Writing from the Heart: The middle way

Hang onto your grief, but only until it doesn’t serve you anymore.


Many, many years ago, I went to a meditation retreat, and at the end, we all lined up and one by one we each met the lama for a very brief connection.

I could hear him as he said “Namaste” to everyone, so I expected the same. But when it came to my turn, he said, “Don’t forget the middle way. Not too much here [and he gestured to his right] and not too much there [and he gestured to his left], the middle,” and he looked me straight in my eyes.

For an impulsive, black-or-white, right-or-wrong, no-gray-area kind of a gal, this was a big piece of wisdom. A piece of wisdom that would take me a long time to absorb.

I teach (maybe facilitate is a better word) a workshop called Writing from the Heart. I give prompts and ask people to go anywhere their pen takes them. I have only one rule, and that is when they finish reading, we tell them what we loved. So actually it’s about being in a safe place to write the truth, to write the stuff that shaped them.

Many of the pieces are personal, and once people know they can actually be honest and not worry about what folks will think of them or their writing, some go very deep. Many of the narratives are about early traumas. Most people have never written those emotional, painful accounts.

One of the things I say early on is how we carry those stories in our bodies, and that they marinate there. And that getting them out of your pancreas, your liver, your kidneys, and onto the page can be healing. And maybe it’s time to let go of the ones that no longer serve.

Many folks return and write the same story over and over again. I should take my own workshop, because I have probably written mine 50 times, the scene where my father has a heart attack and drops dead in front of my 15-year-old self. The words may be different, but the story is always the same.

Yesterday, I was with a dear friend recounting something that involved my father, and I teared up, and she said, “But that happened a long time ago. You’ve written about it, you’ve sobbed about it, you’ve expounded about it. Enough already.”

Oooh, I thought, that was cold.

So today I kept thinking about what I wanted to say in response to her. I felt like crying and I also felt a little bit angry.

But interestingly, I had just read something I had never heard my teacher Ram Dass say before. He referred to the old wounds, the old tales we’ve been telling, the old roles that no longer serve us, as the “used to be’s.” I loved that, and heard it at exactly the right time.

So Instead of responding with my hurt, knee-jerk reaction to my friend’s comment, I thought, Here was a perfect example of a “used to be.”

I used to be the fatherless daughter who saw her daddy die right in front of her young eyes.

Poor me. And of course poor me. It was horrible. But, I also thought, how much longer do I want to carry this pain around? How much longer do I want to be loyal to my suffering?

And then I remembered “the middle way.”

These tiny murders, as I like to call them, are shards across the heart, just like cracks in a wall. You can spackle all you want, but underneath there is still that broken part. So when you paint over it, you know the wound is still under there, but at least it’s not so close to the surface anymore.

The first time I heard Leonard Cohen’s the crack is “where the light comes in,” it validated and alleviated some of my childhood sorrow.

So now between Ram Dass’ “used to be’s” and Leonard Cohen’s “letting the light in,” I am wondering if there is a middle way.

And after much debate and back and forth, I answer my own question; of course there is. There’s always a middle way.

So I will hurt, I will grieve, I will sob.

But I will also wave bye-bye to some of those long-held used to be’s, and hopefully they’ll just be the ones that no longer serve.