Category Archives: Musings

Either/Or vs. Both/And

I was having a conversation with Mariellen, a fellow editor of WCTS?, about a piece of writing. She wanted to know if a suggestion I made was an either/or or both/and suggestion. I told her it was a both/and.

The next morning, while meditating, it occurred to me that I have spent much of my life in either/or thinking. The suggestion that came through in my meditation was, “Perhaps it would be better to spend more time in both/and thought and less time in either/or thought.”

I was immediately reminded of this diagram I used with clients when I was a therapist:

Most things in life are some play of opposites. Examples: black/white, love/hate, good/bad, male/female, joy/sorrow, stress/relaxation, peace/aggression, etc. When we get stuck in either/or thinking, we tend to end up in one opposite and either condemn or long for the other. For example, we might be focused on how stressed out we are and long for relaxation, or we might be so identified with our gender identity that we condemn the qualities of the other side.  In my own experience and observations, it seems to me that getting stuck in this kind of thinking is distressing. It divides us unnecessarily, both internally and externally. It can be useful, on a certain level of discernment, for us to examine the differences between states of mind & body, people, objects, and experiences. It helps us make skillful choices about where we want to be on the continuum. However, too much time spent in black and white thinking  causes us to miss that which unites opposites and robs us of balance and peace.

The secret is to rise above the play of opposites and see the balance which contains both. The bigger trick is to become the balance! We have every opposite within us. Life happens mostly in shades of gray along the continuum between opposites. Have you ever had a day that was entirely sad or entirely happy? If you watch any state of mind or feeling, you will notice it is always changing. Sometimes I can be crying and a few minutes later laughing. Just like my last couple of entries, I go from despair to peace and back again.  Yet, there is also a witnessing awareness that sees and holds all of it, that knows the real me exists beyond all opposites in a field of unity–the eye over the pyramid. When I can remember this, I get less caught up in black and white thinking and I’m automatically more open, tolerant, accepting, loving and peaceful.

Within all of us is the play of light and dark. It’s good to remember we can all be villains and heroes, sources of love and peace or hate and aggression. When I can remember this, I am more compassionate towards all of me and all of others.

I once created this mandala to illustrate this idea:

The caption reads: The play of light and dark is contained within a field of pure, loving awareness. The yin/yang symbolizes the play of the opposites. Within each opposite is the seed of the other side, represented by the black and white dots. This play of opposites exists within a field of pure, loving awareness.

Next time you catch yourself judging someone, try seeing yourself in them or seeing ways in which you are alike.  When you are stuck on one end of the continuum, try consciously shifting yourself towards the other side by experiencing the opposite. For example, if you are feeling sad, recall a time when you felt happy, feel it again in your body and heart. Notice what shifts. Playing on the continuum in these ways can lift your perspective and help you find balance.

Here are some examples of my either/or thoughts and how I play with shifting them to both/and:

  • It’s either perfect or it’s crap. My writing is a place where this one plays out all the time, but it can apply to anything I do. The both/and reframe: Parts of this are really good, most of it is mediocre, some of it is crap. Free from my rigid B&W assessment, I can then sift through a piece of writing, and decide what stays, what goes and what I can live with before I press the Publish button or send it to an editor.
  • We either agree 100% or we disagree 100%. The both/and reframe: There are things we mostly agree on, things we don’t really have an opinion about one way or another, and things we strongly disagree on. Most of it probably falls in the middle. With this reframe, I can calm my emotional intensity and seek common ground while having an exchange of differing opinions. I am more able to see when it is time to agree to disagree and move on to a neutral or agreeable topic. I’ve found this one particularly helpful in the current political climate!
  • You either love me totally or hate me totally. This either/or is the tyrant of many relationships, particularly of the romantic kind. For me it is fueled by my fear of abandonment. At its worst, it can cause me to either abandon myself to please another, or to pull back at the first sign of conflict and run for the door. The both/and reframe: You love some aspects of me, are neutral about most of me and hate some aspects of me. It is quite likely that none of this has anything to do with your love for me, which (hopefully) exists in the eye over the pyramid which sees all of me and loves me anyway! If this is not true, we probably need to have a look at our relationship…
  • I’m either pain free or I’m full of pain. Most days I have pain, so this either/or is particularly painful for me. The both/and reframe: Some parts of my body hurt, but most of it is pain free. Some parts hurt more than others and require some action on my part to alleviate my pain, like taking an ibuprofen or getting up to stretch and walk around. Most of the time, all that is needed is for me to notice the pain and be with it for a few minutes. During this time, I observe that it shifts and changes. The sensations are always moving like energy waves. I take time to notice all the places I don’t have pain (playing on the opposite side). Pretty soon the sensation of pain has calmed and I feel relief. The worst thing I can do is to close down around pain, fearing that it is taking all of me over. It never does that if I can pull up into that higher perspective of balance. I then notice there is a part of me that is beyond pain, that is one with that great field of pure, loving awareness.

I believe that who we truly are is beyond all form, thought, sensation, action. We are part of that field of pure, loving awareness. Maybe if we just remember that, all the rest of it will fall into place?

Hard Things Are Hard

I saw that quote in a book the other day and it’s stuck with me. Hard things are hard. Why do I I think if I were doing them right, hard things would be easy? As if it were some personal failing on my part that hard things are hard.

The quote above has a corollary that was one of my first yoga teacher’s favorite sayings: You can do hard things. So why do l always question if I can do something hard? Even after all I’ve been through in this life, I seem to wonder if I’ve got another one in me.

I have found that doing hard things has helped me develop character. I’ve learned to be persistent and focused, remain positive and hopeful, have compassion, be patient, think things through, trust in my resilience, have faith in Life and myself, and to always maintain a sense of humor.

As I face another hard thing, I’m grateful for all the previous hard things. They have been good teachers. Perhaps this time I can remain confident in my ability to do hard things and remain softly compassionate with myself, as I press on. After all, this too shall pass.  

Let Go

I feel part of myself clinging to old ways of doing and thinking, trying to keep hold of something familiar in the midst of all that is disappearing. At the same time I keep praying to be free, to be able to let go of that which has caged me my whole life.

In my prayer I am asking for Spirit to take away all my small, OCD thinking and doing that keeps me imprisoned in tension, caged with fear.

Spirit laughs, You have to let go. I can’t take it if you don’t let go. LET GO.

But, I’m afraid to let go. Isn’t it just my thinking, doing, serving that keeps me alive? Isn’t that my only value to others, to the world? If I let go, won’t I end up crazy, homeless, worthless?

So, you’re only valuable if you are thinking, doing, serving? Is that true?

I’m not sure of that anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure that kind of thinking is what put me in the cage in the first place.

You are beloved to Me as you are. There is nothing you have to do to prove your worth. There is nothing you can do “out there” that will make you more beloved than you already are. STOP, LET GO, BE. If nothing else, it will be a novel experience for you. (more laughter)

I do have to admit this is funny. I want to be free of something that I am fiercely clinging to with every ounce of my waning strength.

Why do you think I am taking your strength, your ability to do, to move, to go out from YourSelf?

At this point, I have no words, only laughter.

Where did I go?

Something odd is going on in the wake of my hip replacement–I seem to be disappearing. Or, at least, the me I’ve known on the outside. Looking back, I know this has been going on for awhile. But now it seems to be accelerating.

Last week I threw a bunch of my shoes in a bag to give away. This week I tossed in my makeup and toenail polish. Today, I wrote a letter announcing I’m giving up my studio/office where I have taught belly dance, yoga and tai chi for the past 4 years. I have decided I enjoy being in the water more than I enjoy being on land. I used to have to be busy and on the move all day long. Now I can spend hours sitting in a sunbeam, petting the cat and meditating.

Where did I go?

A calm voice in my head asks, “So, who have you lost? Aren’t you still here?”

I recognize this as the voice of my ever-present Witness who watches my ever-changing life unfolding. This Presence is always here, calmly and patiently watching and recording it all, and occasionally, abruptly changing the direction of my outer life. I think this is the part of me that is part of God or Spirit. It is that which never changes. I find it in my meditation, when I drop below the waves of day-to-day thinking and feeling, and into the Ocean of Awareness.

“So, who has disappeared?”

The who that used to care about those shoes, who wouldn’t go out in public without makeup or toenail polish, who took pride in a body that was strong and moved gracefully, who thought she was only what she could do for or give to others, the one whose only value was doing and not being.

“Do you miss her?”

No, actually, I don’t. She was a lot of work, and I’m tired. I’m relieved to be rid of her. I don’t quite believe she’s gone. I’m afraid she’ll come back and take over again.

But, then there are other parts of my human personality who are afraid of losing her. There is a childlike part who tries to fit in and find playmates in this world. She finds the changes of direction distressing. She doesn’t know what to tell her playmates. She’s afraid they won’t want to play anymore. There’s an adult part who is desperately trying to balance all this and make sure the bills are paid, there’s food in the frig, and the bed got made this morning. There’s a part who is Scott’s partner, my mother’s daughter, my friend’s friend, my aunt’s niece. I suppose there are thousands of parts of me who relate in some way to the outside world and they are all afraid of becoming obsolete, or unacceptable.

“That which is no longer needed does become obsolete, disappears, passes away into something else, transforms. Let it be.”


Well now, isn’t this interesting? Only part of me is fading away, a part I don’t need anymore. I’m happier and more serene, even if I’m a little lost at the moment. I know the cat likes me better. Scott is thrilled (he told me so). And, honestly, it’s not about what other’s think anymore. I’m finally free to be ME, whoever that is.