When I was a yoga teacher in Tel Aviv, there was a class I liked to attend that was just incredibly slow.
The simplest, most basic poses. Transitioning in and out of them at an extraordinarily slow, almost ritualistic pace.
It was, technically speaking, what you could call an “easy” class. But I wouldn’t have called it that at all.
The place of no middle.
This slow-slow-slow simple-simple-simple class was usually attended by absolute beginners.
And me, along with the owner of the yoga studio and occasionally another teacher.
At the end of class, we’d be pouring sweat. All of us. Wiped out.
The beginners would be sweating from the exertion of being at the beginning.
Where it’s all new and challenging. A million things to notice, feel, examine, experiment with, process.
Those of us who were teachers were sweating because when you have an advanced practice, you bring it everywhere.
We were bringing all of ourselves into each rudimentary motion, all of our curiosity and attention into each stretch of a limb.
We were in it. And so it was as exhausting and challenging as a hard physical practice, maybe even more so. This class became about immersing fully in each sensation, which is intense.
If you caught a glimpse of us after class, red-cheeked, sweat-stained and blissful, you’d have no idea which of us were the advanced students and which the beginners.
But you could always tell when people in the middle were there.
They weren’t sweating, for one thing. Because it wasn’t hard for them.
Also, they were complaining. About how it wasn’t hard, how boring it was.
The problem with this class, according to them, was that it wasn’t a challenge. But only because no one gave them a challenge.
The problem with the middle.
Beginners don’t need anyone to hand them a challenge. Because everything is challenging.
People with advanced practices also don’t need challenge. When you have an advanced practice, you find challenge everywhere because you’re curious and intentional about every aspect of what you’re doing.
Your challenges reveal themselves naturally. You experiment. You play and explore. You intentionally choose to interact with everything in a conscious, curious way.
You don’t need to wait for a perceived authority to tell you how to make something harder. Or, if necessary — and often this is necessary! — how to make something easier. You trust your own ability to solve this.
You make adjustments. Because you’re in it. You’re there. Consciously engaging with the world around you as a way of being.
This post is not actually about yoga.
I mean, in a sense it is. In the same way that all my posts are actually about yoga.
But it isn’t about yoga.
The middle exists everywhere. In business. In the blogging world that I inhabit. In gyms and coaching programs and on Etsy and on Twitter.
Everywhere you look: middle.
How the middle works.
In the yoga studio, the people in the middle are the ones who want harder poses. More exertion! More challenge! More fixing!
In my own classes, the middle doesn’t show up nearly as much because the basic premise is a) we’re supposed to be doing it badly, and b) the whole point is seeking out challenge.
But you still see it. It’s the people who want you to challenge them instead of finding new ways to challenge themselves. Or it’s the people who want you to tone it down, instead of giving themselves permission to do less.
In business, the middle is filled with people looking outward to find out what the “internet famous” people are doing, instead of inward to find out what is theirs.
Instead of innovating and making (or playing with what’s there in order to make it your own), the middle copies what already exists.
In the middle is all this wanting to be there already. It is not fun, being in the middle.
No one is keeping us there.
Most people think the middle is where we are until we get good, until someone tells us we are ready or gives us a grade. No. There are no grades, and external sources of legitimacy are not relevant here. The middle is where we are until we remember we get to be conscious.
Staying in the middle means being cut off from sovereignty.
In the middle, you need other people to show you what to do. You’re constantly waiting for other people to deliver. And constantly disappointed when what they give you doesn’t live up to your expectations.
Once we step out of the middle, we get to make conscious decisions about what appeals to us, what we might want to try.
The way to exit the middle is not by doing something or accomplishing anything or getting anywhere.
You just decide.
You just decide. You say it:
Here I am. I’m ready and willing to consciously engage with everything in my life, with the ecology of my life.
I’m open to finding challenges in the places where challenge is needed, and challenging myself to find ease when ease is needed.
That’s it. We’re out of the middle.
I have a lot more to say about this, unsurprisingly. Examples. Ways to apply this. Caveats and disclaimers and so on.
But it was starting to turn into way too much to digest in one post.
So take this as a beginning: a useful concept to start playing with.
As always: we all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff.
And if I accidentally stepped on your stuff while processing my stuff … I apologize. Not my intention.
In the meantime, if you want to think out loud about about situations where the getting out of the middle is the best thing to do (or other ways to exit the middle), I’m here.
EDIT: Here’s the follow-up post with more thoughts on all of this.