The Both/And Space

For a while now, and especially since the election last year, I’ve felt pulled between two divergent understandings of reality:
1. Times are dire, and things are profoundly not okay. People are being hurt. Oppression continues to roar in old and new and imaginatively reinvented ways. And also: we’re heading toward ecological collapse that will mark the end of humanity on planet earth.
2. Everything will be okay and is already okay. There are deeper forces at work. We can heal. We will turn this around.

I’ve vacillated between the two, trying to figure out which story is most true, effective, and helpful, and to be honest, I’ve not been particularly impressed with either. When I step into the not okay version of reality, I quickly descend into manic despair, despondent self-loathing, and/or fatigued paralysis, all the while torturing myself with visions of apocalyptic hellscapes I’m convinced loom imminently and ominously on the horizon. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I turn to the everything-is-okay story, which feels better until I begin to look away from truths that ask something of me, slip into spiritual bypass, and run from pain (mine and others), none of which is in my integrity.

But in the rhythm of this back and forth, I began to notice brief flickers of peace. I realized they existed in the transitory moment when the pendulum passed through the middle on its way to the other side.

And the more I saw this, the more I felt pulled back to that middle, the space in-between my stories, to the very center of…something – the both/and space, where two or more things are true at the same time. Paradox. And this is the only way I know how to be in the world right now.

So life has sort of become a journey of descending deeper into: “wow, the world is really fucked-up, beyond what I ever imagined. How do we even bear it?” But also and at the same time: “wow, the world is a truly magical place, beyond anything I ever hoped for or imagined. How do we even stand it!?” Both may be true, but either by themselves feels like a lie.

I’m convinced we are living in a both/and time, a time in which we are being called to expand to hold more pain, more truth, more mystery, more paradox, and more magic – to make space for the multiplicities calling our names.

So I’m going in, looking hard at the world and letting the pain of it swallow me up, reaching, at the same time, for a loving stillness I don’t quite understand that meets me there and asks me to move in generative cycles of blended contradiction rather than in straight-lined, back-and-forth pendulums. And sometimes, in this quiet space stilled by paradox, I can almost feel something like hope, an unknown yet familiar thing, stirring under the surface.

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