it with that beginner’s mind… as opposed to, you know, beating myself up for not being more present.

    @Sheridan – I definitely empathize with you on this one! I’ve always picked up the basic stuff so quickly, it can be extremely frustrating to hit that point where it stops being easy… in fact (could that be an epiphany I’m sensing?) I think this is why I’ve spent so much of my life secretly feeling like a fraud; everyone sees how easily I pick up new things, and they think I’m so smart. And then I stop getting it effortlessly, so I start questioning myself. Thinking that I’m not nearly as intelligent as everyone else thinks I am… I mean, if I was, I wouldn’t be so blocked at that point, right?!

    But it’s not that I’m suddenly an idiot, rather (as you said) I just haven’t actually internalized the beginner stuff. Accepting that the harder stuff will be (shocker!) harder to learn might just help me with this one… a lot! :D

    Oh! and as I was reading your comment, it made me think of the Barbara Sher book “I could do anything, if I only knew what it was”. A friend turned me on to it, and I was just reading a chapter that talked about this very thing! You might consider giving it a read, it’s pretty good stuff :)
    .-= Heidi´s last post … Permission granted =-.

  11. pat says:


    Both of your “exiting the middle” posts are really, really useful and relevant for me! I second (or third or millionth) the posters above who want to share this and @sheridan’s comment with everyone…it’s so true. Thank you!

  12. pat says:

    @Kathleen: thank you for your comment, too! You’ve articulated some things I’ve been struggling with in my own life.

  13. Andy Dolph
    Twitter: acdolph

    So this post put me directly into the middle of The Hard and I’m not sure why.
    I know that I didn’t really understand it, there’s something I’m missing.
    so for now, I’ll notice the hard, and give myself permission to feel this way and see what develops. I guess it’s all I can think of to do…

    But it probably means something important is happening, so thanks!

    .-= Andy Dolph´s last post … Under the Sky in an Inflatable Planetarium =-.

  14. Joe
    Twitter: joe_griffith_

    Thanks Havi

    “Most people think the middle is where you are until you get good, but the middle is where you stay until you decide it’s time to be conscious.”

    This part really calls out to me…it explains a lot!!

    OK, enough being ‘stuck’ in the middle, I’m growing conscious.
    .-= Joe´s last post … What the hell is an Existential Crisis =-.

  15. Kath
    Twitter: KathC

    Your two posts have brought up a lot of things for me in a good way! At this moment I’m struggling with how to deal with this because I’ve realized that I’m the sort of person that thrives on being the beginner – in many different things – and that in many ways the process of continually learning and beginning leads me to the advanced, as I figure out how to apply all of the beginnings I’ve gone through and appreciate them for what they are. For me, “the middle” has been in not recognizing the pattern.

    Now that I know the pattern, I need to discern how to . . . take advantage of it? Take on some risks that may lead me to better places? But it is a hard process, and the monsters are still holding me back a bit, but at least I’m being more aware . . .

    Thank you for sharing this with us!

  16. Havi:

    Thank you for these two posts.


    Inspired my own introspection on “the devil you know.”



  17. Bullwinkle says:

    Today, this morning, reading this post the first thing when I got up; I gave myself permission to stop. (And @Heidi gave me an official permission slip! Thank you!)

    Just stop.

    It has been a really tough week – busybusybusy and more busy – and trying to process some great epiphanies (yay me!) and some major sad and a big disappointed.

    So I stopped.

    What an excellent idea. (Sometimes, it is hard for me to see the obvious.) Thank you. (And, all the furry critters who live with me thank you too.)

    p.s. I off to engage in more resting.

  18. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA

    OK, so this is The Middle as it relates to how you approach everything. A very interior design sort of beginning, middle, and advanced.

    Ultimately, it’s (again) about meeting yourself where you are rather than tracking objective skill mastery. Yes? Or…?
    .-= claire´s last post … Whod like some real mail A little giveaway to perk you up =-.

  19. Elizabeth
    Twitter: elizabethhalt

    I’ve been thinking about this yesterday and today and I’m wondering if I’m in the middle in a lot of areas of my life because the beginning area was so uncomfortable that I skipped right over it and just wanted {someone or something} to fix it or make it better or make it harder/easier.

    Most of the things we did in school came really easy for me. But I never really learned that the whole beginner’s mind thing was something to appreciate and enjoy .. which means that when something comes along that isn’t quite so easy (which is lots of things in life), I feel like there must be something wrong with me for not getting it and I get stuck there. It doesn’t feel like the beginning, and I haven’t really left it, so maybe it’s a sort of middle – and I just need to be conscious of it.

    It does occur to me that the one area in my life that I am actually really good at noticing and being curious and experimenting is my photography, so maybe I can learn how to transfer that to other areas.
    .-= Elizabeth´s last post … scenes from the market =-.

  20. Susan
    Twitter: susangiurleo

    I sooooo needed this post today!

    Such a great way to describe where I’ve been for , like, a year. But lately, I feel myself moving, aware, making different choices, sailing slowly toward the goals.

    For me, it’s a combination of pushing the boundaries of the middle and getting bored with it AND finally looking up to see what is beyond. When the vision was real, I could figure out steps to get there and reach.

    It feels….weird, but exciting.

    Thanks, Havi, you’re words mean so much.
    .-= Susan´s last post … Summer Reading List for Biz Savvy Health Care Professionals =-.

  21. Jane
    Twitter: JaneOfArdis

    I’ve come back and reread this a couple of times because it’s just so right for where I’ve been this week. It’s like a door opening from a thought room I’ve been investigating and showing a path to circumvent getting stuck in getting more caught up in striving to Be Good and Succesful (definitions which strangely enough are never mine) that ends up paralysing me and sapping the energy that I want to actually do the things I enjoy.

  22. Jenny McMillna
    Twitter: jenipertree

    I love this. It makes me think of the one smart thing I have learned as I have gotten older which is to stop struggling.

    When I was a teenager I read an article about someone who could float upright in water. It was some kind of advanced yoga practice. He made the statement that all that it took was to do nothing. “To drown is to be doing something.” I have always carried this thought with me, but never quite been able to pull it off.

    I do know that I make so much more progress when I give myself permission to be where ever I am at.

    I want to ask, how does the middle relate to the bridge?

  23. Josiane
    Twitter: kimianak

    What you wrote here opens up a whole world of new perspectives and new possibilities, and really useful ones at that. Once again, I’ve got more thinking to do about it all, some more exploration of the ideas that came up for me while reading (and re-reading) those two posts. I’m already pretty excited about where this is leading me! Thank you!

  24. […] Gems from Havi: exit the middle and more thoughts on exiting the middle. […]

  25. Wow. this is tweet-o-mancy. Exactly the tweet I needed to read.
    But this post explained something about myself I hadn’t been able to articulate.

    All my life I’ve been the person who can dive in and learn things very quickly. Once I feel like I’ve gotten “enough,” I lose interest and move on to the next thing I can learn quickly. Result? I have beginner knowledge in many things, but nothing very deep. I used to think it was because I just love to learn things (which is true) but now I’m wondering after reading this if it’s that being in beginner mind is “easier” because I don’t have to challenge myself. I’ve been guilty of being in beginner mind with things AND people. and i dont’ like it anymore. But trying to get out of the middle is…hard. I don’t even know how to do it. Maybe you can write a post on that next?

  26. Eliana Gilad
    Twitter: musicpeace

    Wow, what a blessing to read your posts Havi and all the wonderful comments too.

    Beginner’s Mind is my preferred way to stay stuck in the middle. I do it silently. Or, another way I stay in the middle is to get foggy. As soon as I begin to hit the essence, the deeper essence of presence, I fog, or shift focus.

    Yesterday after one too many times of playing Jean D’Arc’s replacement I lost it in the car – yelled, screamed, to God – I’ve had enough. Today has been raw and painful. I let it show to a colleague. It was embarrassing.

    When I read these posts I see I am really loving me through this. It’s great to see that.

  27. Eliana Gilad
    Twitter: musicpeace

    oops, forgot my twitter name – actually, avoiding twitter is another way I stay in the middle. It goes along with middle sister – overwhelm.

  28. […] : A few months ago, my friend Sarra sent me a link to an interesting post on The Fluent Self blog about different phases of skill level. It is worth reading in its entirety, but the executive […]

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