A very good friend and someone I look up to sent me this quote the other day:
“We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.
“Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not only hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.
“Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love.”
I have always been a very black-and-white type of girl (except for when it comes to black and white cookies, in which case I’m only about the white). I see extremes, without much wiggle room for compromise. Sometimes this works in my favor. When I want something, there’s nothing I will let get in my way. You may call it persistence (if you’re being kind, anyway). I, however, like to call it legal stalking. Regardless, I go all-in, all the time. I leave no room for regret, knowing I am doing everything in my power to get what I want. Sometimes, though, particularly with regard to my personal relationships, the black-and-white lens through which I prefer to view the world is forced into the grey zone – and that’s what this is all about…
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The gray area is quite possibly the most emotionally uncomfortable place for me to be. Whether there by choice or the powers that be, the uncertainty alone can make your heart and mind race. You find yourself questioning everything and grasping out into space for possible answers. Instead of feeling any sense of security, you become vulnerable to every word, every song and every sign you think you may or may not see.
In the past, my M.O. has been to rely on my familiar routine of black and white. I would either go all to a place of 100%, all-encompassing sadness and/or anger or remain in a place of 100% complete ignorance of the situation, pushing it deep down inside where I pretended it didn’t exist.
Blame it on entering a new (hopefully wiser) decade in my life or simply on reading the above quote at the right time, but I realized during a recent time of personal emotional turmoil that I have to try to be at peace with the grey area. Sure, picking sides, relying on my black or white, right or wrong, in or out mentality would be easier at times but I need to be okay with my uncomfortably without feeling the need to go to one extreme or the other.
So, what am I doing to deal with this time of uncertainty? I am literally sitting with my emotions. And, believe me, they run the gamut. I have moments of sadness and moments of clarity. And while I know that I don’t have control over the actual circumstances, I do have control over my feelings and desires. I’m not powerless.
Rather, this unexpected emotional quandary presents me with an opportunity – a potentially powerful, wonderful opportunity to not only take a seat and deeply ponder what lies right in front of me, but also to become a part of the process. It requires a tremendous amount of strength and patience (strength I have loads of, patience not so much). But, at least for me, I willing to take American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s advice and stay with the state of being in-between in the hopes of learning how to love like a warrior.