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.
Fantastic post. I just taught a collage class tonight that is designed for every level–and everything you said about being a beginning, advanced and “in the middle” was so exactly true–I’ve never read anything so clearly stated about that middle state.
I’m not in the middle with my art, but I am often in the middle with my business. Looking outward for answers. Frustrated and wanting direction.
Everything is a metaphor for everything. My workout is a metaphor for my artmaking, my artmaking is a metaphor for my business, my business is a metaphor for my meditation, my mediation is a metaphor for my workout…
Loved every word of this post.
.-= Sarah´s last post … How to Re Discover Your Artistic Voice =-.
“Most people think the middle is where you are until you get good. No. The middle is where you stay until you decide to be conscious.”
So beautifully said, Havi. I’ve admired your writing for a long time, your insight and your perspective. But this post really nails just how special all of it is. Thank you. I have this insane urge to jump on a plane to thank you in person. 🙂
.-= Natalie Christie´s last post … The End Is Nigh! =-.
I’ve been hearing this voice whispering in my ear. I’d swear it has been saying, “You have all you need, you’ve read enough, you’ve done your homework, you are ready to move.”
I think it has also been saying, “It’s time to leave the middle. It’s okay. You’ve left the middle before. You can do it again.”
Thanks for the encouragement.
It’s funny .. I have been wanting to get out of the beginning in yoga – it felt like I “should” be in the middle by now – but this has reminded me to appreciate where I am.
I am in the middle for many things – some old and some new. But I said the words to myself, because I do want to be conscious.
.-= Elizabeth´s last post … scenes from the market =-.
‘In the middle’ reminds me of conversations I had with Charlie Gilkey about honouring the edges of my work. The edges are the transitions between focus/creation time and rest time. I think of these as two important types of work I do and need in each day.
The ‘middle ground’ in our discussions was that uncomfortable time/space caught between the two — when I was not ready, willing or able to be focussed/creative but neither did I give myself permission to rest.
And I would get stuck in the middle ground, and spin into distractions like internet, TV and eating. Unconsciously.
And simply recognising when I was in middle ground was huge, because then I could say, “Hey I’m in the middle again — instead of hanging out here unconsciously I’m going to choose what I want to do next.”
I’m not sure this is same thing you are describing Havi, reading your post reminded me of it, and sparked my thoughts in new directions as well. Thank you!
I remember the middle of my yoga practice. It was where I performed a bunch of circus monkey yoga. And injured myself.
Now, I’m (thank God) past that. I lie around a lot, I do very simple poses.
And when I go to workshops, I am usually more wiped out than the non-teacher attendees. Now I know why!
I’ve been doing a lot of work on my relationship patterns lately, and I think I have cleared loads of old crap. Now, a pause. I have been calling it the Void. Is it the middle?
I don’t know. It feels very freaking challenging here in the Void. I am not used to just sitting and looking clearly at what I want. It’s not very comfortable. It’s challenging. I keep wanting to stop hanging out with the Void and just go back to mindlessly choosing the wrong men.
Oh my. Writing this, I realise that the Void is the end of the middle for me!
I wonder if I can still put up some wallpaper in the Void though? To make it look pretty?
Bring on the book.
.-= Nadine Fawell´s last post … Processing- Nesting- Knitting =-.
@Sheridan thanks for the comment. I was feeling a bit conflicted about this post (sort of a sulky ‘why does everything have to be graded’) and I think I’ve figured out why now. I think for me the problem with being able to learn easily has been that only as an adult have I started to learn how to do deal with my emotions when things inevitably becomes difficult. It is very possible to go through school and never really have to stretch yourself. It is now many years later and I think deep down I am still scared that I am not really as clever or talented as I think I should be. So I also end in the middle because things are not easy anymore and I am too scared to really apply myself. I think it is a bit like hiding. I wish just being aware of this could make the problem go away.
What have helped me are things that are small (in the dreams for my life sense) but important like learning to cook. We need to eat and we like to eat well. There is no reward other than a good meal and tomorrow it needs to happen again. There are so many things I haven’t mastered yet but would like to try and sometimes things don’t work out and I have to try again. It is not hard but it is something you have to pay attention to. Funny thing is after ten years I still feel more like a beginner because ‘I am learning still’ and I am completely ok with it. It is an interest and something I like to do more than something I am good at. I am trying now to apply the focus, curiosity and motion I’ve achieved while cooking to some bigger stuff because I know what it feels like now but also know how I got there. It is still an ongoing battle for me to see the scary and deal with it. I would love more conversations around this.
@Hiro “Being in the middle is part of learning how middle-ness shapes your experience.” Thank you I like this a lot.
Havi! Thank you!
You keep putting names to the things that I’m doing and the places that I find myself in. And naming things makes them realer and I get that tap on the shoulder which says, “hey, that’s something that needs to be worked on.” And my [not named yet] monster says, “no way, no how, that’s waaaaaaay too scary!”
And yet there’s a part of me that keeps on reading and hopes that perhaps one day, I’ll be ready.
.-= Katie´s last post … Fashion Obsessions 2 – I Need A Hat! =-.
@Sheridan @Stephni You are *so* not alone in your situation. The surface beginnings are ridiculously easy 99% of the time, and the middle is so comfortable and cushy, but then the advanced (the *real* beginning) is so very, very hard and frustrating and tearjerking, and it makes me doubt my ability in everything. I really think it’s because I never learned how to be a beginner, how to not only be okay with not-knowing but to actually actively embrace the not-knowing.
Havi, there is so very much to think about here. Thank you.
.-= Lori Paximadis´s last post … Tetris =-.
I’ve just been self-diagnosed with ‘middle-itis’. oy. thank you from the bottom of middledom for these words, right now at this moment. such a freaking fantastic post.
.-= Julie Daley´s last post … Seed =-.
Brilliant way to articulate this. Thank you.
I can see how this has happened with me and my business though I think that means I’m out of the middle even though I’m going slowly. I do notice I am much less worried about how I should do it and being a bit more open to trying things and being a beginner about some things.
However, this post also made me see that helping people out of the middle is exactly what I want to be doing in my business. That post-PhD folks think they are no longer beginners but they are often still looking for people to tell them what they need to do to be successful. And they often lose track of what they wanted to do this for in the first place.
So thank you for helping me see that helping them get out of the middle and be in sovereignty is exactly what I am trying to do. And that sovereignty is crucial to “advanced”.
.-= JoVE´s last post … Don’t make the committee do all the work =-.
i nowanna be in the middle
thank you lovely for this!
hugs and kisses
.-= amy goetz´s last post … the key for the door =-.
Good thoughts at good times… I have been going through the process of extricating myself from the middle (as I perceive it right now, anyway! Many middles to come, as consciousness lapses in… and out…) as a recent graduate from college. My first plan didn’t work so I was about to go BACK. Glad I took a few classes this summer to remind myself of how poor of an idea that would have been. I finished school, and I did it for what I wanted the *first* time. Capitulation to a ready-made career plan is not a conscious option! It’s time for me to claim my life and make it mine, mine, *mine*.
Rawr! Liberation! Woo!
.-= Michelle´s last post … So Have You Ever Gone To Start A Blog And Not Known What To Make The First Post So You Wander Through A Bunch Of Archives And End Up Totally Creeping On Some Blogs =-.
@Lori: Thank you so much for describing advanced practice as the *real* beginning – a lightbulb went on for me when I read that. Yes, I’m another one of those who fly past the beginning and often remain stuck in the middle, just like Sheridan has described so well, and that means I haven’t really learned how to be a beginner. The way you said the advanced is the real beginning gave me a new perspective on that, one that seems very helpful to me. Thank you!