The third way…

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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.

(1)0 ways to cope with a break up 


I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time because I’ve read so many lists of usual suspects on how to cope with grief, pain, loss and myriad of emotions that comes with a relationship ending. By the usual suspects I mean…

‘Do exercise, don’t drink alcohol, don’t isolate, get therapy, sleep, make sure you’re looking & feeling as good as possible…’ 

While they are all good suggestions on paper, at the time they can make you want to punch someone or collapse into a heap. Now this is probably a little controversial; these contrived ‘positive thinking and doing’ lists are mostly what we all know to do anyway – most people are not great at taking awesome care of themselves in the good times – so this can make you feel even worse when you’re not holding it together in the bad times. And this brings up what I feel is one of the most important subjects – shame. These ’10 ways to get through a break up’ articles, listing some of the above, can be a real shame trigger. Because when you’re barely getting out of bed or have swapped your tea at bedtime for tequila, the list is yet another thing you’re failing at. 

Shame is insidious and deeply damaging. Going through the break down of a marriage can bring up bucket loads of shame and talking about that is, I feel, much more useful. You may well have heard of Brene Brown, one of my favourite authors and shame & vulnerability researcher, she has uncovered for us that shame is feeling that we are somehow bad, rather than we did a bad thing, which would be a feeling of guilt. She explains how nothing good ever comes from feeling shame, there is nothing motivating about it or useful in it. Brene describes shame as ‘the instensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging’. And it’s one of the most human and primitive emotions there is. She also calls it lethal. 

My list of ‘how to deal with break ups’ has only one crucial point – do everything you can to avoid shame. When our lives get turned upside down and inside out there will very likely be mistakes, bad behaviour, harsh words, drinking too much, eating too much, skipping the gym for weeks… I’m not saying those are good things and they’ll help you, they won’t, but we’re human and we’re messy. I’m saying it’s ok and you’re ok and whatever you, or others, do and say it doesn’t mean you are bad and deserve to feel shame. In fact quite the opposite. It means you’re in pain and need to be loved, not judged, by yourself and others. 

I am all for self love and self care, taking a long bath or going for a massage are wonderful ways to take care of yourself. But what’s even more important is when you’ve fucked up, and trust me I have, to reject the shame you and/or others pour on you. This is warrior self love. Loving yourself in the midst of the battle. 

How do you do this? In my experience having just a few close people in your life who can be your champion, even in the darkness, is the most healing. Having someone empathise and reflect back to you your messy humanness and your beautiful spirit – and telling you that it’s all ok and you’re loved no matter what. I have been lucky enough to experience this both through professional support and family and friends. If you don’t currently have someone to be your champion, go find one. 

Do all the good things on the lists as much you can, and when you don’t or do the opposite, know that you’re doing the best you can. If anyone tries to shame you, keep your distance for a while. If you’re shaming yourself reach out to your champion and get vulnerable, share your good, bad and ugly feelings and know that you’re not alone. Brene says there are three things that shame needs to keep growing; secrecy, silence and judgment. Being human means being messy and imperfect. I’m holding your hand and you’re not alone.