Letting Go of Extremes - To Embrace the "Both-And"
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office several years ago. Gosh, it must have been about twelve. Her name was Gail, and she’s everything a brilliant therapist is in my mind: accepting, compassionate, wise, firm, seasoned by her own broken story, and the kind of listener that makes you feel like you’re the only soul on the planet.
I was in the chapter of my life I refer to as the “falling” stage. Everything around me seemed to be crumbling, and my job was to let it do so against every ounce of my will. She held the sacred space for that painful fall to unfold. At every break, she simply wanted to better understand me, not try and fix me. Gail saw me.
Have you ever been in that frustrating place where the best and safest thing to do is NOT break the fall? I’ve often heard this with surfing and skydiving, for example (two pastimes I have zero experience with). In my understanding, there are actual ways we must learn to fall—to lean into the plummet.
Resisting with tension, grit, and that secret stash of Xanax bars you snaked from your mama aren’t included.
Gail patiently taught me how to fall, over time. Something she said to me one day, in the vortex of my despair was this: “Katie, it doesn’t have to look a certain way. You get to choose.”
This stuck with me perhaps more than anything she ever said. Funny how that works isn’t it? We remember much more poignantly how people make us feel, not necessarily what they say. However, I carry her words with me to this day.
You see, so much of my struggle was existing in a world of extremes, all-or-nothing thinking and the “either-or.” Either I'd be alone and depressed my whole life with little hope for anything resembling joy or I'd be a hyper version of myself, feeding heavily on perfectionism and people-pleasing. (Clearly, this was before I came into my own combination skin: quirky, stubborn, and embracing my inner introvert.)
Looking back, I’m so grateful that zipped up idea of success stayed just that, an idea.
Falling for me meant moving from this dualistic or binary way of extreme thinking and leaning into the open relief that life, in fact, didn’t have to look a certain way. It could be “both-and.”
I could feel majorly depressed and understand that hope was possible. I could feel lonely, longing for relationship and community and know that it very well may look different in several weeks time. I could long for certainty and lean into the unknown. Richard Rohr calls it “holding creative tensions.”
Holding the tension between a longing and its unmet fulfillment is indeed a creative, tight place. It looks a whole lot like faith.
Does your extreme thinking feel exhausting? Do you find yourself awfulizing situations by projecting worst-case scenarios onto perfectly neutral possibilities? If so, I feel you; it’s a relentless habit.
Take heart though! That old way of “either-or” that is judgment-heavy and rigid is a habit worth breaking so we can wake up to the lovely landscape of balance, curiosity, and “both-and.”
Next time you get stuck in either-or, simply notice it, honor it, and let it be. Then ask yourself what you need at that moment. Is it hope, acceptance, a friend, time, or provision?
Find the space in that very moment that allows for the lack as well as the possibility. “I’m overwhelmed with deadlines, and, I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Or it might sound like this, “I’m so angry with my friend and how she’s treating me, and, she may be really struggling right now.”
Lean into the contemplative, creative space that invites possibility. When we rush into our old judgmental patterns, we snuff out hope with our need to control. Loosen the reigns a bit. Let go of that death grip. There’s a bright world of life in those tiny spaces.
Love & Gratitude,