Inside: A messy and beautiful life flourishes as we learn to change our thinking. As we release binaries and all or nothing thinking and make peace with paradox.
I remember a past season of life when I felt worried about the state of my marriage (more honestly I felt worried about all the things). My marriage didn’t seem at all similar to the couples in the homeschooling books I read, or in the romantic comedies I watched. Our life together didn’t look much like the idealized home and family in the magazines I poured over or the home-and-garden shows I stayed up late watching. Something, I decided, must be wrong with us!
But when I looked inward to try and figure out where we’d gone wrong and how to fix it, I realized that the only thing wrong was me comparing myself to these glossy images of life, family, and marriage. My husband and I were happy! We loved and respected each other. We shared the same core values. We both had lots of growing up to do for sure, but we were in it together.
The only thing I needed to do in order to settle back into my life and marriage with joy was to change my thinking. And of course, to cut the cable and ditch the books and magazines that left me feeling perpetually less than.
A truth that I’ve wrestled with, fought back against, and resisted with all my might is that life “shouldn’t” feel neat and tidy. That no matter how hard I try, bad stuff can still happen and I cannot control everything and everyone. My goodness, how I want control.
Railing against the reality of life keeps us stuck in suffering. Learning to make peace with paradox and practice the truth of both/and is freeing and empowering. Joy and beauty coexist with pain and sorrow in a brave and beautiful life.
If life feels hard or messy at times you’re not doing it wrong. You’re simply human and awake in a messy world.
changing your thinking for a greater sense of wellbeing in life
Our society sucks at paradox so we make binaries out of everything. Binaries are more comfortable than uncertainty. They feel safer than allowing for not knowing or the truth that we only see in part. Rules and rigidity help us create order out of chaos (at least in our minds) and sometimes feed our egos and sense of superiority. If I am right then you must be wrong.
One of the common ways that we cause harm – including self-harm – is making everything a binary.
But I suspect that about 80% of the time in my life or when working with clients (totally made up this number but it feels close to truth), the only thing or the primary thing “wrong” is the belief that life “should” be different than it actually is. Black or white. No in-between.
And this makes a whole lot of sense. Pain, grief, and suffering feel horrible. We want it to stop. Of course we wish life were kinder and easier. Of course we feel angry and confused by people who do not follow our rules or believe the same things we do, especially when it impacts those we love most in the world. Of course our body and mind fight the reality that our loved one is never coming home again.
Feeling anger, rage, fear, sadness, grief, longing, though, is not a problem. To be healthy we must give a voice to our feelings (which is not the same as acting upon them in harmful ways). They deserve to be witnessed and if ignored, they’ll find a way to be heard in time.
What’s problematic, is when we BELIEVE the story that in order for life to be good, worthwhile, or beautiful, it must feel easier and never involve pain, grief, or struggle. It needs to go according to plan, it should measure up to the idealized notion we’ve created in our imagination, or somehow be a whole lot more comfortable than the messy and challenging reality in front of us. We’re doing it wrong and we are bad, wrong, or broken if ever we feel confused, depressed, afraid, or unsure.
This means that in order to experience a greater sense of wellbeing or to simply enjoy life more of the time, or even to be a more present and powerful advocate for change, what is required is not to fix the situation or other person or even to resolve the struggle (which we generally do not have immediate power to do), but to change our thinking about it.
life is messy and This means nothing about you or your identity unless you make up a story about it
We can make peace with the messiness of life. We can come face to face with the stark and uncomfortable (or pretty good but not perfect) reality of life, boldly stare it in the face, and then ask “now what?” We can witness the full truth of what is without making up a story about our identity or worth (or anyone else’s) and then consciously CHOOSE our response or next step forward.
Freedom and greater peace live on the other side of accepting that a full, messy, beautiful life involves both strength and struggle. It is not perfect, will never be perfect, and if we release the expectation of perfection we’ll be a whole lot happier in our bodies and our lives.
We will walk through hard things. We will bury people we love (death is 100% guaranteed for all of us). Relationships end. Boundaries that anger people must be set. We’ll make mistakes and hurt others by accident and we’ll grow up along the way, in action, not before. We will risk using our voice bravely and sometimes get it wrong. We will hurt and walk through valley seasons and also we will experience lighter seasons if we hold on tight.
As far as I can see, this world will never be devoid of injustice or pain and also there is hope that in many ways it can get better.
is changing my thinking the same as bypassing or pretending all is well?
Bypassing is harmful. It neither helps nor heals. In fact, it isolates people and sends them underground to deal with their suffering in shame and silence.
Recognizing our all or nothing thinking, expanding our capacity for both joy and pain, and embracing imperfection is not about bullshit or bypassing. It’s not about giving up on trying to make the world better. It’s not about pretending, masking, or putting on a cheery face for the comfort of others. Truth-telling matters.
But here’s the thing – much of the time we’re not really or fully truth-telling. We’re MAKING UP STORIES about the situation. We’re reacting from a place of wounding or fear. Our interpretation of events, when left unexamined, can leave us in a reactive and exhausted state. We can end up feeling that the world is against us or feeling shut down, hopeless, and disconnected. Disempowered and deeply discouraged.
When we learn to turn toward and examine our stories, to pause between impulse and response, to notice our habitual nervous system patterns, sit with our emotions, bodily sensations, and our thoughts… and then CHOOSE our response, when ready, we show up to life and relationships from an empowered state. We remember our agency. We practice imperfect action on a regular basis. And we begin thinking more clearly.
And it’s from this internally resourced, wise and embodied state, that we can each have the greatest positive impact on the world.
You can’t bully yourself into wholeness. You cannot shame yourself into freedom or joy. You CAN learn to befriend your whole self – including your mean inner critic – by practicing self-compassion and deepening understanding of your stories and behavioural and emotional patterns and slowly transform your inner critic into your inner best friend.Learn more about the workshop!
examples of practicing both/and or changing our thinking
If I struggle I’m simply human, not bad or wrong or a problem to be fixed.
If you’re doing cool or impactful things in the world that I respect (or envy) and my life looks different from yours, this does not mean my life is any less meaningful. Diversity is beautiful and we’re not meant to be the same.
If my relationship doesn’t look or sound like the experts or looks different from yours, this doesn’t mean we’re doomed. It just means our relationship looks different from yours.
When something is right for me in this season, this doesn’t mean it’s right for every single human. It also doesn’t mean it’ll be right for me in every season of my life.
Sometimes we grieve a season that has come to an end. And sometimes at the very same time we feel excited about the new season ahead. Both/and.
We can practice loving and honoring ourselves well and attuning to our inner wisdom and also examine our thoughts and remember that we’re still learning and in progress. We don’t know everything and never will but curiosity will take us far.
We can be skilled and amazing at our profession or a hobby and not be the expert or skilled at a whole lot of other things. This means nothing except that no one human is an expert at all things.
If I uncover a truth and get excited about it – that’s cool – and I don’t need to make a whole dogma about it. I can let it be what it is.
If I am in pain I can remind myself that my whole life is not pain. The pain is real and hard and deserves to be acknowledged and it is only one part of my body or life. A part, not the entirety.
You can honour your wiring and create a slower and more sustainable life and also bring your gifts and light to the world.
I can experience rage and anger and grief and also joy, delight, and pleasure in my body and my life. In the same hour. In the same body. It all belongs. I don’t have to choose between anger or delight.
Also, there are no “good” and “bad” emotions though some feel more comfortable than others. There are simply a colorful range of human emotions.
I can end a relationship that does not feel healthy and still love that person and wish only good for them.
I can vehemently disagree with the beliefs of another person and still treat them with basic dignity and even attempt to understand why they might believe what they do. And also, sometimes it feels impossible to comprehend how we see the world through such a different lens.
You can grieve the death of a loved one and equally feel grateful that they are no longer suffering.
We can witness our strength and be proud of who and how we are, we can love and approve of ourselves, and also remain humble and open to ongoing learning, stretching, and becoming.
You can feel afraid and unsure of yourself at times and still show up to the work you love. You can make a difference in the lives of others and still be very much in progress yourself.
I can be a wonderful, dedicated, and loving mom and also know that I’ll happily pay for therapy for my kids and acknowledge that I wish I knew when they were little more of what I know now.
I can know that I absolutely loved and cherished my son who died and that I did everything I knew to affirm and care for him. And I can also wish I’d known how to do better or differently to somehow help ease his suffering and help him find hope.
I can love someone and set a boundary they may not appreciate. I can love someone and not pick up responsibility for their emotional wellbeing. I can love someone deeply and also refuse to pour out every last drop of my energy for them because I need some left for myself too.
One truth or reality doesn’t have to cancel out the other. They can coexist in a dance of ebb and flow, light shifting into darkness and back again, pain and joy, wrestling and surrender.
making peace with paradox for a brave and beautiful life
Understanding the concept of both/and and practicing it regularly radically changes our experience of life. Again, it’s not a magic wand that makes like perfect. Instead, it helps us respond with courage, wisdom, and resilience to the imperfection of life.
It empowers us to take action in the areas of life that are not working for us from a more resourced place. More proactive than reactive. Strong and boundaried but less on edge and quickly activated. It enables us to move toward our vision rather than running from discomfort or pain because it expands our capacity to be with discomfort.
As a holistic embodiment practitioner I don’t attempt to separate our thoughts or beliefs from our whole – our physical experience, our emotions, our spirituality, sense of connection, relationship to our environment. Our wellbeing and experience of life is influenced by many factors and we pull from many sources of wisdom.
As we learn to attune to ourselves, listening inward and responding with wisdom and compassion to what we hear, we begin to feel more empowered and also restore a felt sense of safety in our bodies and our lives. As we feel safer we can let go of some of our self-protective patterns, release some of our armor, and remember that we have what it takes to sit with discomfort, uncertainty, and the full range of human emotion and it will not harm us.
the befriend your inner critic workshop
Learn how to befriend your inner critic and walk in greater freedom and (joyful) possibility. This workshop is coming in August. Sign up below to hear when early-bird registration (and pricing) begins. Or learn more here.