Lately, I’ve been reflecting on duality. Yin and yang. Happy and sad. Brave and afraid. Right brain and left brain. Today and Some Day.
The question I keep coming back to – How do we hold both?
Some Day & Today
Life comes with tradeoffs. My today is both limiting and enabling. Empowering. Inspiring. So, what of the limiting, then?
Is the limiting the container? Like the four corners of a canvas? Is that how it enables?
For much of my life, I saw the limiting as a shut door. A hard no to certain dreams and desires. Perhaps, upon reflection, even an excuse not to. Not to this. Not to that.
And, perhaps, it’s easier that way. There’s a straightforward simplicity to it. We just don’t go there because we couldn’t possibly. And, we go on ignoring that small voice inside on the basis that it’s talking nonsense. When the sadness and grief inevitably bubble up, we say it’s just the way it is. The way it has to be. And, ever the students of relentless perseverance, we just keep powering on. Resentment often creeping in as we do. And parts of us wither.
For some, we wither enough that we start to listen more. For others, maybe that small voice simply gets louder and more determined in the wake of a lack of attention. As this plays out, perhaps we start to take that small voice a little more seriously. Perhaps we give that small voice a microphone. But, even then, we can find ourselves saying we’d have to upend our whole life to answer what is calling and tsk-tsking that the risk or the cost is much too high.
But, what if these weren’t the only two options? What if we could hold both?
Like many an English major, I’ve often dreamt of writing the next great American novel. I also dream of moving to the forest and writing poetry. Having unlimited time with my loved ones. Moving across the globe. It’s very easy to find myself swimming through the dream only to hit the wall of reality telling me that’s not possible in my current constraints. As a client recently put it, the need for down time and decompressing meets with the fact that vacation is several months out and, retirement, several decades beyond that.
What if that wasn’t the end of it, though? What if that was just the beginning? What if that dream we’re swimming through is telling us something? What if it’s an invitation?
Creative problem-solving pretty much defines my day job. But, it also comes very much into play here. How can we hold both? Right now? Given our constraints (not that our constraints are a given…), what can we do with this? What is this telling us?
With that, we can start to play and experiment. Maybe I’m not quite ready to move to the forest. But, I can go to the forest and write poetry. Maybe I’m not there for all the moments with my loved ones. But I can be there when it means the most and make the time I do have count. Maybe I’m not going to relocate to Paris (right now). But, I can plan a trip. Maybe my day job and parenting don’t leave much space for making the New York Times best-sellers list. But, I can carve out time to follow my inspiration and write on the weekends. Maybe retirement is decades away. But, we can create sanctuary spaces in our days now.
Whatever it is we’re yearning for, we can ask ourselves what the ultimate need or value is that wants nurturing and creative ways we can tend to that today.
It’s important to recognize that there’s often an inherent frustration in this. Small steps when our heart longs to leap can feel woefully insufficient. Yet, small steps over time can yield incredible transformation. With each, we are one step closer and we inhabit a new perspective. That perspective shapes the next steps we take and so on from there. Not unlike compounding interest, something that seems small on its own can really add up. In this way, subtle, yet intentional, steps can create a life we would have never believed possible and allow us to hold both in the meantime.
It is also worth considering how our today is serving our Some Day (the vision, maybe not yet in focus, of what we ultimately want our full, integrated life to look like). Are there shared values or intentions? Do our choices and our actions align? And, also, how tapping into our Some Day is serving our today.
As is so often the case when we listen to the small voice and answer what is calling, serving our Some Day can give us perspective and energy that we can bring to our today and vice versa. And round and round it goes in a virtuous cycle of insights, experiences and experimentation, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts as opposed to an “either/or.”
I think it’s also possible that the tension is a critical aspect of the container and the power of the space it creates, however limiting. Sometimes, even though it can be painful, it’s helpful to our process to have something to bump up against. Like shaking the box in Boggle. There’s the loud angry rattle as everything jostles and crashes and then, suddenly, new words appear.
Journey & Destination
Some days, holding both is less a metamorphosis and more an exploration. We can appreciate what we have and still be searching for more. We can be filled with gratitude and enoughness and never be satisfied.
Someone recently asked me what I was seeking. And it stopped me in my tracks. In some ways, it is an easy question. I have goals, ambitions, desires and I’m extremely intentional in my pursuit of them. (Check out my to do list(s)!) On a deeper level, though, it is an impossible question and one that completely intrigued me.
Now and next are not static. Often, we get to our Some Day and there’s another in the distance. We might really enjoy where we are and know it’s not where we’ll stay forever. Also, things change (or perhaps are not what they initially seemed or purported to be) and it’s important to stay awake, aware and attuned to that. Because the path is long and we can’t see from each step on it where the rest of the steps will take us. But each step changes our perspective and shows us a little more. The point is that we continue seeking and noticing.
I’ve realized that, for me, much joy is in the exploration. A dear friend recently crystalized this for me as the process versus the product. Said another way (*channeling Steven Tyler*), “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”
And, if the focus is the process in addition to the product, we need to pay attention to the “how” in addition to the “what.” Which speaks to the way we’re doing what we’re doing. Are we taking care of ourselves? Are we tending to our needs and desires? Are we finding a way to enjoy where we are even if it is not where we plan to stay?
When we’re on a journey, our compass becomes really important too. So, it’s critical that we keep it close at hand by getting and staying clear on our values, knowing ourselves and making sure we are making time to rest, reflect and recharge (R Cubed). Otherwise, how will we know if something is a sign or a trigger? Are we feeling unfulfilled because we’ve chosen the wrong path? Or is something else going on? Is there fear? Discomfort? Inner critic? Do we have unmet needs? And are we looking in the right place to meet them? Are we calibrating from a grounded place? Or is our tank running empty? What fills us up? And have we made space for that?
In my experience, it’s often a combination of multiple things. It’s natural. And, it can be helpful to investigate and uncouple the different feelings. Fear and inner critic, in particular, can be really powerful and sneaky. All the more so when we are dreaming big and taking leaps. We may think we’re seeing a pure sign but it is, in fact, rare that it’s not a blend.
Uncertainty & The Now
If we are living in a state of exploration and evolution, it necessarily means we are living with uncertainty. In fact, whether we open ourselves to it or not, the human condition means we are necessarily living with uncertainty. And then you layer on things like life transitions, health issues, economic turbulence, war, injustice, and you bring that uncertainty squarely into the forefront. Some days, it’s accompanied by excitement. Some days, stress.
How can we hold the emotions surrounding uncertainty and still embrace the magic of our lives (while we are fortunate enough to be living them)? How can we exist in a state of seeking and transformation and get comfortable living in the unknown?
Whether we are anxious or excited, we can benefit from curiosity. When the discomfort bubbles up, we can view it as an objective observer and dig a little deeper. What are we making this mean? How can we hold it more loosely? What value does this bring up for us? How can we honor why this is important to us? And, whatever the circumstances, where is there possibility? By examining what is really up for us in that moment, we can learn from it and integrate those learnings into our Some Day.
What we give our time and attention to determines the make-up of our lives, so it also feels important to find ways to minimize reactivity and rumination and choose to embrace more of what we want. Ways to both be here with whatever is going on in our lives at a certain time and, also, not give ourselves entirely to it. Even if the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, will we want to have spent the lead-up worrying? Or will we wish we had savored the moments and what was good and wonderful in them, just as they were?
A dear friend touchingly illustrated why this principle is so essential as she described the loss of her beloved partner. He had lived a long and wonderful life and she had known this day would come. And, yet, the anticipation did not make it any easier.
The same is true, albeit with less consequence, of dreading or lamenting hard feedback, imperfection, a bad result, or a tough choice. And, of course, on the flip side, if we spend our time in constant expectation, we set ourselves up for disappointment and it becomes harder to appreciate what we have. Moreover, by sitting in rumination and worry as well as in excitement and anticipation, we trade away the present and the joy and possibility it can hold in its own right.
I think it becomes about how we can love right now. What we can love right now. In spite of the circumstances. Or, perhaps, because of them.
It may sound counterintuitive (and potentially morbid), but the practice of Memento Mori, or remembering you will die, can be very helpful in this regard. It flips the anxiety, fear and sadness attendant to impending death into a challenge to live fully with the knowledge of it. Right now. To hold both life and certain death as a way of tethering to perspective and living in a way that reduces regret and hesitation. Here too, the limiting is what enables.
It brings me back to one of my favorite quotes by Suzuki Roshi, “The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.” I don’t think it’s about avoidance or denial or toxic positivity. I think we have to be real. We have to feel the feelings. All of them. And, in letting them flow, we make space for intention and perspective. Choosing the mindset that serves us. Using our tools to discern and peel back the layers to get to the heart of what is true for us and, ultimately, what is most important.
For, again, it is possible (and almost certain) that we will be holding many things at once. In life, there is hard and there is beautiful. Struggle and celebration. And, much of the time, if we look deeply, they are interwoven. When we are in the hard, we can look for the beauty. The serendipity. The synchronicity. As we struggle, as we grieve, we can hold space for the celebration. Things are often so much more rich and nuanced than they seem at first glance. Rarely do we paint with one color. And, even when we do, there are shades, textures, layers.
So, maybe where I am getting to is that holding both (or “all of the above”) is how we make our masterpiece. What will you create while you are here?