I’ve discovered a new word and I want to share it with you. It’s called midding. Here’s the definition as found in John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
v. intr. feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it — hovering on the perimeter of a campfire, chatting outside a party while others dance inside, resting your head in the backseat of a car listening to your friends chatting up front — feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be.
When I first discovered the word, I thought of my grandmother. I have seen her enjoying “tranquil pleasure” at gatherings of her children and grandchildren, quietly smiling as she watches them enjoy each other’s presence, while she is in the hallway leaning on the wall. In these moments she feels safe in the knowledge that “everyone is together and everyone is okay.” She doesn’t need to be the center of attention. She enjoys a taste of heaven while being “quietly invisible,” without “the burden of having to be” in the thick of it. She is “on the perimeter” in her place of joy. She is midding.
And truth be told, as I glance at her midding with her grandchildren, I am midding, too. Her midding gives me quiet pleasure. Much of my own midding comes from enjoying other people’s midding. I am on the periphery and they, for me, are a source of sympathetic joy. We are co-midding.
In encountering the concept of midding, I also thought of myself the other night at my son’s and daughter-in-law’s wedding reception, as my wife and I were sitting at a dinner table watching everyone dance to rhythm and blues and pop songs. We danced ourselves, and it was great fun, especially to Brick House and Midnight Hour. But it was equally fun to watch others dance while we were sitting on the periphery, enjoying their fun in a quiet way. I admit that I clapped my hands while sitting at the table with the chocolate cake in front of me, so I guess I was dancing in some way. But I felt very happy not being on the dance floor, and yet grateful that they were. I don’t think my happiness was any less than theirs, it was just a little quieter, a little less visible. I was midding, enjoying their joy.
I thought of the members of the band, too. I marveled at their skills, albeit in a quietly invisible way. They were enjoying playing and I enjoyed their joy. But they well knew that their job that night was not to be the center of attention. Theirs was not a performance in an arena where other people sit and watch. Their job was to create an atmosphere in which the center of energy was the dance floor, and other people were having fun. They were very successful in doing this. But I could see in the expressions on their faces they were having fun watching the dancers have fun. They were midding even as they played the music.
Not-Two and Not-One
This midding — this quiet act of enjoying the enjoyment of others — illustrates two sides of relational love. On the one hand, in we are (1) feeling the pleasurable feelings of others, sharing in their subjective states, such that we are together with them in a deep and important sense. We are, in this sense, not-two. And at the same time we are (2) recognizing and appreciating that their feelings are theirs, not ours, and that we gain pleasure in a recognition that their happiness is theirs, not ours. We are, in this sense, not-one.
Midding reveals the polarity, the yin-yang, of relational love. The feelings of others are part of us and not part of us at the same time. It’s very Zen and very process. We process people believe that other people can be part of us even as they are also different from us, and they are part of us through our experience of them, including our experience of their emotional states, their feelings.
Love is not Jealous
Midding is also an antidote to one of the most serious problems we humans face today: namely our jealousy of the happiness of others. This problem is especially pronounced in our time because consumer culture tells us that we ‘ought’ to be happy and are failures in life if we aren’t. We can feel guilty for not being happy. In response we often look for others who aren’t happy either, so that we might share in their sufferings.
Yes, of course, sharing in the sufferings of others is a very good thing, and it brings us together. Sympathy and empathy are indeed glues by which we are held together. But sympathy, understood as sharing in the suffering of others, can also come easily, because often this sharing puts us in a position of superiority. Buddhists teach us that one of the most profound forms of love is sympathetic joy: that is, feeling joy in the joy of others. It is a great challenge of our time: how to be happy at the happiness of others if we are feeling resentful, or unworthy, or a failure in life. We find it easier to share grievances and suffering than to share joy.
Moments of midding — moments of sympathetic joy — remind us that we can be happy through the happiness of others, even if we ourselves are not happy. Their happiness becomes our sacrament. And because we are quietly invisible, we don’t have to perform our own happiness. We can take time to be ourselves: resting our heads in the backseat of a car while friends are chatting up front.
Midding as a divine Perfection
Midding may also give us new eyes for divine invisibility. Perhaps the Love whose very body consists of the stars and planets, the hills and rivers, the animals and plants, and of course the people – is a midder. Perhaps that God knows and enjoys the activity of being “blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be.”
It must be very hard for God to have to “be” all the time: that is, to perform God’s godliness. Sometimes God must wish to be on the sidelines, out of the spotlight, quietly smiling because others are the center of attention. Surely God needs to sit at the table sometimes, eating chocolate cake, and enjoying others dance. Or to be like a grandmother who stands in the hallway and is included only from the perimeter.
How often we think that worshipping God is our way of including God. But maybe our own having fun, maybe our welcoming life in its vitality, is a way of including God. Isn’t it time to let God be the grandmother, too. Can’t we give her a break and her just rest in our happiness, standing in a hallway? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, on occasion, we gave God a break from having to be “God” on a stage?
I suspect that, sometimes, one of the kindest things we can do for the Ancient One rest is to give her some invisible peace. To love her like you love a grandmother. Or like you might love your own parents on the day of your marriage, saying: “It’s OK, God. You don’t have to dance all the time. We’ll dance. You just watch and enjoy. You deserve it. We love you. Have some chocolate cake. “