The Middle Way Vs. The Way of the Artist
“First of all, Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and the world. It looks at things objectively. It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool’s paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.” – Walpola Rahula, What The Buddha Taught
“And so it goes…” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
“You can do anything you set your mind to.” Benjamin Franklin
The world is a vast playground where virtually anything is possible, yet from the day we are born our options are limited and stunted. Our parents, however well-meaning like to put us in a box, do what is best for us, help us be all that we can be. Later, as we start school, our teachers do the same thing. They begin teaching to the standardized test, teaching us what every kid needs to know to be successful in the world. In short, we make our kids what we want them to be rather than allowing them to become who they want to be.
I don’t claim to be an expert on any subject. I’m really more of an unused mind that is playing catch-up in my dotage. I’m an under-educated underachiever who is finally using my brainy superpowers for the forces of good. Or rather the all-consuming power of Art. By the way, what happened to Art?
I can hear you thinking (cue lab rats running on a little wheels), “What are you talking about Brother T? There is art all around you. Open your eyes, Brother T.”
True, you can turn on the radio and hear music or go to the library and grab a book that will make you laugh AND make you cry. Every city has art galleries and museums where you can see stunning works of visual art. Drive through any town and you’ll see architecture, parks and landscaping that will blow your mind. Listen to a street poet or read a poetry book. Go to a popular restaurant and you might see a stunning recipe plated like a masterpiece. Pop into your local brew pub and drink a work of Art. Stop by the indie record store and see window art and posters for rock shows. Go to a town with a thriving bicycle scene and be amazed by the beauty of the handcrafted bicycles. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. There is ART everywhere that you look. Right now. “Open your eyes., Brother T.”
My eyes are wide open. My heart fills with joy every time I rub up against any one of those examples that I just rattled off. Right now there is ART everywhere I turn my head.
But where will it be tomorrow.
I’ll bet when you read the title of this piece you thought it was going to be a treatise on Eastern mysticism and spirituality. It is. Nothing is more spiritual (to me) than ART. For thousands of years the standard bearers of the Eastern religions have been preaching the Middle Way as the way to find enlightenment.
Buddha said “The middle way avoids both these extremes; it gives vision, knowledge, and leads to peace, direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nirvana.”
Indeed, the Middle Way can be the source of enlightenment if all I want to do is to know my own mind (a frightening prospect, if you’re asking). A life of knowing the ecstasy of emotional highs and the crash and burn of the lowest lows are what makes me tick. When I’m too happy for too long I can almost feel the gears within me start to grind to a halt. I have hurt many people and ruined many relationships because of it. Does that mean I should stop seeking the ultimate happiness that life can give? Should I settle for a life of safety and mediocrity? Might as well shoot me now.
What I’m talking about here is the Western version of the Middle Way, a version also fraught with mediocrity. For many people, probably the majority of people in the world, the Middle Way is probably a perfectly acceptable way of living a good life. Born into a happy home, work hard in school, get a degree in an acceptable profession, find a job in said profession, marry within your social class, buy a house, pop out a few kids and retire in Florida. Sound good?
Sounds like hell to me. Which is probably why I am hopelessly and forever single, a status in which I am beyond redemption.
Not every kid that is born in 2013 is going to want to follow the Middle Way blueprint that I just laid out. There are kids who are going to want to write and paint, play music and cook, design buildings and parks. The embracing of the Western Middle Way has systematically taken away these alternatives for generations of our kids. Music and art classes have disappeared from our schools. Every kid is thrown into a box, shaken vigorously, and then expected to come out the same. Expected to pass THE TEST. The brighter kids can’t help but be bored, the average kids make out like bandits and kids at the bottom of the curve come out alienated and miserable. Kids who are too lively, who don’t fit the cookie cutter, are brought down with pharmaceuticals and counselling until they can’t touch those emotions without self-medicating. Is it any wonder that many of the world’s most creative minds of the last century have died well before their time.
What we need is a system that allows each child to be celebrated as the individual that they are without the stereotype of what they should be. So what if little Johnny wants to be a hairdresser or little Janey wants to work on motorcycles. Their happiness should be valued as much if not more than their future financial viability. This is where the government of Bhutan has surged ahead of the rest of the world. Instead of a Gross Domestic Product they calculate a Gross National Happiness. This is the Way of the Artist.
Creativity can be a curse. It can be the bane of our existence. But the absence of creativity makes for a world not worth living. There is something to be said for the Middle Way, but I’ll spend my nickel on the Way of the Artist. Thanks for listening.