Even though I’ve been clean and sober now for almost 18 years, without a doubt, I continue to move through life with the mind of an addict. And what I mean by that is much of my thinking over the years has been nothing less than binary. Everything in life was good or bad, black or white, stoned or sober, flying high or crashing down.
I don’t want to live a life like that anymore—a life that comes with an endless jarring as you fluctuate between the extremes. Over the past two years, I’ve immersed myself in the field of mindfulness and mediation, with the expectation that learning to be “fully present”, might just be the antidote I need to escape my binary disposition. By no means has this been an easy practice for me to adopt, as I’ve been struggling with the fact that the more present I become and thus more in tune with what really is, the more aware I am of what really isn’t.
And it wasn’t until a few days ago that I stumbled across a quote by Kathryn Schultz that perfectly explains what I’ve never been able to put into words. “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.” So it’s in this space that I struggle most, the dichotomy of knowing that where you are illuminates and gives you the clarity of where you hope one day to be.
It appears that even mindfulness—something universal in its simplicity—is neither black nor white, but shaded in grays. In fact, it’s the gray areas I inhabit most these days. I’m continually reminded of this fact when I brush up against adversity. It’s the knowledge that any trial or unpleasant circumstance can either destroy you or open you up to growth borne of resilience. What we take from that experience is entirely up to us. Instead of pushing away from the discomfort, I’m learning how to soften into things.
It’s been said that no matter where you go, there you are. The “me” that gets in my way the most is my ego. My ego is definitely a big room I can easily get lost in. It’s a room in which the windows don’t look out, only in. Everything in this room is constructed of grandiosity and self-pity. I may not use drugs or alcohol anymore, but I still suffer from hangovers of my own doing. My ego run amok ensnares everything in its path, while simultaneously pushing everyone and everything important in my life away. For me, learning how to “soften into things” means learning how to quiet my ego, the presence that convinces me that in order to build myself up, I need to tear someone else down.
By getting out of my own way, I open a channel for love to come into my life. What is love other than commitment—It’s having the faith to be present with another person and having a willingness to live with an unresolved conflict. It’s knowing that I didn’t choose to love you just for this moment, but for a culmination of all the moments that have yet to arrive.
This process of stripping away and being present takes an incredible amount of energy, and learning to sustain this way of navigating life requires we constantly replenish our resiliency stores. I always thought I was an extrovert, gregarious and thriving in community. It wasn’t until I heard an interview with Chris Kresser that I realized that even the binary labels of introverts and extroverts can be misleading. Chris described introverts as being people who get their batteries recharged when they are alone. It really has nothing to do with not enjoying being in crowds and being the center of attention. That totally describes why I’ve always thrived when I can strike a balance between quiet solitary restoration and chaotic communal interaction.
So I guess what I’m really trying to say is that maybe the “gray areas” aren’t so bad after all. Learning to “soften into things” is moving me further away from a life of either-or. It’s my ability to sway and sashay through adversity that invites love into my life. In the words of the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön: “If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s the true practice of peace.”