Thanksgiving approaches, and I have a lot of feelings about it. For instance, I love my family traditions for the holiday, but also I am uncomfortable that each year, we celebrate as though this holiday was not rooted in a history of misery and violence for native people. I love watching Thanksgiving Day football (a tradition), yet I’m sickened by the brain injury crisis and unmasked greed associated with the game. I love sharing an incredible meal with my family, but my heart breaks for those who have lost family, or who don’t have food. So far, this may seem like I’m really putting a damper on Thanksgiving, but I actually think it’s essential to mental health and happiness that we are able to hold internal conflict without being taken down by it. It is a practice, like anything else.
This Thanksgiving, my life is full of activity -- I am stepping down as owner of my yoga studio to focus on healing from my fifth surgery on the same knee. I am working on a book, an anatomy training, workshops, my new website,and my knee rehab. At the same time, though, it feels like nothing is moving. I sit or lie down for most of the day. I am not able to walk without crutches, and I cannot drive or perform the job to which I am accustomed. It is exhausting and a little scary to shower, make food, feed my dog, etc. In a physical sense, my life is standing still. So I have a lot going on and very little, all at the same time, which can make me feel intensely stir crazy but also overwhelmed.
When that happens, I know that I am experiencing the moment with blinders on, perceiving every little thing as important, and thinking from a position of scarcity -- not enough time, not enough money, not enough movement, not enough work, not enough rest. In reality, though, I don’t have a hard deadline for most of my tasks, I will figure out what to do with the money I have, movement will come as I heal, work can wait until I heal, and if I would stop worrying so much, then feeling rested would be easier. If I take a larger view, I am able to tune into the things that matter most to me, and let other things grow small for the moment. After all, I heard Nikki Myers say recently, “You are just a part of life. You’re not responsible for keeping the world spinning.” Thank goodness! But also, sometimes life kicks your ass, and there is sadness, anger, frustration, or insert your own emotion, associated with that. But what if, while feeling those emotions, we were also able to recognize the little everyday things that go right, that feel good, that make us smile? I was happy to learn that it is actually okay to be both frustrated and saddened by a situation, and grateful for what I have and what I am capable of in any given moment. And this is so often where I find myself right now.
I could sit here and think up a thousand examples of what a teacher of mine described as “both-and” situations, and I have been thinking on this topic a lot. Some combination of holidays, personal and professional situations, and the social and political climate of this year, really puts internal conflict at an all-time high. Maybe you can relate, and maybe not. Both are okay. But if you can relate, I invite you to consider that we, as humans, have the capacity to hold these paradoxes. This means that it is possible to feel joy or to feel content in a moment AND still be outraged or heartbroken about ongoing struggles. This means that it is possible to love and respect a person AND vehemently disagree with their political views. This means that it is possible to be kind and generous with whatever resources you have (this could be money, time, attention, etc) AND worried about making rent or sending kids to college.
It seems counterintuitive that holding paradox is helpful, but I find it to be an exercise in letting go of my need to be right, or the best, or perfect -- and, in fact, an exercise in letting go of my expectations for others to achieve perfection. And, for whatever reason, that feels like just what I need around the holidays, especially this year. Sitting with and accepting internal conflict is what allows me to wholeheartedly experience gratitude without a side of cynicism, guilt, or shame. I think of it as “peace in paradox.” So happy paradoxical holidays to you all!