I have been thinking a lot about ‘the third way’ recently. I was listening to a podcast a few months ago and the subject was about complex loss, such as when a loved one goes missing and there are no answers as to what happened to them. Dealing with these traumatic emotions and grief is somewhat different to more clearly defined loss, like a death from natural causes. During the conversation they discussed closure, whether it can be achieved after a complex loss, they said closure is not necessarily the aim or the end result, that there is a third way. The third way in this instance was rather than be swallowed by the grief and stay in the obsession of the loss, or shut it out in an attempt to reach ‘closure’, there is a messy, uncomfortable, but more authentic, third way. This third way is acknowledging the suffering and feeling the painful emotions, along with reaching for and moving towards the future without necessarily having a sense of closure. Can you feel in that description the third way feels vulnerable and messy, and yet honest and real?
In so many cases the third way is the way of healing and most true way to move through challenging times. In my case I have been trying to reconcile, in my mind and heart, a failed marriage; it was toxic and painful, but there was deep love and connection. The first way to process it could be; it was toxic therefore it was bad and unhealthy so chalk it up to a negative experience – put it in the ‘bad’ box. The second way could be; the love was so deep that I may never get over it, or feel that way again, the love of my life is lost, wallowing in the loss. And then there’s the much messier, but more authentic third way; there were parts that were unhealthy and toxic, they were bad. There were parts that were magical and loving, they were good. There is no box to put it in, it moves between the two extremes. This means there is no closure per se, it’s an ongoing organic process; there are happy memories which can hurt because it’s over, and there are painful, angry memories which can bring relief that the situation isn’t current anymore.
The third way runs between the first and second ways, which are both the more extreme options. The third way combines the two, it’s therefore a meandering path that traverses both sides without a pre-planned route or destination. This is what makes the third way so uncomfortable for us humans; we like to know exactly where we’re going and how to get there. I feel it’s so important to honour both the beauty and the pain, to feel the full spectrum of the feelings and flow with the third way.
This concept of the third way is applicable in so many facets of life; politics, health, the environment, day-to-day experience. For example when it comes to drinking alcohol, we have a growing binge drinking problem in the UK; large numbers of people don’t drink during the week then drink as much as they can at the weekend. Both of these are extremes; no alcohol and all the alcohol. The third way is the way of moderation, in this case it might be having a few drinks a couple of times a week. You often hear people say they find it possible to either not drink at all, or binge drink, that the discipline of moderation is the most difficult. You see the same when it comes to food; people yo-yoing between eating whatever they want, often to excess, then going on very restrictive diets in an attempt to counter balance the excess. When in actual fact the balanced approach of listening to your body and eating what you need, with some treats thrown in for fun, is the healthiest approach.
In Buddhism it is called the middle way; The Middle Way refers to the Buddha’s enlightened view of life and also the actions or attitudes that will create happiness for oneself and others. It is the rejection of extremes, which is depicted in the story of Shakyamuni; he first lathered himself in luxury, then deprived himself of everything, he realised neither extreme would take him any closer to spiritual enlightenment. ‘In his rejection of both self-mortification and self-indulgence, Shakyamuni awakened to the true nature of life—its eternity, its deep wellspring of unbounded vitality and wisdom.’
The Cambridge English Dictionary explains ‘the third way’ as a political movement in which the development of business is balanced with the needs of society. It is proposed to be the third way between capitalism and socialism. Taking the example of American politics at the moment, in some ways its easier for people dehumanise President Trump and his followers, and even hate them, than it is for them to have their own opinions and at the same time have compassion for, and see the humanness in, the opposition.
The tricky thing is choosing either extreme can often feel more exhilarating; there is usually adrenaline associated with the high of excess, and there may even be a sense of accomplishment in the extreme of denial. Taking the third way can feel unstimulating, boring and overly measured. There are of course circumstances which require an extreme response; a high level of adrenaline and life or death commitment to a cause. For example it took a World War to neutralise the threat and horrifying atrocities committed on behalf of Hitler.
I’m sure you can think of many circumstances, in your own life and globally, where navigating a third way between the extremes would bring more peace and healing. However as we have seen it’s not necessarily the easy option for us, in most cases it takes discipline, vulnerability and radical honesty. Cultivating this third way in our own lives, in our own struggles, and on a global scale, is a worthy practice. It will feel messy and uncomfortable, the path may not be clear, but it is where we find wisdom, acceptance and true healing.
Last year I was trying to get over my marriage ending, find some resolution, understanding and move on. It’s a process. One particular day I felt very strongly guided to do a ritual for the ending of the my marriage. Funnily enough it was also 4th July, Independence Day for all my American friends. (There was no forward planning on that one.)
This is the spot that I chose, near my home in London, right by the river in a beautiful and private place.
I wore my rings for the last time while I sat by the river feeling all the waves of emotions that were coursing through me.
I took a copy of my marriage certificate with me (you need the real one for the divorce – which takes 2 years…so a copy was the practical option). I burnt it as a symbol of the of the ending. There was no malice involved, more of a ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’ type mourning vibe.
It felt important to write a message from my soul to his on the last little piece of the certificate. Words that I couldn’t say to him in person because he would probably think I was a crazy person. I was in floods of tears as the emotions spilled out of me. At this point I should probably add, in the name of authenticity, that I also had a bottle of Prosecco and packet of cigarettes with me.
Once I had finished saying my goodbyes I rolled the little note into my ring and prepared to throw it in the water. I said so many prayers for him and for me, that the pain would ease, that life would be bright again, that there was some point to all this.
I threw it in the water and watched it slowly sink. So much beauty and meaning in the middle of so much pain.
After I was all cried out and a bottle of Prosecco down I decided to go out, by myself, to celebrate the 4th of July. So I did. I went to an event in central London and met some great people and had a fun and crazy night.
It was interesting that I completely followed my intuition to do the ritual, I hadn’t read any suggestions online, I just did what I felt. And it struck me that so many rituals in life involve earth, fire and water. We are baptised in water and cremated in fire or buried in death. I was inexplicably drawn to sit down on the earth, burn my marriage certificate and throw my ring and final love note to my husband in the water. Life and death. Cleansing and detoxifying. Grounding and yet overwhelmingly emotional.
The ending of the story is not ‘and then I was fine and healed and life just got better and better’. No. It was a very special, painful, emotional, deeply loving part of the process. It created more love and acceptance and that is really all we need.
With so much love, Gemma xx
The first step is crucial and needs nailing before you start your retreat – easy, healthy, whole food. Most of us are busy and creating healthy, delicious meals 3 times a day for a whole week is a challenge, especially if you’re creating a new way of eating.
Solution = order a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner + snacks to be delivered to your door! I decided to use Nosh Detox as they offered a 7 day alkalise, balance and cleanse programme. The first three days were mainly smoothies and soups with a proper meal for dinner and the rest of the week was proper meals; salads, quinoa porridge, stuffed peppers and many more yummy dishes.
I was impressed that the smoothies were not too sweet, as is often the case, and the meals were very filling and tasty. All the food is diary and gluten free and you can specify your own dietary requirements – for example I loathe mushrooms so none of my food included mushrooms.
The team at Nosh needed very little notice before my deliveries started and having all the food for all meals in the fridge (delivered fresh every 2 days) meant I could free my mind and my time of any and all food related concerns and concentrate on me and what was important to achieve during this week. After a number of months suffering from chronic fatigue and healing from a marriage break down my priorities were to get my body moving and release stored up emotions – which is where the following steps came in…Step 2 coming soon!
Image courtesy of Nosh Detox