Last Fall, my counselor and I discussed the concept of “both/and” and how it applies to everyday life events. He suggested that I write about it. Little did I know I would live it so soon. I am working on a major project which has a lot of potential for a life-changing outcome. On the one hand, I feel energized and exhilarated. On the other, I well know that I am not in control, and I am working to accept the outcome, whatever that may be. A key to surviving this with my mental health intact is adapting to life in the tension between possibility and acceptance.
Living in possibility is a challenge. When I am in the tension, I feel anxious. I feel nervous. I feel several competing emotions. I feed myself negative messages. I sink into resignation rather than surrender to acceptance. All visions of positive possibilities evaporate.
There are ways to stay in the tension and use it to grow and transform. We must first recognize and acknowledge the stress. We must then identify its source. We must sort through the many disparate emotions vying for expression. We must permit ourselves to feel all of our emotions without judgment.
I would like to share an exercise that has worked for me. 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 naivete. 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 possible emotions or others that may come to mind. Choose the feeling that most appeals to you or that is tugging at you the strongest. Pray, meditate, write, or talk about it.
Dwelling in possibility means allowing yourself to see both sides of your situation and acknowledging that the outcome may surprise and please you. But unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance may cloud your ability to see the real picture. Possibilities in your favor exist but so do chances you may not get what you want. With acceptance and gratitude on the same side as resignation, slipping into resignation is easy. Your job is to do the work and have faith in the possibilities you want.
I have found that mindfulness techniques like holding tension with gentleness in your awareness allow you to acknowledge it without engaging with the discomfort. You can see the larger picture and identify your paradoxical emotions. How do you want to respond to the uneasiness? You can use any of the strategies from my blog post “23 tips to get through the holidays.” My go-to methods are journaling and talking with my counselor. Journaling will help you connect with your inner resources and gain confidence. Your counselor 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.
A state of tolerance may not last long. How long you can stay in the tension and live with the discomfort depends on the level of the stress and your coping skills. To remain in both/and requires allowing the discordant emotions to coexist. You may find your feelings bouncing like a pinball as they emerge all at once. It is about finding balance and equilibrium and peace rather than comfort. Peace and comfort are not synonymous. The challenge is to remember, always, that peace is possible.
For me, the big key to peace is to recognize and acknowledge that you can withstand the discomfort between believing in your dream and realizing the outcome is beyond your control. You may have to do this exercise often. Peace may come in fleeting moments. Stay in peace as long as you can. Develop a mantra or ritual that helps ground you and brings you serenity. Write your disconcerting thoughts and internal messages. Counter them with words of strength and resilience. These words will give you fuel to keep going.
Remember why your dream is important to you. Reflect on how it will enhance and transform your life. What are the possibilities, 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. Enjoy the journey of bringing your vision into reality.
What is your plan if the outcome differs from what you desire? Make a list of other approaches that may bring your dream to life. Map out what it means if you do not get what you want. Make a plan for processing your disappointment. Make a Plan B, C, D, or even J or X. Brainstorm as many possibilities as you can. How can you prepare for what may be inevitable? When you are facing a dire situation, I encourage you to talk to someone you trust.
Living in the realm of both/and offers chances to stretch and exercise and strengthen emotional muscles. We can learn a lot about patience, surrender, gratitude, and perseverance. We can see multiple outcomes, wanted and unwanted. We are equipped to make better decisions. As much as you can, seek opportunities to look forward to living in potential. Living with both/and is challenging and possible.
Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.
To read more of Billie’s blogs: www.dmpcc.org/Billie