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The Messy Middle

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This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.

~ from ‘Aristotle’ by Billy Collins

In his remarkable poem ‘Aristotle’, Billy Collins captures an idea first observed by the eponymous ancient Greek philosopher that a literary work typically has three acts – a beginning, a middle, and an end. What makes Collins’ poem so powerful is that he observes the same is true of most things in life, and indeed of life itself.

The poem introduces us to the idea of the ‘messy middle’ – the necessary but painful second act where everything unravels and all seems hopeless before the third act somehow reintegrates and transforms it all.

The messy middle is that moment when the light is no longer visible at either end of the tunnel. It is “the thick of things,” according to Collins. The messy middle is the most challenging part of any human endeavor. From middle age, to the middle of an adventure, to the middle of this blog post, the middle is always the hardest part. The honeymoon period is over, and the real work has begun.

Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack here
and pitches his ragged tent.

The same is also true of any act of personal or professional change. We always begin with the greatest of intentions, with a dream, with a commitment to ourselves and others. We have a plan, and we’re ready to execute it.

But, as we all know from bitter experience, no plan survives first contact with reality. So as we begin to learn what it will really take to achieve our objective, as we begin to lose the light from either end of the tunnel, we can also begin to lose contact with our dream and our commitment.

If you’re in that place right now, you’re not alone. Most of us are there with you, stumbling around in the dark. And what we must all do is find the courage to press on, to recommit to the destination we can no longer see clearly, even if the journey will take more twists and turns than we had anticipated.

So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

It is this moment that defines us because this is the moment that we get to choose if we will step bravely into the unfamiliar darkness in pursuit of our brightest future or turn back toward the old familiar light of our past.

This week’s inquiry…

What are you in the messy middle of right now?

Dive Deeper…

“This is the beginning. Almost anything can happen.” – so begins the first verse of this poem, and the first act of all that we aspire to.

“This is the end, according to Aristotle, what we have all been waiting for, what everything comes down to, the destination we cannot help imagining”

This classic from Hesse explores the importance of finding our own path, and of letting go of that which serves only to hold us back on our journey to our greatest fulfilment.

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