Life is a matter of both/and, and how we approach and survive it depends on our interpretation of our life events. Living in the possibility of our experiences is a challenge for it rides on the wings of hope. Living in both/and informs and guides how we do things, who we choose for friends, our career, where we live, the car we buy, our favorite socks, and how we interact with others. What is both/and, what happens, and how do we live with it in ways that improve our lives?
In the fall of 2018, my therapist introduced me to the concept of both/and, and how it applies to everyday life and suggested I write about it. Shortly thereafter, I found my self plunged into the concept as I worked on a project with the potential to change my life. The energy of the thrill and exhilaration lay on the other side of a line where I knew I may not get what I wanted. I was acutely aware that I did not control the outcome. The key to keeping my mental health intact was to adapt to life in the tension between possibility and acceptance.
When I enter the tension of both/and, my initial responses are fear, anxiety, joy, enthusiasm, and several other competing feelings. My default is to lean into the negative messages which results in despair rather than acceptance. Visions of positive possibilities evaporate. But, both/and does not have to be painful and dwelling in the tension may show not opposing choices, but choices that may work together as one. When I dwell in both/and, I approach the doors of possibility and opportunity. My growth and transformation happen there. Creativity, problem-solving, and decision-making become easier.
What is Both/And?
The tension of both/and happens when we enter the space between what we want and the potential we will not get it. Recognition and acknowledgment of the stress is the initial step. Then, look for and identify the source, which may mean sifting through many disparate emotions vying for expression. Are you feeling delighted? Relieved? Scared? Doubtful? All of the above, and then some?
Here is a helpful exercise:
- On a sheet of paper, make three columns with no headers.
- In the first column write the words acceptance, surrender, gratitude, and resignation.
- In the second column write the words tension, stress, patience, and peace.
- In the third column write the words hope, enthusiasm, perseverance, and naiveté.
- Draw a circle around the word set in the second column.
- Draw arrows from the circle to each of the words in the other two columns.
You now have a visual of the tension and possible peace that lie between the two poles. You can work with any of these twelve emotions or others that may come to mind. Choose the feeling that most appeals to you or that is tugging at you the strongest. With acceptance and gratitude on the same side as resignation, slipping into resignation is easy. Your job is to do the work with diligence and take care of your mental state.
What Does It Feel Like?
A major key to peace is the recognition and acknowledgment of your ability to withstand the tension. You may have to repeat the column exercise often. How long you live with the discomfort depends on the level of your stress and your coping skills. It requires discordant emotions to coexist. Sometimes, your feelings will bounce around like pinballs as they emerge simultaneously. It is about finding balance and peace rather than comfort. Peace and comfort are not synonymous. Peace may come in fleeting moments. The challenge is to remember, always, that peace is possible.
Tips for Dwelling in Possibility
Dwelling in possibility means the recognition of both sides of the situation. You see the larger picture and identify your paradoxical emotions. You acknowledge the chances of a pleasing outcome which may beyond your most vivid imagination. However, you also are aware that unbridled zeal may cloud your ability to see the real picture.
These tips may help
- Practice mindfulness techniques like holding the tension with gentleness in your awareness so you acknowledge the discomfort without engaging with it.
- Develop a mantra or ritual that helps ground you and brings you serenity.
- Pray or meditate.
- Journal your disconcerting thoughts and internal messages. Counter them with words of strength and resilience. These words will give you fuel to keep going. Journaling takes the emotions out of your head and puts them on the page where you can explore them. It will help you connect with your inner resources and gain confidence.
- A therapist or spiritual director can help you identify your strengths and your options. You become more tolerant of the tension and more resilient to the effects.
- Remember why your dream is important to you. Reflect on how it will enhance your life. What are the likelihoods, wanted and unwanted?
- Write what success or an ideal outcome means to you and how you envision it.
- Make a “Dream Big” list of what you will do when your passion is successful. Review the list often and add to it as new ideas come to mind.
- Celebrate milestones as the situation unfolds.
- Plan for setbacks. Make a list of alternative approaches that may bring your dream to life. Map out what it means if you do not get what you want. Plan for processing your disappointment. Develop plan B, C, D, or even J or X. Brainstorm as many potential outcomes and strategies as you can. How can you prepare for what may be inevitable?
- When you are facing a significant experience, you may want to seek professional mental health, medical, or legal assistance.
- Enjoy the journey of bringing your vision into reality.
Living in the realm of both/and offers chances to stretch, flex, exercise, and strengthen emotional muscles. You can learn a lot about patience, surrender, gratitude, and perseverance. You can see multiple outcomes, wanted and unwanted. You can equip yourself to make better decisions. As much as you can, pursue opportunities to live in potential. Living with both/and is challenging, exciting, empowering, and possible. Enjoy.
Billie Wade, a lifelong journaler, believes people are precious, sacred, resilient, and stronger than they know. She created Journaling to Heal, LLC which helps people discover the power of writing in their process of recovery from emotional stress and trauma. Visit her at www.billiewade.com and find more of her writing on www.dmpcc.org/billie where she writes a monthly newsletter column for Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.
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