An explanation and practice for
“going to neutral”
through the middle way
Have you found your self playing ping pong with your brain? Brain ping pong feels like you are trying to get somewhere but you keep bouncing from wall to wall with your emotions, feelings and thoughts.
It’s a reactive process like when the ball hits the wall hard and then again on the opposite side. Your thoughts ping in one direction with such force that it hits the other side and then your thoughts go in another direction. Back and forth, yes I want to do that, and I have to hit it hard to get it done.
Thing is the inner ping pong game happens so often it becomes a hidden habit you are barely aware of such as….I have to have a strong opinion about what ever the topic of the day is because if I don’t then it will get past me. I have to be in my pose to hit that ball back hard as it comes at me.
The reality is hitting it hard makes a hard bounce back and most of the effort is spent in hitting the walls rather then a simple roll down the middle. Which one is going to get there fast with the least amount of effort?
When you play a mental ping pong it’s a back and forth game and that makes getting where you want to go take a lot more effort with a lot less progress. Going back from one direction to the other over and over is exhausting…so what if you went down the middle. The sages of the ages as I call the wisdom teachers have shown us aiming for the middle is a wise way to travel.
Applying this principle to your thoughts reduces your stress and you know what havoc that flight, fight, freeze response does to your biology when it’s not turned off. A lot of your physiology has to pool it’s resources to sustain the “on guard” status. That means your nervous system, organs and subtle energies slow down and don’t function at their optimal level. And, it’s tiring! Simply said it feels like there is always something wrong.
Here is a little practice to apply that will soften the stress of it all. First let’s start with a story by Jack Kornfield from his book “The Wise Heart” that helps to explain how this is nothing new, and it’s still golden.
a method for emotional resilience
“Learning to rest in the middle way requires a trust in life itself”.
“It is like learning to swim. I remember first taking swimming lessons when I was seven years old. I was a skinny, shivering boy flailing around, trying to stay afloat in a cold pool. But one morning there came a magical moment lying on my back when I was held by the teacher and then released.
I realized that the water would hold me, that I could float. I began to trust. Trusting in the middle way, there is an ease and grace, a cellular knowing that we, too, can float in the ever-changing ocean of life which has always held us”.
The invitation is to discover this ease everywhere: in meditation, in the day to day life, and wherever we are. “In the middle way, we come to rest in the reality of the present, where all the opposites exist”. A place to soften our shoulders, rest our desire to fix, and a place to rest our judging, comparing, longing mind.
“T.S. Eliot calls this the “still point of the turning world, neither from nor towards, neither arrest nor movement, neither flesh nor fleshless.” The sage Shantideva calls the middle way “complete non-referential ease.” The Perfect Wisdom Text describes it as “realization of suchness beyond attainment of good or bad, ever present with all things, as both the path and the goal.”
“When we discover the middle path, we neither remove ourselves from the world nor get lost in it. We can be with all our experience in its complexity, with our own exact thoughts and feelings and drama as it is. We learn to embrace tension, paradox, change. Instead of seeking resolution, waiting for the chord at the end of a song, we let ourselves open and relax in the middle. In the middle we discover that the world is workable.” The teacher Ajahn Sumedo tells us ….
“Of course we can always imagine more perfect conditions, how it should be ideally, how everyone else should behave. But it’s not our task to create an ideal. It’s our task to see how it is, and to learn from the world as it is. For the awakening of the heart, conditions are always good enough.”
A daily practice & stress neutralization technique to use in the moment
The practice of “Going to Neutral” is a tool for emotional resilience.
Step into the middle way with
the wisdom of your heart,
the power of your breath,
and the calming of your nervous system.
Step 1: Begin with spinal bush breathing (aka feather breath) for a minute or two.
Note: To learn spinal brush breathing use this audio guide called Feather Breath (another name for spinal brush breathing) to learn the process of enhancing your inner awareness.
Step 2: Breathe slowly and deeply as you imagine the air entering and leaving through the heart area or the center of your chest. This helps draw the energy out of your head. It deflates the reactive thinking and the ping ponging of emotions and thoughts.
Note: For stressful onsets in the moment. As soon as you feel an emotional reaction begin, take a time-out and create some space for yourself. Slow down your breathing and implement the following steps. Practicing when calm helps to build the inner muscle to flex when you need it.
Step 3: Focus on your heart and breathing. Declaring and adopting the intention to disengage from an option. Release judgement or a need to grab hold of or fix things. Example: Breath in trust exhale acceptance.
Step 4: Continue until you feel calmness throughout your body and mind. This may not mean everything evaporates into fair dust. It neutralizes that the charge around your default emotions (the ping pong game). Soften the tension in your body with each breath.
Note: Neutralizing the mental ping pong reduces stress by soothing your nervous system. A balanced nervous system calms your mind, opens the wisdom of the heart and allows you take constructive action. You then create a 3 way communication between the heart, brain, and nervous system allowing opportunity for optimal experiences.