Stepping Out of the All-or-Nothing Either/Or

Jonathan and I recently purchased and moved into a beautiful, elderly home (built around 1930) that requires some loving attention and repair. The impending winter means we will soon be putting several of these projects on hold – an expected delay that had me spiraling down a vortex of anxiety nonetheless, as I created doomsday visions of our house literally collapsing around us due to our careless neglect, poor project management, and apparent ineptitude.

It took me about two minutes of moderately perceptive inquiry and self-coaching to realize I had fallen, yet again, into the all-or-nothing trap.

Gets me every time.

My earnest, clever mind created two categories (which it does so well): perfection or disaster – and temporarily convinced me of both their absolute truth and absolute separateness.

I don’t blame my mind for this. The labels, the dichotomies, the categories and contrasts – all of this helps me navigate the world, identify desires, and make decisions.

But either/or thinking is mostly a lie, and when I believe the thoughts that emerge from this paradigm of reality, I mostly suffer.

So in cases like these, I try to find my way back to the both/and space by playing with language and shuffling words around, stepping outside of rational thought, and cavorting with paradox. I try to lull my mind into a confused, contented stupor with illogical, weird absurdities until it shrugs, gives up, and says, “okaaaay, I guess I’ll be seeing myself out then. Let me know when you need me.”

In this instance, I took the scary thought: it might all be for nothing – and turned it around to: it might all be for everything. I don’t really know what this means, but that’s kind of the point. In any case, the process of getting there plugged me back into wholeness, connection, and that something bigger I’m always chasing but can never quite grasp. Also, it feels better, but even more than that, and in a way I can’t really explain (and don’t really need to), it feels truer.

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